Tag Archives: teaching methods

Best Practices in Teaching: Clear Lessons

What is an Effective Teacher?

For many, there are two types of teachers, the good, and the bad. However, labeling a teacher as bad is oversimplistic as there is so much more to the story than this. Many times the success of a “good” teacher and the disappointment of a “bad” teacher have more to do with differences in the effectiveness of their teaching.

A good teacher is good because they are more effective at what they do and vice versa. A struggling teacher can become much more successful through understanding how to be more efficient at what they do. Even with limited “natural” talent, a teacher who is trained to be efficient can have success in the classroom.

So what is effective teaching? An effective teacher is most often a role model and they serve as an example of what students should strive to become. Unfortunately, ineffective teaching also provides a poor example that some students influenced by. Amazingly, such traits as aptitude, personality, attitude, and even experience are not strong indicators of effective teaching. In this post, along with several more in the future, we will look at best practice for efficient. For now, we will look at one critical indicator of teaching effectiveness which is the ability to develop clear lessons.

Clear Lessons

Clear teaching is the ability of a teacher to share content in a comprehensible way. In order to have clear instruction consider the following do’s of lesson clarity

  • Clear lessons allow students to follow along in a systematic manner. This means that a teacher should be familiar with various forms of instructional design which takes into account how people process information. In many ways, the teacher is taking the students on a journey with him/her. The students know what they are doing, where they are going, how they are getting there,  and when they will get there. Without direction, the students are lost and quickly frustrated.
  • Clear lesson actual involves direct oral delivery. Direct instruction has been receiving a bad rap over the last few years as there has been more and more push towards active learning and getting away from teacher-centered instruction. However, an effective teacher connects with his audience while speaking. They are aware of student’s understanding and communicate directly without mysterious unclear language. Sparingly used, direct communication plays a critical role in the 21st-century classroom.
  • Clear lesson includes an advance organizer. Advance organizers are pictorial representations of the content of the lesson. The purpose of organizers is to introduce a lesson, guide students through a lesson, and conclude a lesson.They provide a context in which the relationships of various ideas are seen in how they are connected.
  • Clear lessons include assessing prior knowledge. Keeping with the tenets of instructional design, an effective teacher begins with a review of knowledge students should already have in order to determine where to begin the lesson of the day. In addition, information processing theories indicate that constant reviewing deepens the understanding of the students and can contribute to elaboration and higher levels of thinking.
  • Clear lessons provide an application. This is an aspect of humanistic teaching, which emphasis relevancy. In a post-modern world, students need to know how they can implement the information they are learning in school. The application provides the setting in which students can connect what they learned to their own life. This experience is at the heart of constructionism. The inclusion of context helps in not only information processing but in understanding as relevance has been created for the student.

Conclusion

Lesson clarity is in many ways an indication of a teacher’s organizational skills. In addition, the clarity of the teacher plays a role in the academic performance of students. This is a teachable skill. Many are clearer than others but all can improve their ability to develop clear lessons. The trick is to know how well you do this and to develop steps to improve.

Methods of Teaching English: Part 4

The last few post have been looking at various methods of teaching English. In this post, we will look at the following

  • Communicative Language Teaching
  • Task-based learning
  • Lexical method

Communicative Language Teaching

The premise behind communicative language teaching (CLT) is that people need to learn the spoken functions of language as well as they learn the grammar. Therefore, students in this method focused on communicating as much as possible and learn the grammar of the language along the way. By doing this, students understand the language would happen naturally.

With CLT the focus is always on realistic communication. Role play and simulation are common techniques of the CLT method. For the most part, whatever replicates real communication falls under the CLT method. This has led to confusion in defining CLT as it is a vague method in terms of what it is.

There is some criticism of CLT. For example, it favors native-speakers who can teach in an improvised language environment. CLT is also difficult to use in a context that is traditionally teacher-centered. Another concern is that students develop fluency in the language at the expense of accuracy in their understanding of the grammar.

Task-based Learning

In Task-based learning (TBL) students learn the language by performing various task. TBL has three steps.

  1. Pre-task–Introduction of the topic and task
  2. Task cycle–Students complete the task
  3. Language focus–Students analysis what they did and learn the language lesson

For example, the teacher explains the activity of the day and goes over necessary new vocabulary (pre-task). Next, students are given a bus schedule and they are asked to tell what time such and such bus arrives (task cycle). Lastly, the students complete the task and then the teacher explains whatever language was being used (language focus). This is a highly inductive form of learning. The belief is that if they complete the task then they will develop competency in the language.

Criticism of TBL is that the term is vague and involves common learning task. Another problem is that there is more to language than just completing a task. Some even believe that focusing on a task while also learning the concepts of a language could overload a learner’s cognitive capacity.

Lexical Method

The lexical method is based on the belief that language is not about grammar but multi-word pre-made chunks. Examples include Come on…?, I’ll try, You must be kidding?, may as well. If students learn these “chunks” they can make a whole string of sentences. Students learn how to use these phrases and thus learn the language.

The Lexical method has detractors like all other methods discussed. For one, no one has been able to prove how learning these short phrases actually helps in learning the language. It is like learning the phrases in a phrase book. You know the phrases without knowing the language.

Another concern is the lack of procedures for the Lexical method. A method without procedures is not much of a method. For many, this is a method without support.

Conclusion

These methods here are among some of the most common teaching methods in language learning. Teachers and students need to see what is best among the myriad of choices when deciding on how learning will take place in their classroom.

Methods of Teaching English: Part 2

In this post, we will continue our discussion on various methods of teaching English. In particular, we will look at the Presentation, Practice, and Production method (PPP) along with variations of this approach.

The PPP method is actually derived from the Audiolingualism method. The difference between PPP and audiolingualism is that PPP places language in obvious situational contexts. The teacher uses a scenario that provides contextualization of the language acquisition. Students practice the language within the context. For example, if the context is movies the students or the teacher would develop phrases related to the topic of movies.

The PPP method is divided into the following procedure

  • Presentation
  • Practice
  • Production

Presentation

Presentation is the teacher sharing the context of the discussion. For example, the teacher may show a picture of people in the library. The teacher may then point to various people in the picture and ask the students what the people in the picture are doing.

As the students respond the teacher listens for the grammar that she wants to isolate for practicing. If the goal is to develop students understanding of contractions this is what the teacher will listen for as the students provide answers to her question. Another way to do this is by the teacher modeling the answer she wants. By allowing the students to generate the material it can help in improving relevancy for the students. This experience leads to the next step in the PPP procedures.

Practice

At this stage, the students employ what they learned several times in relation to the context. Returning to our library example, the teacher has the students develop several sentences that describe what is happening in the library while using contractions. This process is also called cue-response.

Production

At this stage, the students are no longer answering the teacher but are developing their own sentences related to the picture. The context can even be extended beyond where the learned the new skill. For example, after learning about contractions in relation to the picture of the library, students might use contraction to describe school, family, friends, etc.

Variations

There are several variations of the PPP method. Most are in response to criticism of PPP. Some claim that this approach is teacher-centered or that the processes are too linear.

One alternative is the Deep-End Strategy which allows a teacher to begin the lesson at any point in the PPP method. Teachers are not bound to start at presentation but can begin anywhere in the procedure. This allows flexibility and removes the linear criticism of the PPP method.

Another variation is the Engage, Study, Activate method. Engage means that the students are emotionally ready to learn. Study is the focus of the student on a form or component of a language such as past tense, passive voice, etc. Activate is the students use of the language in a meaning making activity.

Conclusion

The PPP method is one of many tools that teachers can employ in the teaching of language. It involves the use of context in order to enhance the relevancy for the student. Though this process has its critics, the PPP method is a practical and simple way to teach language.

Methods of Teaching English: Part I

In this post, we will begin a discussion on various methods of teaching language, primarily English. In this post, in particular, we will look at the Grammar-Translation Method, the Direct Method, and Audiolingualism.

Grammar-Translation Method

One of the oldest methods for teaching people a new language is the Grammar-Translation method. It is derived from the belief that students can acquire a language through rigorous training in translating the language and learning the grammatical rules of it.

This belief or approach to language acquisition led to a practical set of techniques. Among some of the common techniques of the Grammar-Translation method include.

  1. Reading text in the new language.
  2. Translating the text into the students’ language
  3. Learning grammatical rules of the new language
  4. Memorizing vocabulary

This is an excellent method for learning to read in another language. You simply learn the vocabulary, grammatical rules, and you are ready to go. For those who study ancient languages such as Latin, Greek, and Hebrew in biblical studies, this is the approach used for acquiring knowledge of the language.

One of the biggest concerns with this method was the indifference to speaking. Students who learn with the Grammar-Translation method often do not acquire verbal communication skills. This leaves them with a theoretical knowledge of the language with an understanding of practical use.

Direct Method

The Direct method is a reaction to the Grammar-Translation method. The Direct method de-emphasized translation and focused instead on the teachers and students speaking together. Grammatical rules were related to real-life objects and the target language was the only language used in the classroom. Below is a list of common techniques associated with the Direct method.

  • Reading aloud
  • Self-correction
  • Dictation
  • Question and answers

This method allowed for the development of verbal skills while still allowing for understanding grammatical rules. The Direct method is also practical as it relates well to language use in the real world. However, there are problems with this method. The Direct method emphasizes pronunciation, which requires a native speaker. Another concern was that mostly strong teachers can use this method in the classroom. Lastly, the avoidance of the native language makes it difficult to communicate at times.

The Direct method, over time, has morphed into what is now called Audiolingualism. This method is derived from the approaches related to behaviorism. This method relied heavily on operant conditioning and stimulus-response-reinforcement. The same techniques mentioned above were employed with the added caveat of positive reinforcement. Drills were used to help students to practice the language.

Conclusions

There are many more methods used in language teaching beyond the ones mentioned in this post. All methods are used primarily to help students to acquire mastery of a new language. The method employed depends on the needs of the students as well as the abilities and talents of the teacher.

Differentiated Instruction

One approach to dealing with the individual differences of students is the method of differentiated instruction. In this approach, the focus is on the academic success of individual students or a small group. In order to use this method, a teacher needs a knowledge of the students learning history, interests, readiness to learn among other things. This knowledge helps in developing individual lessons and activities that maximize the personal growth of each student.

In general, there are three crucial components of differentiated instruction. These components are…

  • Content
  • Process
  • Product

Content

The content in differentiated instruction is varied. This allows the learners to choose how they will learn. The content also varies in complexity in that students are able to complete tasks that are with their zone of proximal development. This allows all students to experience academic success.

Content is also present in incremental steps or from simple to complex. The goal is to meet the students where they are at and allow them to grow through activities that are appropriate for their current level of ability.

Process

Students are allowed to work individually, in small groups, or as an entire class. These various methods of the process of learning help to meet students various goals for learning. This also provides incentive for students to learn as they are allowed to learn in a format that is comfortable for them.

Products

Differentiated instruction calls for variety in the assessment methods. There is often a list of assignments to choose from. Students pick an assignment that is appropriate to their level of ability They are allowed to express their understanding of the content in a multitude of ways.

Pros and Cons of Differentiated Instruction

There are several advantages of differentiated instruction. One, a teacher can meet the individual needs of a student. Two, this approach is useful for diverse heterogeneous classrooms. Everyone is not put into the same mold but allowed various forms of demonstrating mastery. Lastly, there is a shift from subject-centered to a student-centered curriculum. This increases the level of activity of the student and helps in increasing learning.

Some cons of differentiated instruction are as follows. One, developing all of the various activities, assignments can be extremely taxing for even an experienced teacher. Another problem is marking different assignments for different students yet submitting a grade. If everyone does something different it leads to questions about the validity of the grading. Finally, a teacher has to teach and assisted with several different tasks simultaneously. This is again challenging to do.

Conclusion

Differentiated instruction is best for small classes with diverse students. As the classes grow larger, there is a need for more homogeneous teaching and assessment.  In addition, differentiated instruction is an advance teaching approach. Younger teachers are welcomed to attempt this approach but may find themselves overwhelmed due to the high demand on time. It is left to each teacher to decide if this approach is appropriate for them.

Indirect Instruction

Indirect instruction is a teaching approach that uses inquiry and encourages higher order thinking skills in an environment that encourage problem-solving and or project based learning. Indirect instruction is based on the philosophy of constructivism, which states that people derive meaning from their own experiences.

There are many different strategies that fall under the category of indirect instruction. The main characteristic of indirect instruction is that the teacher is not directly leading and teaching the students. Instead, the students are developing comprehension of the text among themselves. Some common strategies include.

  • Advanced Organizers
  • Student self-evaluation
  • Group discussion

Advanced Organizers

Advanced organizers provide a visual of whatever a teacher is trying to explain. The visual helps the students to organize and process the information they are seeing. Advanced organizers are indirectly explaining content through the visual they provide.

Below is an example of an advanced organizer. This chart is about various time periods in music. The visual divides the content into three eras (Baroque, Classical, and Romantic). Underneath each era is a prominent composer of that era (Bach, Mozart, and Listz). Students would see this information while the teacher is discussing it. By doing this, the visual reinforces the verbal information the student heard and strengthens retention.

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Student Self-Evaluation

Another way that students can learn is through providing them with the opportunity to review their performance on a particular task. Self-evaluation allows the student to assess how well they perform on a particular assignment or assessment. As the student judges their own progress, they learn what they are doing well at as well as where they need to improve. The teacher role is to provide hints as to what may be some of the student’s problems.

Self-evaluation can take one of many forms. For example, students can complete a rubric. The rubric provides a criterion by which the student can assess their performance. Another option is the use of a reflective journal. The journals help the students to consider their thoughts and feelings as they were participating in an activity or completing an assignment. The primary goal is to get the student thinking about how they are doing.

Group Discussion

Group discussion is an experience of several students coming together to share views on a concept or idea with or without the guidance of the teacher.The goals of group discussion are to understand a concept, engage the students, develop communication, and contribute to deeper thinking processes. The teacher, if they are participating, serves as a facilitator who provides a conducive environment for discussion as well as contributing to the discussion.

Group discussion allows students to think out loud and share their comments in the moment. This experience also allows for students to challenge one another and develop critical thinking skills. It is safe to say that most classes should have some form of discussion at one time or another. Such opportunities for verbal expression are important for the students to learn in a form other than the direct instruction of the teacher.

Conclusion

Indirect instruction is a method of teaching that allows the students to develop an understanding of the text with minimal leadership from the teacher. The methods here are just the tip of the iceberg in this form of instruction.

Inquiry Learning

Inquiry learning is a form of indirect instruction. Indirect instruction is teaching in which the students are actively involved in their learning by seeking solutions to problems or questions. In inquiry learning, students develop and investigate questions that they may have. The focus in inquiry learning is on what the students want to learn with some support from the teacher about a topic. Below are the steps of inquiry learning.

  1. Ask
  2. Investigate
  3. Create
  4. Discuss
  5. Reflect

Step 1: Ask

The teacher begins this process by taking the topic of the lesson and turning it into a question for the students to consider. For example, if the topic of a lesson is about flowers, a question to ask would be “How are flowers different from each other?” This is called the teacher-initiated stage of asking.

The student then develops their own questions that should help to answer the main question posed by the teacher. Continuing with the previous example, students may begin to ask specific questions about the various parts of a flower such as…

  • What do the pistils do?
  • What does the ovary do?
  • Why do flowers have petals?

This process is the student-initiated phase of the asking stage.

Step 2: Investigate

After creating questions, students need to determine how to study them. Students need to identify sources from which they can get the information they need. For our flower example, all that is needed is a textbook to find the answers. This may seem simplistic but it would often take children time to figure this out. It is the thinking process of inquiry that is important right now and not the depth thinking.

Step 3: Create

When data has been collected it is time to determine if the questions have been adequately answered. The question to consider is “does the answers satisfy the question completely?” This process of evaluation also helps in developing stronger thinking skills.

If there are problems here, the students can continue to do more research or adjust the questions they are asking. The goal is to evaluate the answers and synthesize them into a coherent structure.

Step 4: Discuss

Here, students share their results. They can compare results, develop conclusions, or share experiences. Explaining results helps students to remember them much better. Examining the results of others can also contribute to developing critical thinking skills.

Step 5: Reflect

In the last step, students think about how things went in the inquiry process. Where the questions appropriate? How was the data collection? Where the conclusions accurate? Are some of the questions that could be considered. All of this information is recorded as a paper, oral presentation, or whatever form is agreed upon by the teacher and students.

If students are satisfied the process stops here. However, if the students believe that the results are not satisfying they may develop new questions to continue the process. As such, the end of an inquiry learning experience is often left for the teacher to decide.