Tag Archives: teaching practices

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.

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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.

Planning Groupwork in the ESL Classroom

In teaching, as a teacher gives autonomy over to the students it often requires an increase in the preparation of the teacher. This is due to the unpredictable nature of entrusting students with the freedom to complete a task on their own.

For teachers who use groupwork, they need to make sure that they have carefully planned what they want the groups to attempt to achieve. Failure to do so could lead to listless groups that never achieve the learning objectives of the lesson.

In this post, we will look at steps to take when planning groupwork for the language learning classroom.

Establish the Technique

Before groupwork begins some direct instruction is almost always necessary, which means explain to the class what they will do. There are many different techniques consistent with groupwork. These include role plays, brainstorming, interviews, jigsaw, problem-solving etc.

The role of the teacher at this point is simply to provide a sense of purpose for the class. This allows the students to focus on understanding why they are doing something. This also helps the students to see why they are working in groups. This is particularly useful for those who do not enjoy groupwork.

Demonstrate the Technique

Actions always speak louder than words, what this means for groupwork is that the students need to see how the technique is done. This is particularly trying if it is a complex task and or the students have never done it before.

Naturally, it may be impossible to model a group technique alone. This necessitates the need to use student volunteers as you demonstrate the technique. Most students will claim shyness but they usually enjoy participating in such activities.

While going through the technique the teacher needs to narrate what is happening so the students can follow along. After completing the technique, the teacher than examples verbally what to do. This allows the students to receive additional direction through a different medium, which helps in retention of the information.

Create Groups

There are a variety of ways to divide and place students in groups. Groups can be base don proficiency, experience, age, gender, native language, randomly, etc. The decision for the creation of groups is left to the teacher but should be consistent with the goals of the assignment.

After groups are formed it is almost always necessary to go to each group and check for understanding of the instructions. A strange phenomenon in a classroom is how understanding decrease as you move from whole-class instruction, to group, to individual. When students are in groups they are often much more comfortable in sharing misgivings than when in a whole-class setting. As such, a teacher has to re-teach every group as there is always some form of misunderstanding. Once this is done, the students are thoroughly prepared to start the task.

Conclusion

Groupwork can be frustrating and this can normally be due to a lack of planning. It is not enough to just throw students together and have “fun”. A teacher must plan carefully for groupwork in order to prepare for the unexpected

Group Work in the ESL Classroom

Working in groups is a popular activity in many classes. Students and even teachers enjoy working together to complete a task in the classroom. This post will look at the use of groups in the ESL classroom. In particular, we will look at 4 benefits of groups for ESL students.

Interactive Opportunities

Group work is especially useful for large classes where chances to speak are fewer. Students placed in groups can talk with each other and not wait for a turn in a whole-class setting.

In small groups, there is an increase in the quantity or amount of speaking opportunities as well as an increase in the quality or type of communication that takes place. Many teachers are always looking to improve these two factors in their language classrooms.

Responsibility

Large, whole-class activities allow students to hide and not really learn or do anything. This problem is alleviated when students are placed in groups. Small groups compel students to participate and develop autonomy.

For many teachers, developing autonomous, responsible students is a goal of their teaching. As such,  a wise use of small groups in a large class can help to at least partially achieve this goal.

Supports Mixed Abilities

The use of groups can help to support students of varying abilities. Through combining strong students with those of moderate and low ability, the students are able to support one another in order to group. This can actual be a form of differentiated instruction support not by the teacher but by the students.

Instead of the teacher adjusting their teaching for each student. The strong students adjust how they explain and do things to accommodate the struggling students. This takes careful group selection on the part of the teacher but can be a powerful tool.

Social

For the outgoing members of the class, group work is just an enjoyable experience. It is common for students to gain energy just from being around each other. Group work can create a synergy that is difficult to capture in a larger whole-class experience

In addition, for those who are shy, group work allows for chances to share and speak in a smaller setting. This allows for students to communicate with a lower risk of criticism. This allows for students to focus on meaning and the exchange of ideas rather than on looking good.

Conclusion

Group work is by no means a cure-all for the problems in a classroom.  Rather, group work provides one way in which to stimulate language acquisition. Like any strategy, group work should be used in combination with other teaching strategies in the classroom.

Examples and Nonexamples in Teaching

Teaching involves the use of various techniques in order to convey meaning for the students. The available methods that are available are highly varied. In this post, we will look at the use of examples and nonexamples in providing meaning for students.

Example

The term many of us are probably familiar with is example. In education, examples represent an idea or concept that a teacher is trying to teach their students.For example (no pun intended), if a teacher is trying to explain vocabulary they may use several different illustrations to explain the word. Consider the example below.

Teacher: Today’s vocab word is convoluted. Convoluted means something that is complicated. For example, the human body is very convoluted with all of its cells and systems.

This example above brief an illustration of the use of examples. Examples provide synonyms or other means of similarity with the unclear concept. Therefore, an example is always like or similar to whatever it is an example of.

Nonexample

Nonexamples are, as you can tell, the opposite of examples.Where examples provide an instance of similarity, nonexamples provide an instance of contrast. Below is the same situation with the use of convoluted is a sentence but this time the teacher shows the meaning through employing a nonexample.

Teacher: Today’s vocab word is convoluted. Convoluted means something that is complicated. Something that is not convoluted would be a rock or a ladder.

The example in the last sentence is an example of what convoluted is not. The contrast helps students to envision what the word is not and to develop their own ideas of what the word is.

Teaching Ideas for Examples and Nonexamples

Depending on the teaching method there are many practical ways to use examples and nonexamples. If direct instruction is used, it would be the teacher who provides the examples and nonexamples. If indirect instruction is employed, the students create the examples and none examples. In cooperative or inquiry classrooms, small groups develop examples and nonexamples.

For whatever reason, it is normally easier to develop examples rather than develop non-examples. The mind seems better adapted at seeing similarities rather than differences. For this reason, challenging students to develop nonexamples, may stretch their thinking more.

As a teacher, it is probably best to develop examples and nonexamples before teaching that are consistent with the goals and objectives of the learning experience. It’s difficult to create great teaching strategies while in front of the students. A methodological approach to developing teaching tools is always valuable.

Conclusions

Examples and nonexamples are tools that most teachers have been using without perhaps knowing it. This is especially true for examples. However, understanding how and why the tools work is highly beneficial in inspiring informed practice.

Getting and Keeping Student Attention

Getting students to focus and pay attention is a major problem in education. Fortunately, there are several strategies that a teacher can use to help students to pay attention. In this post, we will cover the following approaches for maintaining a student’s attention…

  • Indicate what is important
  • Increase intensity
  • Include novelty
  • Include movement

Importance

There are times when students are engaged but they don’t know what to do or what they are looking for. For example, a teacher may want students to summarize a paragraph. However, it is common for students to get focused on the details of the passage and never identify the main point.

To overcome this problem, a teacher may want to focus the student’s attention on questions that will guide the students to summarizing the paragraph. The questions break down the task of summarizing into individual steps. Below is an example

  1. What is the topic of the paragraph?
  2. What are some of the details the author includes in the paragraph?
  3. What is the main point of the paragraph?

The example above provides one way the task of summarizing can be broken down into several steps. This helps in focusing the students.

Raise the Intensity

Increasing the intensity has to do with the amount of stimulus a child receives while doing something. For example, if a child is struggling to write the letter ‘t’ you may have them say out loud how to write it before writing the letter. This exposes the child to new material both verbally and in a psychomotor way.

The goal of this approach is to engage more of the student’s senses in order to help them to pay attention.

Novelty

This approach is self-explanatory. Students pay attention much more closely to something they have not experienced before. The only limits to this approach are the imagination.

For example, if a teacher is teaching math to small children, they may choose to use manipulatives as a new way of reinforcing the content. Another option would be to incorporate simple word problems.  There is truly no limit in this strategy.

Movement

Movement can involve the students and or the teacher moving around. When the students move it can help in breaking the monotony of having to sit still.  Movement is even beneficial for adult students. A moving teacher, on the other hand, is a moving target the students can focus upon. It is normally wise to avoid staying in one place too long when teaching children for the sake of attention and classroom management.

Conclusion

These ideas are some of the basics for increasing attention. Naturally, there are other ways to deal with this challenge. However, a teacher chooses to deal with this problem, they need to determine if their approach works for their students

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.