Being Clear and Organized May Be Simple Ways to Improve Teaching

December 16, 2013

By Steve Benton 

New findings from the Wabash National Study of Liberal Arts, reported recently in the Chronicle of Higher Education, reveal students learn more when instructors teach clearly and are well-organized. This finding is consistent with research conducted at IDEA. When instructors are rated highly on clarity and organization, students make greater progress on relevant objectives.

Two teaching methods on the IDEA Diagnostic Form (DF) pertain to clarity and organization: “Made it clear how each topic fit into the course” (#6) and “Explained course material clearly and concisely” (#10). Each correlates highly with student progress on gaining faculty knowledge (Objective 1), learning fundamental principles and theories (Objective 2), learning to apply course material (Objective 3), and developing specific skills and competencies (Objective 4). (See Technical Report 12.)

What’s more, Teaching Methods #6 and #10 are two of the most highly correlated items with student ratings of the overall excellence of the teacher (DF #41) and the course (DF #42). Providing reviews and summaries, signaling transitions, connecting new material with prior learning, defining new concepts and terms, using examples, and testing students’ understanding are just a few of the ways instructors can increase clarity and organization (see POD-IDEA Notes #6 and 10.

But such findings are not limited to IDEA. Multiple studies have consistently shown that teacher clarity and organization are highly correlated with student ratings of teaching effectiveness (Hativa, 2013). Being prepared, linking each lesson to the overall course framework, providing simple explanations, and connecting new information with students’ prior knowledge are common teacher behaviors tied to clarity and organization.


Hativa, N. (2013). Student ratings of instruction: A practical approach to designing, operating, and reporting. Oron Publications.

Very interesting topic.

Very interesting topic. Student learning refers to the outcomes of the course, regarding new knowledge, as well as subject-related skills and general abilities, including thinking and reasoning skills.

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