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Nilson's 'Teaching At Its Best' Text Summary of Chapters 1-11

Updated on April 19, 2013
Diane Lockridge profile image

Lockridge holds an EdS in Curriculum and Instruction, an MS in Elementary Education, and a BA in History. She also homeschools her children.

Helpful hints for new teachers.
Helpful hints for new teachers. | Source

“Teaching at its Best” by Nilson (2010) discusses the basic methods and procedures a college professor should use in his course.

The book is beneficial as both a textbook for teaching students how to teach, as well as required reading for new hires at a college. Additionally, Nilson's book gives tips for the new teacher, specifically with regards to the adult learner and the culture of the college campus, whether it be at a traditional brick and mortar schoo, or in the on-line setting.

In chapter 1 Nilson (2010) discusses how not all students are a like and how the effective teacher must remember to suit his lesson and teaching methods to meet the needs od the greatest number of students. Nilson points out that despite learning differences and learning preferences, most college students learn best through a structured setting where the information is presented several times through various methods. Structured settings allow the student to apply what he already knows about the subject and reflect upon the knowledge to solidify understanding (Nilson, p.7). The chapter discusses differences in students based upon their age/generation and gives pointers for working with international students and the adult learner. Above all, Nilson notes that the best teacher recognizes the students’ starting point (p. 3).

Nilson (2010) dedicates the second chapter to discussing outcomes-centered course design. By that, Nilson discusses how to designing a course like one could construct a model of a human body; one needs the bones first before he can add the muscles and skin. The bones of the course include things such as the learning outcomes. Nilson notes that one must have the outcomes decided upon before creating individual assignments. Nilson also discusses the usefulness of employing Bloom’s taxonomy, the Anderson and Krathwohl’s taxonomy of Fink’s framework to ensure an adequate synthesis of ideas for the course.

Chapter 3 discusses what teachers should include in syllabus for their course. While Nilson (2010) notes that a syllabus may be as short as five pages, it may be much longer, depending upon the information the teacher chooses to add, such as supplemental reading or learning preference information. In addition to a comprehensive list of suggested things to include in the course, Nilson suggests that the teacher include a disclaimer to ward off student complaints and protect against possible lawsuits.

Chapter 4 discusses the first day of class, and gives pointers to new teachers on how to calm nerves and get ready to interact with students. Nilson (2010) stresses the importance of not dismissing the class early, especially on the first day of school, suggesting that one needs the entire class period to go over class information, properly introduce oneself to the class and get to know what they expect from the class. Nilson suggests referring to the course syllabus, giving an overview of the course, and asking students what they expect to learn. Not only do such activities properly introduce students to the class, but also they allow students to move from the class early should they have expected something different from the class.

Nilson (2010) dedicates chapter 5 to the subject of motivation. Nilson discusses the different theories of motivation, as well as strategies for motivating students. While teachers cannot force their students to learn, they can motivate them to learn by making the subject exciting and by giving students the opportunity to improve. Nilson suggests that teachers be enthusiastic, make the learning personal and get to know their students.

Chapter 6 discusses copyright laws and when it is and is not appropriate for the teacher to use material for the classroom. While Nilson (2010) notes that teachers may make single copies for themselves for educational purposes, but multiple copies for each student are a bit more complicated. Nilson suggests contacting the Copyright Clearance Center for permission or licenses when in doubt (p. 69).

Nilson (2010) discusses classroom civility in chapter 7 and how teachers can help keep their classroom under control. The term civility refers to classroom behavior and the way students react to their teacher. Nilson lists ways that both meek and more intimidating teachers can better handle students and prevent classroom incivility.

What's the best teaching advice you've ever received as a new teacher?

In chapter 8, Nilson (2010) suggests that cheating is often based upon the social acceptance of the act. If a student’s peers disapprove of cheating, the student is less likely to cheat. Also, the lower the chanced of being caught the more prevalent cheating is in the classroom. Institutions that utilize honor codes and “weave academic integrity into the student culture” suffer from fewer incidents of cheating, up to 25% less incidents (Nilson, pp. 85 & 87).

Nilson (2010) dedicates chapter 9 to the concept of office hours, and ways to encourage teachers to get the most out of their time. Nilson suggests that teachers choose the right place, setting, time, and methods of encouragement to help students make the most of the opportunity of speaking one-on-one with teacher (pp. 90-91). For example, teachers may require short meetings during office hours, or move their office hour location to a place less intimidating for the student.

Chapter 10 discusses the relation between faculty and teaching assistants and how they can best work toward meeting the needs of the students. Faculty benefits from the help of a teaching assistant (TA) and TAs benefit from the mentorship relationship with the faculty member. Nilson (2010) suggests that TAs may be more in-touch with student issues, and as such should report things to the faculty member.

In chapter 11, Nilson (2010) discusses the teaching methods and how methods affect student success. For example, Nilson notes that the method of lecture relates more toward the outcome of knowledge, but does not serve the higher learning outcomes of comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, evaluation or cognitive development. When teachers employ their different teaching “tools” — namely course formats — major teaching methods, and teaching strategies, they enable students to better understand material.


Nilson, L.B. (2010). Teaching at its best. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.


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