Teaching techniques? It is not what you teach, but the way that you do it.
Identifying Sound Technique
Whether introducing five-year olds to phonics or telling tales of the Tudors to A Level history students, there is only really one way of measuring our success. Students’ learning.
Despite what some ivory towered experts tell us, if our students progress well our teaching techniques must be effective. Remember the terrible traumas of the early two thousands? The time when teaching was by rote, and some pedagogical prima donna had determined the shape of every lesson? While their methodology might sound a treat away from the educational coal face, in front of 9D it fell apart. In fact, the same was true for 9A, B, C, E and F. In those days a good lesson (the only good lesson) was deemed to feature:
• Introduction: fifteen minutes of exposition broken with whistle-stop activities;
• Activity: half an hour of endeavor interspersed with regular breaks to reiterate points and celebrate students’ work – woe behold any teacher who thought their students might be able to concentrate for more than ten minutes, or any pupil who simply wanted to get on without interruption.
• Plenary: fifteen minutes of teacher talk with occasional contributions from the confident and attention seeking, usually conducted on the classroom carpet. Any teacher who strayed from the prescription was likely to find themselves on the carpet.
Now, for the odd teacher, and odder student, such a technique might deliver some benefits. But for most, it was purgatory by pedagogy; six lessons a day all pretty much identical in form if not content. Bored sick. Teachers and their students.
But if we find that all our students are learning, retaining the information and skills we teach, and developing their own metacognitive approaches to their study, then our methodology is successful. The best senior managers recognize this, encouraging the maverick and rewarding the innovative. The worst have a fixed mind set our only hope is to stick a copy of the TES in front of them…and pray.
Teaching Techniques That Work
But it is all very well issuing airy fairy ideas like ‘if it works, it’s good.’ Professionals know this and teach accordingly. But sometimes finding that elusive alternative technique can be a challenge. The following have all proven to work over the years and, adapted to our own strengths and style, can deliver results.
Managing the Classroom
If chaos is king, learning is the loser. The old adage that it is easier to lighten up than get tough is true. But not much help if it is already half term and progress is constantly disrupted by recalcitrant behaviour.
The following might cause a shake of the head from over-qualified and under experienced managers, but it works. Once the class has regained their discipline, we can always ease up.
1. Always be there ahead of the class.
2. Line up.
3. Start the lesson with a regular, silent activity. Reviewing the notes from last lesson; reading a page of a textbook or novel; appraising our comments in exercise books, a puzzle on the board – anything that is short, but silent.
4. Talk as little as possible. Get the class working quickly. Individual tasks, which involve writing. Keep the work valuable, but simple (it can be sold as ‘revision’.)
5. Insist on a silent room. If paired talking is permitted, observe from afar to ensure that focus is maintained.
6. Ensure any sanctions are in perspective and as immediate as possible. A detention with senior management two weeks away is less effective than taking five minutes away five minutes of the next break.
7. Once the class is under control, work can be made more challenging and interesting. It is worth remembering also that for every child who benefits from a fast paced ‘whizz-bang lesson’ there will be another who really enjoys the certainty of routine.
Be A Lazy Teacher
There is a lot to be said for laziness. After all, if we are doing all the work, preparing copious notes and aids, planning to the nth degree, entertaining and dragging our students with us (we believe) it is us who are doing all the work, and the students who are sitting back and relaxing.
Clearly, a good lesson needs the following attributes:
1. A clear plan working towards an outcome
2. Recognition of each student’s starting point, and best learning method
3. Some means to assess the success of the students’ learning
But progress is best when it is our students who are doing the work. There are teachers who delude themselves that, because they have had a cracking time and dominated the last hour, their students have learned a lot. Yet their quiet might well have been boredom, not engagement.
Vary Our Approach
There is a school of thought, one which often emerges close to OFSTED time, that says a teacher is not doing their job unless their lessons are of the Catherine Wheel, firecracker variety mentioned above. It is tiring enough for us to deliver four lessons a day in this way but imagine how exhausting it will be for our students to sit through six or seven of these Monday to Friday. It is last week of term death by word search in reverse.
The sparkler has its place, but so does the getting on quietly, reinforcement lesson. As does a discussion, use of video (thoughtfully chosen and used), a visiting speaker, self or peer appraisal, the individual research, the one in the library or IT suite and so forth. Variety is the spice of life; it is also in the top league of teaching techniques.
The Best Teaching Techniques of All…
But above everything else, the best teachers love what they do. We adore working with young people, are embedded in our subject (or age group, for class teachers); nothing pleases us more than to engage a student with our passion.
For this kind of teacher, every day is a joy and our enthusiasm spreads so that even a bad lesson, or a failed attempt to try a different approach to a topic, does no harm. Students love being taught by this teacher; and their enthusiasm becomes the holy grail of an effective teaching technique.
To be honest, if that enthusiasm is never there, or it has been beaten out of us by the unending carousel of inspection, criticism, red-tape and devaluing of our work, then we will never be better than OK, whatever technique we employ.
But if we love our job, our students will love us, and they will learn. That is the most effective teaching technique of all. Always. Whatever the killjoys say.
1- Proven teaching techniques
2- How teaching has evolved during the last decade
3- Which teaching ideas to bin?
4- How do you know your pupil are learning?
5- The best lesson planning method
6- Teaching methods that work