Thanks to my friend Ron for finding this most helpful article from the New York Times about how learning actually happens. Some of the good stuff:
1. There is no such thing as "learning style (visual, auditory, etc.)"
2. Ditto with teaching style. There are few commonalities between teachers who create an effective learning environment.
3. You learn better if you study the same material in different locations.
4. Varying the type of material studied in a single session can have better results than studying just one thing.
5. Practice tests and quizzes are not just assessment tools but can actually aid in learning the material.
#1/2/3 don't really impact my teaching at all. But perhaps I will be less judgmental of the really quiet, or social skill lacking teachers that I've met and assumed were ineffective. Perhaps it's not the case.
#4. I think this is what all teachers are hopefully doing. Even in a single 40 minute class, I'll try to hit all 4 areas (speaking/listening/reading/writing). I try to do a different activity at least every 10 minutes. Those classes that focus entirely on one thing, such as grammar or listening, have in my experience been a complete waste of time. I was bored, the students were bored and their brains weren't engaged. It makes sense. And yet, language program designers keep making these classes, when a more holistic focus would be considerably more helpful.
#5. I did a biweekly quiz for one semester as an experiment. I think it was actually effective in helping the students learn because nothing really gets information in the brain than having to know it for a test. And then I'd combine that with review every class, and the same material tested on the midterm and final exams. So maybe the students actually remembered what I taught them?!
However, my school uses student's evaluations to a large degree when evaluating their teachers. And since most students don't like tests, my evaluations were lower than other semesters when I had no biweekly test. I don't want to lose my job, so that was a short-lived experiment.