On Teaching Fashion: Summer Reading on Teaching and Learning


I want to share a great book and hopefully some great learning with you on teaching from one of my summer reads “What the Best College Teachers Do” by Ken Bain. This book was published a while ago, yet, in so much of the teaching literature this book is cited.


Book cover face image
Image credit:sourced online

Book Description I sourced from the publisher:  What makes a great teacher great?  Who are the professors students remember long after graduation? This book, the conclusion of a fifteen-year study of nearly one hundred college teachers in a wide variety of fields and universities, offers valuable answers for all educators. The short answer is–it’s not what teachers do, it’s what they understand. Lesson plans and lecture notes matter less than the special way teachers comprehend the subject and value human learning. Whether historians or physicists, in El Paso or St. Paul, the best teachers know their subjects inside and out–but they also know how to engage and challenge students and to provoke impassioned responses. Most of all, they believe two things fervently: that teaching matters and that students can learn.

The book is based on 15 years of research that looks at the best college teaching from a more bird’s eye view to identify the essential characteristics of our best teachers. It is a great resource and I want to share some key learning with you. Many of the themes of this book resonate with my own teaching. They include:

-How the best teachers exhibit some combination of 13 goals or targets for preparing to teach. I will discuss the 13 goals in my next post.

– What the best teachers expect of their students.

– How the best teachers draw from seven unifying principles to deliver a course.

– The types of invitations that the best teachers extend to their students when attempting to draw them into a learning community.

– How we can learn more about our teaching, and improve, by pursuing a robust course evaluation system.

One theme Bain discusses regards tacit knowledge. The best teachers connect content knowledge with real-world practice so that students exhibit learning. I mention in many of my teaching posts the importance of Industry partnerships/developing tacit skills. I want to point to other Worn Through writers that discuss the importance of applied research via collections or history and culture, subjects easily adapted to the classroom. Some Worn Through examples supporting this theme are listed below:

Fashion in the Museum: Collection Access by Ingrid Mida

Museum Life: Balancing Life and Work by Rebecca Evans

On Teaching Fashion: Working Together by Kelly Cobb

We are lucky to teach in a field that has such opportunity in applied learning regarding co-op, internship, tours and industry engaged projects. I won’t discuss the changing landscape of internships, however, this is a hot topic worthy of further discussion in future posts.


Students attending KingPin’s Denim show, 2012  (image credit: K.Cobb)

In the classroom, it is essential to stay “on the pulse” of our field. I see this as a huge area or opportunity for improvement that is relatively easy to solve: get involved! See things and do things! In the field of design I find that one sure fire way of staying on the pulse is to attend all manner of free trade shows and seminars over summer and winter breaks in NYC.  I also have my weekly reading list of trade and technical publication resources. I also try and attend as many events and exhibitions as possible. I am lucky to live in Philadelphia and have access to many resources, however, several of my best resources are accessible online. What do you teach and how do you keep up? I would love to hear from you. 

In my upcoming post I want to share Bain’s list of 13 “goals” or questions that great teachers ask when planning their courses. I encourage you to run out to the library and grab this book, it is an easy read and quite inspiring! Happy teaching.


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Available now: Punk Style by Worn Through founder, Monica Sklar, PhD. Find it at : Amazon.com, Powell's Books, or a bookseller near you.