Category Archives: teaching

Teaching English

Teaching English  or any other subject requires that the teacher be able to walk into the classroom and find ways to have an immediate impact. This is much easier said than done. In this post we look at several ways to increase the likelihood of being able to help students.

Address Needs

People’s reasons for learning a language such as English can vary tremendously. Knowing this, it is critical that you as a teacher know what the need in their learning. This allows you to adjust the methods and techniques that you used to help them learn.

For example, some students may study English for academic purposes while others are just looking to develop communications skills. Some students maybe trying to pass a proficiency examine in order to study at  university or in graduate school.

How you teach these different groups will be different. The academic students want academic English and language skills. Therefore, if you plan to play games in the classroom and other fun activities there may be some frustration because the students will not see how this helps them.

On the other hand, for students who just want to learn to converse in English, if you smother them with heavy readings and academic like work they will also become frustrated from how “rigorous” the course is. This is why you must know what the goals of the students are and make the needed changes as possible

Stay Focused

When dealing with students, it is tempting to answer and following ever question that they have. However, this can quickly lead to a lost of directions as the class goes here there and everywhere to answer every nuance question.

Even though the teacher needs to know what the students want help with the teacher is also the expert and needs to place limits over how far they will go in terms of addressing questions and needs. Everything cannot be accommodated no matter how hard one tries.

As the teacher, things that limit your ability to explore questions and concerns of students includes time, resources,  your own expertise, and the importance of the question/concern. Of course, we help students, but not to the detriment of the larger group.

Providing a sense of direction is critical as a teacher. The students have their needs but it is your goal to lead them to the answers. This requires a sense of knowing what you want and  being able to get there. There re a lot of experts out there who cannot lead a group of students to the knowledge they need as this requires communication skills and an ability to see the forest from the trees.

Conclusion

Teaching is a mysterious profession as so many things happen that cannot be seen or measured but clearly have an effect on the classroom. Despite the confusion it never hurts to determine where the students want to go and to find a way to get them there academically.

Advertisements

Improving Lecturing

Lecturing is a necessary evil at the university level. The university system was founded during a time when lecturing was the only way to share information. Originally, owning books was nearly impossible due to their price, there was no internet or computer, and  there were few options for reviewing material. For these reasons, lecturing was the go to approach for centuries.

With all the advantages in technology, the world has changed but lecturing has not. This has led to students becoming disengaged in the learning experience with the emphasis on lecture style teaching.

This post will look at times when lecturing is necessary as well as ways to improve the lecturing experience.

Times to Lecture

Despite the criticism given earlier, there are times when lecturing is an appropriate strategy. Below are some examples.

  • When there is a need to cover a large amount of content-If you need to get through a lot of material quickly and don’t have time for discussion.
  • Complex concepts/instructions-You probably do not want to use discovery learning to cover lab safety policies
  • New material-The first time through they may need to listen. When the topic is addressed later a different form of instruction should be employed

The point here is not to say that lecturing is bad but rather that it is overly relied upon by the typical college lecturer. Below are ways to improve lecturing when it is necessary.

Prepare Own Materials

With all the tools on the internet from videos to textbook supplied PowerPoint slides. It is tempting to just use these materials as they are and teach. However, preparing your own materials allows you to bring yourself and your personality into the teaching experience.

You can add anecdotes to illustrate various concepts, bring in additional resources, are leave information that you do not think is pertinent. Furthermore, by preparing your own material you know inside and out where you are going and when. This can also help to organize your thinking on a topic due to the highly structured nature of PowerPoint slides.

Even modifying others materials can provide some benefit. By owning your own material it allows you to focus less on what someone else said and more on what you want to say with your own materials that you are using.

Focus on the Presentation

If many teachers listen to themselves lecturing, they might be convinced that they are boring. When presenting a lecture a teacher should make sure to try to share the content extemporaneously. There should be a sense of energy and direction to the content. The students need to be convinced that you have something to say.

There is even a component of body language to this. A teacher needs to walk into a room like they “own the place” and speak accordingly. This means standing up straight, shoulders back with a strong voice that changes speed. These are all examples of having a commanding stage presence. Make it clear you are the leader through your behavior. Who wants to listen to someone who lacks self-confidence and mumbles?

Read the Audience

If all you do is have confidence  and run through your PowerPoint like nobody exists there will be little improvement for the students. A good speaker must read the audience and respond accordingly. If, despite all your efforts to prepare an interesting talk on a subject, the students are on their phones or even unconscience there is no point continuing but to do some sort of diversionary activity to get people refocus. Some examples of diversionary tactics include the following.

  • Have the students discuss something about the lecture for a moment
  • Have the students solve a problem of some sort related to the material
  • Have the students move. Instead of talking with someone next to them they have to find someone from a different part of the lecture room. A bit of movement is all it takes to regain conscientiousness.

The lecture should be dynamic which means that it changes in nature at times. Breaking up the content into 10 minutes periods followed by some sort of activity can really prevent fatigue in the listeners.

Conclusion

Lecturing is a classic skill that can still be used in the 21st century. However, given that times have  changed it is necessary to make some adjustments to how a  teacher approaches lecturing.

Mentoring New Teachers

A career in teaching is an attractive option for many young adults. One of the major challenges in a career in teaching is the student teaching experience that is normally placed at the end of the degree program. This post will provide some suggestion for teacher mentors

Go Over Local Expectations

Every school has its own set of policies and expectations that all employees need to adhere too. Often, the student teacher is not aware of these and it is the mentoring teacher’s responsibility to provide some idea of what is expected. This includes such things as showing them around the campus, communicating expectations for how to dress, discipline procedures, and even how to deal with grades.

Knowing these little things can allow the new teacher to focus on teaching rather than the administrative aspects of the classroom.

Provide Feedback

Feedback is critical so that the new teacher knows what they are doing well and wrong. It is, of course, important to mention what the student teacher does well. However, growth happens by providing support to overcome weaknesses.

The temptation for many supervising teachers is simply to mention what the problems are and let the student figure out what to do. This approach may work for an experience or a highly independent teacher. However, for most new teachers they need specific support on what to do in order to improve their teaching and overcome a weakness.

Therefore, criticism without some sort of suggestion for how to overcome the problem is not beneficial. In addition, it is important to only address major problems that can cripple the educational experience of the students rather than every single weakness in the students teaching. We all have issues and problems with our teaching and for beginners, only the big problems should be corrected.

The student also should provide feedback on how they view their own teaching. Most teacher education programs require this in the form of a journal. However, the benefit of the journal is only in discussing it with others such as the mentor teacher.

Lead By Example

IN reality, in order for a student to be a successful teacher, they need to see what successful teaching is so they can imitate until perfection. What this means for you as a supervising teacher is that you need to lay the example for the student to imitate. Everyone has there own style but a good example goes a long way in molding the teaching approach of a student.

This also means that a mentor teacher needs to do a lot of verbalizing in terms of what they do. Often, as an experienced teacher, things become automatic in the classroom. You know what to do without much thought or discussion. The problem is that if there is a lack of explanation in terms of wqhat is happening the student teacher is not able to deermine why you are doing certain things. Therefore, a mentor teacher must explained explictiylywhat they are doing and why while they are provding the exmple of teaching.

Conclusion

Students who dream of teaching need support in order to have success. This involves bringing in people with more experience to support these young teachers as they develop their skillset. This means that even experienced teachers need some support in order to determine how to help new teachers

Elearning Academic Success

Studying online has become almost an expectation now. Even if you never earn a degree or take a class for credit online there are still many opportunities to train and develop skills over the internet. The role of the teacher is to try and find ways to engage and support their students as they begin their learning experience physically alone with support perhaps thousands of miles away.

In this post, we will look at ways to encourage the academic success of students while studying online. Two ways to support academic success in elearning involve providing feedback and encouraging engagement.

Provide Feedback

Feedback is critical in every aspect of teaching. However, in elearning, it is even more important. This is because the students have no face-to-face communication with you so they have no idea how they are doing beyond a letter grade. In addition, there is no body language to examined or other paralinguistic features that the student can infer meaning from.

Giving feedback requires timeliness. In other words, mark assignments quickly and indicate progress. In addition, if students do not meet expectations it is critical that you point them towards resources that will help them to inderstand. For example, students seem to neglect reading rubrics. When a student gets feedback from a rubric they can see where they were not succesfful.

In terms of a more formative feedback approach, there may be times where it is beneficial to live stream lecture. This allows the students to chime in whenever they do not understand an idea or point. Furthermore, the teacher can ask a question or two of the students and get feedback from them.

Engage Them

Engaging is almost synonymous with active. In other words, students should be doing something in order to learn. Unfortunately, listening is a passive activity which implies that lecturing is not the best way to inspire learning.

In the contest of elearning, one of the ways to inspire active learning is to have the students go out and do something in the real world and report what happens online in the form of a reflection. For example, students studying English will go out and teach English in the real world. They will then come and share their experience. The teacher is then able to provide insights and feedback to improve the students teaching. This provides a connection to the real world as well as a sense of relevance

In a more abstract subject, such as history, music theory, or engineering, students can become active through sharing these insights with laymen or explaining how they are already applying this information at their job or in the home. The goal of using provides the purpose for learning the content.

Conclusion

Feedback and engagement are critical to success in a situation in which the student is primarily learning alone which is found in the context of elearning.

Benefits of Coding in Schools

There is a push in education to have more students learn to code. In fact, some schools are considering having computer coding count as the foreign language requirement to graduate from high school. This in many ways almost singles that coding has “arrived” and is not a legitimate subject not just for the computer nerd but for everybody.

In this post, we will look at several benefits of learning to code while in school.

Problem-Solving

People often code to solve a problem. It can be something as small as making an entertaining game or to try and get the computer to do something.  Generally, the process of developing code leads to all kinds of small problems that have to be solved along the way. For example, you want the code to A but instead, it does B. This leads to all kinds of google searches and asking around to try and get the code to do what you want.

All this is happening in the context in which the student is truly motivated to learn. This is perhaps no better situation in which problem-solving skills are developed.

Attention to Detail

Coding involves the ability to see the smallest details. I cannot remember how many times my code would not run because I forgot a comma or a semicolon or perhaps I misspelled a variable. These problems are small but they must be noticed in order to get the code to run.

When students develop code they must write the code perfect (not necessarily efficiently) in order for it to work. This attention to the small things helps in developing students who are not careless.

Computational Thinking

Computational thinking is the skill of being able to explain systematically what you are doing. When developing code students must be able to capture every step needed to execute an action in their code. It is not possible to skip steps. Everything must be planned for in order to have success.

This type of thinking carries over into the real world when communicating with people. The computational thinking comes out when presenting information, teaching, etc. This logical thinking is a key skill in today’s world where miscommunication is becoming so common.

Employment Opportunities

Naturally, learning to code can lead to employment opportunities. There is a growing demand for people with coding skills. Some of the strongest demands are in fields such as Data Science in which people need a blend of coding and domain expertise to develop powerful insights. In other words, it is better to be well-rounded rather than a super coder for the average person as the domain knowledge is useful in interpreting whatever results the coding helped to produce.

Conclusion

There are naturally other benefits of coding as well. The purpose here was just to consider a few reasons. As a minimum, learning to code should be experienced by most students just as they are exposed to music appreciation, art appreciation, and other subjects for the sake of exposure.

Major Challenges of Teachers

This post will provide some examples of common problems teachers face. Although the post may seem overwhelmingly negative the purpose here is to provide insight into the actual realities of teaching rather than the romantic experience portrayed in many venues.

Adminstration

Administrators are in charge of the “big picture” of guiding a school towards particular goals that are often laid out by local laws and the results of the prior accreditation visit. This focus on large institutional goals can often cause the administrator to lose sight of the needs of the teachers (unless this was a recommendation from the last accreditation visit),

What results is a task-oriented leadership that is focused on attaining goals or at least showing progress towards goals. This can lead administrators to step on, overwork, and even mistreat teachers. It is hard to blame administrators because if they do not meet specific targets they could lose their own employment.

The constant meetings and incredulous policies that are derived to “help the students” can become exceedingly frustrating for any teacher. Rest assure that few administrators just randomly think up bad ideas. Often the inspiration is from a higher source that is abusing the local administrator.

Co-Workers

There is a surprising amount of petty bickering and fighting among teachers that can become Machevellini in nature. Gossiping backbiting and of course backstabbing all take place. A teacher A confides in teacher B there having problems handling their students and teacher B spreads this to everyone on-campus that teacher A is a terrible teacher who cannot handle her duties.

I’ve heard of teachers complaining that other teachers do not collaborate during lunch with them as though lunchtime is meant to be a meeting that has required attendance. In another setting, I’ve seen teachers slander another teacher in order to help a friend get the job. Petty jealousy can lead teachers to isolate themselves to avoid political attacks which makes it harder to support students.

Parents & Students

Perhaps the biggest problem facing teachers is not necessarily students but parents. If a child is out of line it should only take a simple phone call home to resolve the problem. However, this is almost never the case. Today many parents are indifferent to the behavior of their children. This leaves the teacher only to provide intervention towards a wayward student.

The other extreme is the parent who overly protects and defends everything their child does. This undercuts the teacher’s authority in the same way as a parent who does not provide any sort of behavioral support. The same parents are often quick to get the attention of the administration which is always.

Class Administration

There are a bevy of things that a teacher must do in their own classroom such as

  • Class preparation
  • Marking assignments
  • Decorating
  • Meetings
  • Communicating with parents/students
  • Professional development

This all requires serious time management. It is hard to stay on top of all of these expectations if you are laid back and easy going. It requires strict discipline in order to keep some sort of sanity.

Conclusion

Teaching is tough. However, it is not all bad. There are many rewarding moments in being a teacher. Yet to be successful a teacher must be aware of the common problems that will face so that they are able to weather them.