Tag Archives: teaching

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.

Advertisements

Teacher Burnout

Teacher burnout is a common problem within education. The statistics vary but you can safely say about 1/3 of teachers suffer from some form of burnout at one point or another during their career. This post will define burnout, explain some of the causes, the stages of burnout, as well as ways to deal with burnout.

Definition

Essentially, teacher burnout is an experience of a person who is overwhelmed by the stress of teaching. The most common victims of this are young teachers as well as female teachers.

Young teachers are often at higher risk because they have not developed coping mechanisms for the rigors of teaching. Women are also more often to fall victim to teacher burnout because of the added burning of maintaining the home as well as difficulties with distancing themselves emotionally from their profession as a teacher.

Causes

Teacher burnout is generally caused by stress. Below are several forms of stress that can plague the teaching profession.

  • Workload-This is especially true for those who can never say “no.” Committees, field trips, student activities, grading, lesson plans, accreditation. All of these important tasks can overwhelm a person
  • Student behavioral problems-Classroom management is always a challenge as families continue to collapse.
  • Issues with leadership
  • Boredom-This stressor is more common with experienced teachers who have taught the same content for years. There are only so many ways to teach content that are appealing to the teacher before there is some repetition. Boredom can also be especially challenging for a teacher who values learning more than personal relationships with students.

Stages of Burnout

The stages of teacher burnout follow the same progression as burnout in other social work like professions. Below are four stages as developed by McMullen

  1. Closed off- The burnout victim stops socializing and is rigid against feedback. Signs include self-neglect.
  2. Irritable-The victim temper shortens. In addition, he begins to complain about everything. Problems are observed everywhere whether they are legitimate or not.
  3. Paranoia-The teacher is worried about everything. Depression is common at this point as well as a loss of motivation.
  4. Exhaustion-THe teacher is emotionally drained. They no longer “care” as they see no way to improve the situation. Compassion fatigue sets in which means that there is no more emotional support to give to students.

Dealing with Burnout

Perhaps the most important step coping with burnout is to prioritize. It is necessary for a sake of sanity to say no to various request at times. Personal time away from any job is critical to being able to return refreshed. Therefore, teaching cannot be the sole driving force of the typical person’s life but should be balanced with other activities and even downtime.

It may also be necessary to consider changing professions. If you are not able to give your best in the classroom perhaps there are other opportunities available. It is impractical to think that someone who becomes a teacher must stay a teacher their entire life as though there is no other way to use the skills developed in the classroom in other professions.

Conclusion

Burnout is a problem but it is not unique to education. What really matters is that people take control and responsibility of their time and not chase every problem that comes into their life. Doing so will help in coping with the rigors of the teaching profession.

Critiques of Groupwork in ESL Classrooms

Many ESL teachers adhere to the principles of Communicative Language Teaching which includes such characteristics as cooperative language learning and groupwork. However, not everyone has embraced the emphasis on groupwork in modern language classrooms.

This post will explain some of the common objectives to groupwork in order to inform language teachers as to what concerns some have with the popularity of groupwork.

Use of the L1 Groupwork

If a class has a large number of students who share the same L1 there is a risk that the students will use their L1 when working in groups. This is a particular risk in EFL classrooms. However, there are several ways to address this problem

  • Make sure the task is of moderate difficulty. Too hard or too easy will encourage L1 use
  • Provide clear directions. If the students don’t understand what to do they will communicate frustration  in their own language
  • Emphasis the use of the L2. This provides relevance and accountability

Lost of Control

Groupwork usually looks chaotic and messy. Some teachers and administrators do not like the appearance of groupwork even if learning is taking place. Dealing with this problem requires the use of a reduced emphasis on groupwork but not the total removal of it.

There are times when group work should be avoided because of control issues. Below are some examples

  • Difficult students
  • Extremely large class sizes (how large depends on the teacher)
  • Inexperience teacher

Any of these situations call for caution for the teacher. Furthermore, it is necessary for the teacher to circulate throughout the room and try to support the various groups. This is difficult but normally easier than trying to support all students individually.

L2 Use in Groups will Reinforce Errors

Some argue that students using the L2 with proper feedback will develop bad habits. This true but bad habits in the L2 may be better than not using the L2. For some, broken English is better than no English.

The concern here is looking at fluency vs accuracy. Each teacher can have their preference but constant correction often discourages language use. As such, free-flowing conversation with the teacher looking the other can help in developing fluency.

Working Alone

Some students prefer to work alone. However, communication is a group experience. This means that the quiet ones must experience at least some groupwork in order to develop their language skills. Therefore, the teacher needs to encourage some groupwork regardless of student preference.

Conclusion

Groupwork should be a part of most language classrooms. The question is trying to find the appropriate balance of groupwork with other forms of learning. This is left for each teacher to decide for themselves.

Interactive Learning in TESOL

Interactive learning is a foundational theory of language acquisition that has had a profound influence on many approaches/methods in TESOL. By foundational, it is meant that teaching in an interactive is an assumption for ensuring language acquisition.

This post will explain what interactive learning is as well as ways in which it is used in the TESOL classroom.

Interaction Hypothesis

The technical term for interactive learning is the interaction hypothesis developed by Michael Long. This hypothesis proposes that input and output in language. As students engage with each other both in written and oral ways there communication skills will improve. This, of course, is obvious for most of us but credit must still be given when someone takes what is obvious and becomes the first to note it in the literature.

Communication is viewed as a negotiation between two or more people. This experience of back and forth is where language skills are developed.

Traits of Interactive Learning

If a teacher is a proponent of interactive learning. It is possible you will see one or more of the following experiences in their classroom.

  • Majority of the learning happening in groups or pairs
  • Generating authentic language using real-world activities
  • Back and forth negotiated speaking
  • Tasks that prepared students to communicate outside the classroom

This is just a partial list of learning experiences that take place in an interactive learning classroom. The primary take away may be that it would be rare for students to work alone and or spend a great deal of time listening to lectures or on non-authentic assignments.

Approaches/Methods Influenced by Interactive Learning

The majority of approaches/methods developed in the latter half of the 20th have been partial are fully influenced by interactive learning. Communicative Language Teaching is completely about interaction. Cooperative language teaching is also highly interactive. Community language learning is also heavily influenced by interaction.

Other approaches/methods may or may not be interactive. Examples include Whole Language, Competency-Based Language Teaching, Text-Based Instruction, and Task-Based instruction. If any of these were to incorporate interactive activities it would be at the discretion of the teacher.

Conclusion

Interactive learning is perhaps the dominant foundational theory of language teaching in TESOL today. The majority of approaches/models are at least sympathetic to learning a language in this manner. As such, a language teacher should at least be familiar with this theory or perhaps consider incorporating these characteristics into their teaching philosophy.

Drill Pattern Activities for ESL Students

Drill and practice is a behavioral approach to acquiring language. Through the frequent use of drills, students will hopefully uncover the pattern and structure of the language.

Although there is criticism of drill and practice such as the focus on memorization and the common inability of the student to generate language on their own. This method is still used frequently in language teaching.

The purpose of this post is to provide several drill and practice activities that can be used in teaching language. In particular, we will look at the following activities

  • Inflection
  • Replacement
  • Restatement
  • Completion
  • Transportation
  • Contraction
  • Integration
  • Rejoinder
  • Restoration

Inflection

Inflection involves the modification of a word in one sentence in another sentence

Example

I bought the dog —–> I bought the dogs

Replacement

Replacement is the changing of one word for another

Example

I ate the apple —–> I ate it.

Restatement

Restatement is the rewording of a statement so that it is addressed to someone else

Example

Convert the sentence from 2nd person to third person

Where are you going?—–>Where is he going?

Completion

Completion is when the student hears a sentence and is required to finish it.

Example

The woman lost _____ shoes—–>The woman lost her shoes

Transposition

A change in word order is needed when a word is added to the sentence

Example

I am tired. (add the word so)—–>I am so tired.

Contraction

A single word replaces a phrase or clause

Example

Put the books on the table—–>Put the books there

Integration

Two separate sentences are combined

Example

They are kind. This is nice—–>It is nice that they are kind

Rejoinder

These are responses to something that is said. A general answer based on a theme is expected from the student

Example say something polite

Thank you

Example agree with someone

I think you are right

Restoration

The student is given several words and they need to combine them into a sentence

Example

boy/playing/toy—–>The boy is playing with the toy

Conclusion

The examples in this post provide some simple ways in which English can be taught to students.  These drill and practice tools are one of many ways to support ESL students in their language acquisition.

Distributed Practice: A Key Learning Technique

A key concept in teaching and learning is the idea of distributed practice. Distributed practice is a process in which the teacher deliberately arranges for their students to practice a skill or use knowledge in many learning sessions that are short in length and distributed over time.

The purpose behind employing distributed practice is to allow for the reinforcement of the material in the student’s mind through experiencing the content several times. In this post, we will look at pros and cons of distributed practice as well as practical applications of this teaching technique

Pros and Cons

Distributed practice helps to maintain student motivation through requiring short spans of attention and motivation. For most students, it is difficult to study anything for long periods of time. Through constant review and exposure, students become familiar with the content.

Another benefit is the prevention of mental and physical fatigue. This is related to the first point. Fatigue interferes with information processing. Therefore, a strategy that reduces fatigue can help in students’ learning new material.

However, there are times when short intense sessions are not enough to achieving mastery. Project learning may be one example. When completing a project, it often requires several long stretches of completing tasks that are not conducive to distributed practice.

Application Examples

When using distributed practice it is important to remember to keep the length of the practice short. This maintains motivation. In addition, the time between sessions should initial be short as well and lengthen as mastery develops. If the practice sessions are too far a part, students will forget.

Lastly, the skill should be practiced over and over for a long period of time. How long depends on the circumstances. The point is that distributed practice takes a commitment to returning to a concept the students need to master over a long stretch of time.

One of the most practical examples of distributed practice may be in any curriculum that employs a spiral approach. A spiral curriculum is one in which key ideas are visited over and over through a year or even over several years of curriculum.

For our purposes, distributed practice is perhaps a spiral approach employed within a unit plan or over the course of a semester. This can be done in many ways such as.

  • The use of study guides to prepare for quizzes
  • Class discussion
  • Student presentations of key ideas
  • Collaborative project

The primary goal should be to employ several different activities that require students to return to the same material from different perspectives.

Conclusions

Distributed practice is a key teaching technique that many teachers employ even if they are not familiar with the term. Students cannot see any idea or skill once. There must be exposed several times in order to develop mastery of the skill. As such, understanding how to distribute practice is important for student learning.

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.

The Natural Approach to Language Acquisition

The Natural Approach is a somewhat radical approach in language teaching. By radical I mean that it was often anti-everything that was happening in language teaching at the time of its development. Now, the Natural Approach is considered a fringe but not too shocking in terms of the philosophy behind it.

In this post, we will look at the assumptions, curriculum and of the Natural Approach

Assumptions

The Natural Approach is based on cognitivism and starts with the assumption that language learning emerges naturally if students are given appropriate exposure and conditions.

The focus is always upon the meaning of words and grammar is not focused upon. There is no need to explicitly analyze the grammatical structure of a language. Instead, the Natural Approach, students need time to develop gradually a knowledge of the rules. The language experience must always be slightly beyond the student’s ability as this stretches the student to continue to grow.

The Natural Approach also encourages maintaining an enjoyable and warm classroom environment. This is believed to help with motivation, self-confidence, and anxiety.

Curriculum

The Natural Approach is intended for beginners in a language. Therefore, the most basic skills are acquired from the use of this approach. The learner plays a role in the development of the curriculum. They are expected to do the following.

  • Share their goals for learning the language
  • Deciding when they want to begin to talk in the target language
  • Make sure the communication in the class is comprehensible

The teacher’s role is to provide clear examples of the target language. The teacher is also expected to provide a friendly warm atmosphere of learning. Lastly, the teacher needs to provide a variety of learning experiences.

The teacher achieves these goals through the use of games and group activities. Singing is another aspect of the Natural Approach as well. Basically, the students experience the language in a fun, low-stress environment. Through this easy-going experience, language acquisition takes place.

Conclusion

The Natural Approach to language learning is distinct in its cognitive focused yet relax environment emphasis. This approach is highly useful for training children in particular in acquiring a new language as the focus is more on fun than the academic discipline of learning.

Competency-Based Education

Competency-based education (CBE) involves focusing on the outcomes of learning in the form of standards/objectives rather than the input of learning as they are developed by the teacher. This is actually a radical shift in terms of approaching curriculum development.

This post would provide a brief explanation into CBE and its role in education

The Old vs the New

One of the original models for curriculum development was established by Ralph Tyler. His model, in summary, includes the following steps

  1. Decide what to teach
  2. Decide how to teach it
  3. Decide how to assess it

This model is a classic but it is lacking in including actions that the students should do. When employing the Tyler model, all the teacher has to do is get through content without concern for the progress of the student.

CBE, has a slightly different model for curriculum development

  1. Describe learning outcomes (what the student can do at the end of the course).
  2. Decide how to assess it
  3. Decide how to teach it

There are some significant differences between these two models. For example, the CBE model starts with learning outcomes and progress not to how to teach but how to assess. Developing the assessment first ensures that the teaching is consistent in preparing students for the assessment because the teachers know already what they are assessing.

When developing learning outcomes the need to be specific and practical. This is in contrast to goals which are broad and immeasurable. Learning outcomes should be mastered one at a time to allow the student to focus.

Focus of CBE

CBE also emphasizes the following

  • Authentic assessment-The assessment must be based on real-world scenarios. This allows students to develop skills for functioning in society.
  • Continuous assessment–Another term for this is formative assessment. There is no benefit to assessing students only summatively from the CBE perspective as this negates the incremental use of learning outcomes.
  • Demonstration of mastery-Before moving to the next step, students must show mastery of the current information.

The focus of CBE allows for learners to know where they are in terms of their progress.

Conclusion

From the perspective of some, the entire standards based approach to teaching is based on principles derived from CBE. Businesses also use this approach in developing training materials for their workers. The extent to which CBE has influenced education is deep and far reaching.

With its focus on breaking expected behaviors into small increments, CBE is very useful in assessing people and providing data. This is perhaps the strongest reason for the success of this approach.

Rapid Instructional Design

Instructional design is a critical component of education particularly in the field of e-learning. Instructional design can be defined as the application of learning principles in order to support the learning of students. To put it simply, instructional design involves designing the teaching in a way that improves learning.

In this post, we will look at one example of an instructional design. We will look at Dave Meiers’s Rapid Instructional Design (RID).

Meier’s RID model uses learning techniques that speed up learning and includes a learning environment that emphasizes practice, feedback, and experience rather than presentations. RID is focused on active learning rather than the traditional model of passive learning through such examples as lecturing.

The RID model has the following four phases

  • Preparation
  • Presentation
  • Practice
  • Performance

Preparation

Preparation is about preparing the learner for learning. In this first step, the teacher would share the big picture of the learning experience. This includes state the goals and benefits of the learning experience. Other activities at this step are to arouse the interest of the reader in an appropriate matter and to deal with any potential problems that would impede the learning.

How this can be done varies. Often, beginning a lesson with a story or illustration can arouse interest. Dealing with problem students could be one way to deal with potential barriers to learning.

Presentation

At the presentation step, the learners are first exposed to the new knowledge and or skill. Whereas traditional teaching focuses on content delivery, the RID model focus on interactive activities and discovery learning.

A primary goal of RID is to use and incorporate real world phenomenon into the teaching. For example, do not only talk about math but develop lessons from the real world involving people and companies for the students. This enhances relevancy.

Practice

Practice involves having the students use whatever they just learned. This is critical as this allows them to learn through trial-and-error. As they receive feedback on their progress the students develop mastery.

Practice is easy in such fields as math, science, and even music. For more abstract fields such as critical thinking, theology, and philosophy. Practice takes place via discussion or through expressing ideas in writing. Demonstrating thought through communicating ideas verbally and in writing are forms of practice for more abstract subjects.

Performance

Performance is the application of the skill in a real-world setting. This is also known as an authentic assessment. How this is done is discipline specific.

In education, performance includes such activities as the student teaching phase of a new teacher. This allows the student to apply many of the skills they learned during their teacher training. In music, the recital serves as an excellent model of performance.

Conclusion

The RID model is just one of many ways to guide the learners of students. The value of this model is in the simplicity of its approach and the emphasis on active learning.

Beyond Teaching: Grow or What?

You survive your first year of teaching, in fact, you have survived several years of teaching. You are by no means an expert but you know your way around the classroom and can get things done with the students. You have a few tricks that you know will work and occasionally you add a new one. At this point in your career as an educator you have two choices

  1. Move into leadership (ie section leader, department head, vp, principal, etc.)
  2. Continue in the classroom

These are the two choices ever teacher faces after overcoming the initial struggles of the classroom. The reality is that there is little room for career advancement beyond leadership opportunities. Either you continue teaching the way you do now, become a better teacher, or move into leadership. There are few lateral positions in education, especially in smaller less populated areas. If you lack passion for leadership the classroom could become tedious.

This partially explains why the best and the brightest are not attracted to a career in the classroom. There are few opportunities for expanded responsibility. Combine this with low pay, difficult students and parents and there is little to attract someone to a lifetime in the classroom. A few years in the classroom is good for the resume but a career? This is a hard sell for many.

Despite these concerns there are several ways to grow among some of the most common includes

  • Reflection
  • Action research
  • Collaboration with others

Reflection

Reflection or praxis involves looking over what you taught and deciding what went well and not so well. This type of thinking can happening in writing by keeping a journal and or through recording yourself while teaching. This allows you to see what is working and not working and to develop a plan for change.

Action Research

Reflection is in many ways one form of action research. Action research is the process of systemically assessing problems in the classroom and developing an action plan for change. This topic has been discussed on this blog before.

Collaboration with Others

There are many ways teachers can work together to grow. For example, peer teaching involves teachers who mutual observe each others teaching and provide comments for growth and improvement. Peer observation is a teacher watching the teaching of another educator. It does not involve both teachers watching each other teach.

There are also the traditional method of seminars, conferences, magazines and more that help teachers to learn from each other. Working together is critically important as teaching can often become a lonely experience with collaboration.

Conclusion

Many believe that teaching should be a life-long profession. However, this is naive. People should continue in an occupation as long as they are fully committed to it and draw satisfaction from it. It is better to be an excellent teacher for five or ten years than to be a terrible teacher for 25 or 30 years because literature states that teaching is a life-time profession. JK Rowling, George Orwell, Lyndon Johnson, and even Sylvester Stallon were teachers before moving on to other opportunities. There is no need to worry about the lives you could have touch as an educator as long as you have a positive impact on the lives you actually came in contact with.

Learning to Learn: Teaching Autonomy to Students

For many educators, the primary purpose of education is to equip students to learn to learn and think for themselves. How this is done is not always clear. However, one goal is to help students to understand how they learn and to develop appropriate learning strategies that work with their character. This post will provide some strategies that promote learner autonomy.

Reflection

Reflection is about looking back on what happened and deciding what went well and not so well. This is an important step in autonomy in that students begin to understand what their strengths and weaknesses clearly are. However, it is not enough to define strengths and weaknesses. The next step is to have students develop a plan to maximize strengths and minimize weaknesses.

For example, after completing a major project or assignment in any class, you can have the students write a 1-2 reflection paper in which they share strengths, weaknesses, and a plan to maximize strengths and deal with weaknesses. The purpose of such an assignment is not to rigorously mark it but to get the students to think about their own progress.

Another approach involves having the students develop a list of what they can do after a particular learning experience. Whatever subject is taught, the students identify what they can now do.This is a way of empowering the students to realize that they have actually learned something and can go forward able to reproduce these skills.

Provide Different Strategies

Autonomy is about choice. Therefore, providing various learning strategies for the students can play a role in developing autonomy. An example would be providing various ways to take notes. Students can learn how to develop cluster notes, a traditional outline, or some other method. After the students learn several different strategies they then choose the one that works best for them.

The opportunity for choice empowers students with responsibility. In addition, students will probably pick the approach that works best for them. If they do not, they also will get to learn that a particular strategy is not for them and they can make the decision to switch to different one.

Teaching Each Other

When students support each other’s learning it helps them to better understand themselves. Having students evaluate and comment on each other’s work is another method of developing autonomy. Evaluating is near the top of the cognitive domain and is useful in developing the thinking skills of students.

The common name for what I am trying to explain is peer-review. When students serve as teachers to one another it provides an opportunity to develop autonomous learning skills.

Conclusion 

It is important that not everyone agrees with autonomous learning. Some people and many cultures expect the teacher to feed them the information. It is tempting to condemn this put it is better to remember that people view independence differently. For those who see that autonomy is important, this post provided some basic ways to approach this.

Tips for Lesson Planning: Part II

Before developing a plan of instruction there are many factors to consider. This post will consider the following points…

  • Needs assessment
  • Syllabus
  • Outlining purpose

Needs Assessment

Before committing to any particular plan of instruction, a teacher must determine what the needs of the students are. This is most frequently done through conducting a needs assessment.

There are many ways to find out what the students need to know. One way is through speaking with the students. This provides some idea as to what their interests are. Student interest can be solicited through conversation, interviews, questionnaire, etc. Another way is to consult the subject matter of the course through examining other curricula related to the subject.

As an educator, it is necessary to balance the needs of the students with the requirements of the course. Many things are modifiable in a course but some things are not. Therefore, keeping in mind the demands of students and the curriculum are important.

Developing the Syllabus

Once the instructor as an idea of the students needs it is time to develop the syllabus of the class. There are several different types of syllabus. A skill syllabus focuses on specific skills students need in the discipline. For example, an ESL syllabus may focus on grammar. Skill syllabus focus on passive skills not active

A functional syllabus is focused on several different actions. Going back to ESL. If a syllabus is focused on inviting, apologizing or doing something else it is a functional syllabus. These skills are active.

A situational syllabus is one in which learning takes place in various scenarios. In ESL, a student might learn English that they would use at the market, in the bank, at school, etc. The focus is on experiential/authentic learning.

The type of syllabus developed is based on the needs of the students. This is important to remember as many teachers predetermine this aspect of the learning experience.

Outlining Purpose

Developing aims and goals have been discussed in a previous post. In short, aims lead to goals, which lead to objectives, which is necessary can lead to indicators. The difference between each type is the amount of detail involved. Aims are the broadest and may apply across an entire school or department while indicators are the most detailed and apply maybe only to a specific assignment.

A unique concept for this post is the development of personal aims. Personal aims are opportunities for the teacher to try something new or improve an aspect of their teaching. For example, if a teacher has never used blogs in the classroom he/she might make a personal aim to use blogs in their classroom. Personal aims allow for reflection which is critical to teacher development.

Conclusion

Lesson planning begins with understanding what the students need. From there, it is necessary to decide what type of syllabus you will make. Lastly, the teacher needs to decide on the various information required such as goals and objectives. Keep in mind that many schools have a specific format for their syllabus. In so, a teacher can keep the concepts of this post in mind even if the structure of the syllabus is already determined.

Textbooks in the TESOL Classroom: To Use or Not to Use

For the past 35 years, there has been an interesting debate over the use of textbooks in English language learning context. Naturally, there are three camps, those who support the use of textbooks, those who do not support the use of textbooks, and those who believe it depends. In this post, we will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of using textbooks as well as tips for those who want to use textbooks but with flexibility.

Advantages

Good textbooks have a coherent curriculum within them that provides all the essentials needed for teaching, such as activities, assignments, media and clearly written text. This is priceless information especially for those new to teaching who do not have the prior experiences and or resources to teach a class without a textbook.

Most students actually prefer some sort of textbook as well. It allows them to track their progress by seeing what they have done and what they still need to do. There is a sense of pace as the class moves through the text. Even if the student neglects to read the textbook it still serves as an anchor throughout the course.

Disadvantages

Textbooks can be ridged if they are stubbornly adhered too. This can become a serious problem if there is something in the approach of the book that the students struggle to understand. Even a great textbook may not be able to meet the needs of a particular group of students.

Textbooks can have other issues as well. The book might be expensive, it might be too heavy or big for students, and or the textbook might also lack user-friendly features.

For Those on the Fence

Some want to use textbooks occasionally, for those here are some tips below

  • Replace only parts of the book with what you want- Some teachers use pieces of a textbook while replacing topics that do not work for them or their students. This is a reasonable compromise between total rejection and acceptance of a textbook.
  • Modify- Sometimes, teacher modifies a chapter or topic within a textbook instead of replacing it. Perhaps they add another activity or replace an assignment. Other options include changing the order information is presented, adding to a chapter, and leaving information out that is in the chapter.

Conclusion

Textbooks are part of education. Some appreciate this while others are looking for alternative approaches. Teachers and students will need to work together in order to see how textbooks can benefit the learning experience.

Grouping Students IV: Pros and Cons of Groupwork

Group work is another approach for having students complete assignments and task. A group is often characterized as anywhere from 3-8 students with most groups being in the 3-5 member range. As with other approaches to grouping, this one also has pros and cons. This post will explore the good and the bad of having students work together in groups

Pros

Here are some common advantages to group work.

  • Encourages collaboration and cooperation
  • Opportunity for decision-making
  • Opportunities for role-differentiation

Groups encourage students to work together and collaborate in order to achieve something. As they work together, the students are developing communication and cooperation skills. The students also are being given a chance to work on their overall social skills as well.

In groups, students need to make decisions about various matters in order to coordinate the completion of the task. This involves critical thinking as well as negotiating skills.  Students need to maneuver this process in order to develop a plan for action.

Another benefit of groups is the opportunity to assigned roles. Preferably, every group experience calls on people to work on a team in which their strengths can be utilized. This is not always the case but in reality, people often work on teams according to their strengths. As such, groups that allow people to focus on tasks that take advantage of their talents is beneficial.

Cons

Some problems with group work include the following.

  • Organizational time
  • Risk of chaos
  • Student’s preference to work alone

Groups take more time to setup and get going. Students often have to move around and begin planning and discussing. Each group needs a little personal attention to get them focused and on the right track. After this, there is still lingering confusion over what to do even when the best teachers explain the assignment.

In a related point, group work brings chaos. Students are talking, in and out of their seat, and working on something that involves several people. This is in contrast to students sitting quietly in rows working on something. As such, many teachers are not comfortable with students working in groups. There is nothing wrong with not enjoying having kids in groups. However, a little bit of group work is an experience students need to become more versatile.

Just as some teachers do not like group work so do many students disagree with it. Many prefer to work alone, are shy, or do not like the noise. As such, the proper prescription is a little bit of group work without over doing it.

Conclusion

Group work is part of living in this day and age. Everybody needs to do it at least some of the time. It is important that teachers and students understanding the purpose and goals of group work before the process begins. This will help in reducing the impact of the cons of group work.

Grouping Students III: Pros and Cons of Pairwork

Having students work in pairs is a classical learning activity in the classroom. As with other activities in the classroom, working in pairs has pros and cons to it. This post explores the advantages and disadvantages of having students work in pairs.

Pros

Below are some common pros to students working in pairs

  • Students working together require less guidance from the teacher
  • When students need help, the teacher works with several students at a time instead of one
  • Promotes collaboration and cooperative learning

Students who are working together can discuss and often figure out what to do without teacher intervention. Why would any teacher want to explain something he can have the students figure out? In pairs, students can teach each other and utilize the synergy that comes from working together.

When students cannot overcome an obstacle, the teacher is there to provide support. However, instead of working with only one student, the teacher is working with two students at a time. This reduces the amount of support needed significantly because as long as one student understands what the teacher says they can help their partner to grasp the information.

Pair work promotes collaboration and cooperative learning. These are critical skills that students need to compete in the world. As they work together they develop skills for real-world collaborative and cooperative learning.

Cons

To be fair, pair work is not always the best approach. Below are some disadvantages with pair work.

  • Noisy and risk of chaos
  • Lost of direction
  • Student disdain

Working in pairs can be noisy and loud. This can lead to chaos in the classroom. It will take serious classroom management skills to get students to stay the course and complete the task.

A second point that is highly related to the first is that students can lose direction when working in pairs. It is easy for them to start to talk or do anything not related to the learning activity. This can even apply to adult learners. Keeping students focused is another skill that a teacher needs when putting students in pairs.

Lastly, some students hate working in pairs. They may prefer to work with the teacher or alone. This can also be compounded if the student does not like who they have been partnered with. To successfully overcome this requires the teacher to be aware of the relationships and even the politics of their classroom.

Conclusion

Few would argue that students need to work together. The real question is how much? Some teachers require more pair work than others. The point is that pair work should be a part of the learning experience but not the only learning experience of any classroom.

Grouping Students II: Pros and Cons of Individual Work

There are many different ways in which a teacher can group their students. One option is to have the students work alone. This post will look at the pros and cons of having students work individually.

Pros

Some of the pros of individual learning are the following…

  • Contributes to learner autonomy
  • Responsiveness to individual differences
  • Useful for transitioning from high stress experience

Individual work helps students to develop the capacity to learn without always leaning on others. This can hopefully lead to some sense of learner autonomy, which is a critical goal of many teachers. As students rely on their own resources it strengthens them in learning to learn on their own.

Individual learning is closely related to differentiated instruction. A teacher can plan distinct experiences for each student and respond to the needs of the students personally when individualize learning happens. This catered made experience is critical for many students

After a noisy whole-class or group project experience, individual work can be used as a classroom management tool to calm the students down and transition to another activity. For example, after a science lab activity that has the students out of their sits and talking and moving around, the teacher has them write a reflection about the experience quietly in their seats. The students are reflecting on the experience and they are calmly at their desks. After this, they transition quietly to the next subject. This is preferred instead going from one loud and active activity to the next with some form of cool-off transition.

Cons

Nothing is perfect not even individual learning. Below are some concerns with this approach

  • Lack of social cohesiveness
  • If teaching is individualized as well, it significantly increases the workload of the teacher.

When students work individually they are work alone. This means that there is little social interaction and camaraderie. This can be good or bad depending on the context. In many cultures, extensive individual work is not appropriate as students naturally want to work together. In other settings, it is individual students who struggle with this approach because of their out-going nature.

If the teacher makes an effort to personalize the learning of each student it can increase their workload a great deal. If the class is small it may be doable but in larger classes this could be a nightmare. Individualized instruction is usually the preferred model of teaching but this does not mean that it is the most practical.

Conclusion

All modes of teaching have times when they work and when they do not work. Individualized learning has a place in the classroom. However, it is finding a balance between these various styles that is critical to the success of the learner and the teacher.

Grouping Students I: Pros and Cons of Whole-Class Teaching

Teaching the entire class at the same time has a place in education. There are times when it is most effective and beneficial to the students when they actually sit and listen to what the teacher has to say. Having said that, there are also many instances when this approach is not appropriate in learning. This post will take a look at the pros and cons of whole-class instruction.

The Pros

The following are some instances when whole-class teaching my be useful

  • When the teacher needs control
  • To increase a social cohesion
  • When it is preferred

When the teacher needs the power whole-class teaching is useful. This is most common when giving instructions, doing a demonstration, or explaining something that is completely new to the class. Other instances when whole-teaching is useful is when the teacher is presenting visuals or other forms of media.

Teaching to the whole-class is also beneficial in terms of social cohesion. In some cultures, doing things together is important. This is particularly true in collectivist societies. When everyone is listening together and laughing together it builds community. This is difficult for some to understand but it is necessary to be aware of this depending on the context.

Whole-class teaching could also be the preference of the students and teacher regardless of culture. Some students do not like to work in groups while others prefer the anonymity of being in a larger group focused on the teacher. For whatever reason, whole-class teaching works just because of the setting.

The Cons

Some problems with whole-class teaching are below

  • Passive, transmission of knowledge learning
  • Overly collective
  • Difficult for shy students

Whole-class teaching leads to the teacher transmitting knowledge to the students. This goes against active learning in which students participate in their learning. It is exceedingly boring for many people and does not help in retaining, understanding and applying new knowledge. Passive learning is not a way to make active learners who can do something with what they have learned

Whole-class teaching is also seen as overly collective. Everyone is forced to do the same thing. This goes against the idea of differentiated instruction which promotes having students do different things in the classroom at the same time. Students are usually heterogeneous in terms of their skills and abilities so it makes it difficult to support consistent use of only whole-class teaching.

Lastly, whole-class teaching makes it challenging for shy students to participate. Many students do not want to speak in front of the whole class as they do not like this kind of pressure. However, in small groups, these same students feel much more comfortable sharing their views. Therefore, occasional use of small groups, even in collectivists contexts, will allow all students an opportunity for fuller participation.

Conclusion

Whole-class learning still has a place in education. The question is how much of a place? The point is that a moderate approach to whole-class instruction is beneficial to students and the teacher. There are times when this approach is the best and there are many times when it does not work. It is best for the teacher to determine when to use this approach based on the needs of their students.

Giving Feedback on Written Work

Marking papers and providing feedback is always a chore. However, nothing seems to be more challenging in teaching then providing feedback for written work. There are so many things that can go wrong when students write. Furthermore, the mistakes made are often totally unique to each student. This makes it challenging to try and solve problems by teaching all the students at once. Feedback for writing must often be tailor-made for each student. Doing this for a small class is doable but few have the luxury of teaching a handful of students.

Despite the challenge, there are several practical ways to streamline the experience of providing feedback for papers. Some ideas include the following

  • Structuring the response
  • Training the students
  • Understanding your purpose for marking

Structuring the Response

A response to a student should include the following two points

  1. What went well (positive feedback)
  2. What needs to improvement (constructive feedback)

The response should be short and sweet. No more than a few sentences. It is not necessary to report every flaw to the student. Rather, point out the majors and deal with other problems later.

If it is too hard to try and explain what went wrong sometimes providing an example of a rewritten paragraph from the student’s paper is enough to give feedback. The student compares your writing with their own to see what needs to be done.

Training Students

Students need to know what you want. This means that clear communication about expectations saves time on providing feedback. Providing rubrics is one way of lessen a teacher’s workload. Students see the expectations for the grade they want and target those expectations accordingly. The rubric also helps the teacher to be more consistent in marking papers and providing feedback.

Peer-evaluation is another tool for saving time. Students are more likely to think about what they are doing when hearing it from peers. In addition, students can find some of the smaller problems, such as grammar, so that the teacher can focus on shaping the ideas of the paper. Depending on the maturity of the students, it is better to let them look at it before you invest any energy in providing feedback.

What’s Your Purpose

Many teachers will mark papers and try to catch everything every single time. This means that they are looking at the flow of the paragraph, the connection of the main ideas, will also catch typos and grammatical mistakes. This approach is often overwhelming and extremely time-consuming. In addition, it is discouraging to students who receive papers that are covered in red.

Another approach is what is called selective marking. Selective marking is when a teacher focuses only on specific issues in a paper. For example, a teacher might only focus on paragraph organization for a first draft and focus on the overall flow of the paper later. With this focus, the teacher and students can handle similar issues at the same time that are much more defined than checking everything at once.

Personally, I believe it is best to focus on macro issues such as paragraph organization and overall consistency first before focusing on grammatical issues. If the ideas are going in the right direction it is easy to spot grammar issues. In addition, if the students know English well, most grammar issues are irritating rather than completely crippling in understanding the thrust of the paper. However, perfect grammar without a thesis is a hopeless paper.

Conclusion 

There is no reason to overwork ourselves in marking papers. Basic adjustments in strategy can lead to students who are provided feedback without a teacher over doing it.

Dealing with Mistakes and Providing Feedback

Students are in school to learn. We learn most efficiently when we make mistakes. Understanding how students make mistakes and the various types of mistakes that can happen can help teachers to provide feedback.

Julian Edge describes three types of mistakes

  • Slips-miscalculations that students make that they can fix themselves
  • Errors-Mistakes students cannot fix on their own but require assistance
  • Attempts-A student tries but does not yet know how to do it

It is the last two as a teacher that we are most concern. Helping students with errors and providing assistance with attempts is critical to the development of student learning.

Assessing Students

Students need to know at least two things whenever they are given feedback

  1. What they did well (positive feedback)
  2. What they need to do in order to improve (constructive feedback)

Positive feedback provides students with an understanding of what they have mastered. Whatever they did correctly are things they do not need to worry about for now. Knowing this helps students to focus on their growth areas.

Constructive feedback indicates to students what they need to work. It is not enough to tell students what is wrong. A teacher should also provide suggests on how to deal with the mistakes. The suggestions for improvement become the standard by which the student is judged in the future.

For example, if a student is writing an essay and is struggling with passive voice the teacher indicates what the problem is. After this, the teacher provides suggestions or even examples of switching from passive to active voice. Whenever the essay is submitted again the teacher looks for improvement in this particular area of the assignment.

Ways of Giving Feedback

Below are some ways to provide feedback to students

  • Comments-A common method. The teacher writes on the assignment the positive and constructive feedback. This can be used in almost any situation but can be very time-consuming.
  • Grades-This approach is most useful for a summative assessment or when students are submitting something for the final time. The grade indicates the level of mastery that the student has achieved.
  • Self-evaluation-Students judge themselves. This is best done through providing them with a rubric so that they evaluate their performance. Very useful for projects and saves the teacher a great deal of time
  • Peer-evaluation-Same as above except peers evaluate the student instead of himself or herself.

Mistakes are what students do. It is the teacher’s responsibility to turn mistakes into learning opportunities. This can happen through careful feedback the encourages growth and not discouragement.

Using the L1 in an English Classroom

There are some teachers, whether because they learned the language of their students or they are a native speaker who mastered English, who can communicate with their students in the students’ language. This is becoming much more common as English proliferates all over the world.

However, knowing the students’ language is a double-edged sword. There are some obvious advantages but using the students’ L1 can lead to problems as well. This post will explore the pros and cons of using the L1 in the classroom.

The Pros

Using the L1 in the classroom can be useful when the students are evaluating their performance. In other words, the teacher and students talk about the students’ English performance in the L1. This does make sense from a metalinguistic perspective as the students are addressing challenges and developing solutions. They are talking about their learning.

Translating activities is another instance in which L1 use is considered acceptable. The students shift back and forth between the two languages as they translate material. This allows the student to compare the two languages.

A third reason that some support L1 use is that it helps to maintain a conducive classroom environment. When students and teachers are able to just “talk” it often helps with maintaining the social cohesiveness of the class.

The Cons

One major concern with using the L1 is that it is used too much. It is tempting to only talk about English in the L1 rather than use English. Another problem is that using the L1 limits the students’ exposure to English, which stifles L2 acquisition.

Depending on the context, some English classes are holistic in that each class addresses all the skills of language (reading, writing, speaking, and listening. Other places address each skill separately. If a school approaches the skills separately one place where the L1 is not accepted is in the speaking class. In such an environment many support L2 only.

Dealing with the L1

Here are some ideas for use of the L1 if you consider its use appropriate

  • Think about the level of English-Lower level students need more support and thus L1 use is more appropriate. As the students advanced there should be a gradual reduction in the L1.
  • Establish rules-With the students, set up guidelines for L1 use.
  • Accept the L1-Students can feel discouraged when they are harassed about their language. Understanding their desire to be understood should call for patience rather than anger when they speak in their L1.

Conclusion

It is up to the teacher and students to decide the use of the L1. This post just provides ideas on how to handle what could be a sensitive topic. The goal of teaching is to balance the goals of the curriculum with the needs of the students. As such, it is the context that should determine how to handle L1 use rather than a philosophy of learning acquired in a classroom or even from years of experience.

Teaching Tips for Different Class Sizes

A teacher has to deal with different class sizes frequently. One major problem is determining what is a large class. In America, a large class is consider anything over 35 while in other countries, “large” is not considered until 50 or more students. Despite the confusion over class size, there are different approaches to teaching depending on the size of the class. This post will deal with two extremes in class size, one-to-one teaching, and large classes.

One-to-One Teaching

For many the dream class size is one-to-one. What more can a teacher ask for than the chance to work with a single mind? There are many advantages to teaching only one student at a time. The interaction is as high as possible as all activity is focused on the single student. Another benefit is that the teacher can adjust the teaching specifically to the needs of the student. Lastly, feedback is much more frequent and immediate when teaching one-to-one.

However, everything is not perfect with one-to-one teaching. A common problem is lack of rapport. At times students and teachers do not get along. In a larger class, they can avoid each other at least partially. However, in a one-to-one teaching, there is no timeout from one another. Other concerns include demanding students and students who expect the teacher to do the work for them.

When working in a one-to-one setting keep the following tips in mind.

  • Explain expectations and set guidelines. Communication saves a lot of problems
  • Be flexible and adaptable. Though guidelines are necessary things should be fluid enough to allow for necessary change.
  • If things are not working and you have the luxury, discontinue teaching a difficult student.

Large Class

Most believe large classes are a nightmare and they normally are. Everything increases as students, preparation, marking, behavioral issues, etc. One of the few advantages of teaching large classes is the potential for higher student to student interaction. As such, a large class should hopefully never be a boring class especially if it is student-centered rather than teacher-centered. Below are some tips for dealing with large classes.

  • Organization and processes are vital. They both help to reduce or eliminate various problems that happen in the classroom. If there is a problem for submitting assignments, establish a process. If there is a problem with communication, establish a process. Processes put out the fires of organizational life
  • Use both group and individual work. Group work helps kids to work together while individual work reduces the time spent trying to deal with the entire class at once. Both forms take the focus on the teacher on a particular task which helps in improving engagement.
  • Use the students. Students can be used to teach each other or lead out in a group project.This again mitigates having to work with the whole class at once.

Conclusion

Teachers often cannot control the size of their class. However, teachers can control how they deal with the challenges that come with different size classes. The examples here provide some ideas on how to work students regardless of class size. With appropriate techniques, students can learn in spite of the size of the class.

The Role of the Teacher: Part II

In the last post, we began to look at various roles of teachers in the classroom. In this post, we will look at additional roles of teachers in the class. In particular, we will look at the following roles.

  • Participator
  • Expert

Participator

The teacher as participator is a democratic approach to teaching. In this role, the teacher is just another person along for the learning experience. The teacher can choose to participate in such learning experiences as discussion, experiments, and educational games.

Students usually enjoy it when the teacher is along for the ride. As such, the participator role is very useful in developing an appropriate social climate in the classroom. The participating teacher is highly useful for collaborative learning and self-directed learning.

As with all roles, there are some drawbacks. For example, it is easy for the teacher to take control when participating due to their natural role as leader of the classroom. It takes a tremendous amount of self-awareness not to fall into this trap.

Below are a few examples when the participator role may be of use to a teacher

  • Discussion in large or small class
  • Situations that call for cooperative learning
  • Activities that require whole class effort

Expert

The teacher in the role of the expert is the most passive role of teaching. In this approach, the “sage on the stage” has become the “wise guy on the side.” The teacher is available to help the students but refrains from offering support until the students ask for help.

The expert role can be boring for a teacher. Many teachers love to be at the center of the learning either through direct discussion or at least participating in a discussion. However, in the role of the expert, a teacher has little to do but observe the students and step in if things get out of hand in terms of behavior or low quality work.

The ultimate goal in education for many is to develop students who become independent and are able to handle their learning without significant intervention by the teacher. As such, the teacher as an expert role is the ideal role of a teacher and represents mastery teaching as the students have mastered how to learn without teacher support.

The teacher as an expert can be used in any situation in which the students have mature to the point of handling the learning for themselves. Whether large or small class it does not have ant affect when the teacher and students can handle this role.

Conclusion

Teaching involves a variety of roles and responsibilities. A teacher can participate at times. However, the highest level of teaching is not teaching at all. Rather, the teacher just provides a tip here or there or shares a little bit of experience. The rest of the learning is left to the student.

The Role of the Teacher: Part I

A teacher has many different roles in their profession. Not only are the coordinating their classroom they are also communicating with parents, collaborating with peers, and reporting to administration. This involves the need to have many different skills and abilities.

In this post, we will only look at the role of the teacher in the classroom. In particular, we will only discuss two roles and leave the others for a future post. Some of the roles of a teacher in the classroom include the follower.

  • Director
  • Encourager

The Teacher as  a Director

The teacher as director is one of the most common roles. In this capacity, the teacher is leading out in whatever is happening in the classroom. Often, the teacher in this role is the one transmitting the knowledge to receptive students. Another word for this form of teaching is direct instruction.

Although there are times for the teacher to serve as the unquestioned leader of the class there are some concerns. One, students are forced into a passive learning situation which is not beneficial to them learning how to do something. Two, the teacher is doing all the work which can exhaust him or her.

It is most appropriate to use this approach in some of the following situations.

  • The content is lower level information that only requires memorization and not higher level thinking
  • The content is completely new and the teacher wants to go through it before other forms of learning happen with the content
  • An incredibly large class in which other forms of teaching would lead to chaos

There are perhaps other situations. The point is that complete abandonment of this approach would be unfair to students as there are times when it works.

The Teacher as Encourager

There are times when students are collaborating or discussing and things are not going well. The encourager does not take over and lead the group or class. Instead, an encourager provides a hint or phrase, or perhaps they ask a question that leads the students to discover the answer. In many ways, the teacher who serves as an encourager is practicing indirect instruction at least occasionally.

This approach can be inappropriate of students just need to be told what to do. If they lack the content to find answers it is necessary to first supply the necessary information. As such, below are times when this role is appropriate in the classroom.

  • The students have the basic knowledge and the goals is for experiential learning of the content
  • Smaller class in which active participation is easier to manage.
  • Group work in which the teacher goes from group to group offer encouragement.

Let’s not limit this role to only these situations. They only provide some examples for those who need some guidelines.

Conclusion

Every teacher has their style. The point is not to attack anybody’s preference. The purpose of this post was to help teachers to see what might be their preferred role and to expand into other styles that might be useful depending on the occasion. It is not about change as much as it is about flexibility to support students as necessary.

Teaching English to Adolescents and Adults

Teaching English to adolescents (11-18) and adults present challenges distinct from young children. This post examines some of the challenges and traits of both groups.

Adolescents

Teenagers are often seen as difficult students. Extreme changes are happening in their lives and bodies and at times learning is discounted. Despite their reputation as learners, teenagers have the capacity to acquire a language much faster than children because of their ability to think abstractly. As such, grasping grammar and identifying rules of syntax and semantics is much more natural for them. However, teenagers do have issues with pronunciation as their ability to imitate has declined.

For teenagers, the content must be highly engaging and relevant. If they miss the point they often will quickly lose interests. Keep in mind that they are often studying because they have to and thus have no personal reason for learning. This is why relevancy is so important as it replaces their lack of empowerment.

Students at this age also need opportunities to take risk. However, it needs to be risk without humiliation. So off color humor is probably best avoided during this age.

Adults

Adults are perhaps the most fun yet most challenging group of people to teach. Adults can be critical of the teacher due to their experience. Adults can also have concerns about looking bad and thus be somewhat nervous in class.

Despite this, adults have fully developed cognitive powers which mean abstract thinking is not an issue. Furthermore, adults bring life experience into the classroom that is highly enriching for everybody. Lastly, adults have a purpose for studying. Unlike teenagers who are there because they have to be. Adults have chosen to study and are driven by some sort of goal.

When teaching adults, organization is often king. A teacher needs clear activities and presentations to maintain the respect of adults. Due to their longer attention span, a teacher will probably need fewer activities that last a longer period of time compared to activities of teenagers and young children. Lastly, discussion and questions are expected when engaging most adults. They want to assist with their language experience. Therefore, a teacher-centered instructor may have challenges with this.

Conclusion

Teachers need to have flexible approaches for dealing with diverse students. Teenagers and adults have distinct needs when learning a language. Understanding this can help a teacher to have success in the classroom

Teaching English to Young Children

Teaching English to young children (0-11) is not an easy experience. For one, young children often struggle to make progress in language acquisition. This is surprising to many. However, TESOL literature makes it clear that though young children are superior when it comes to pronunciation in a second language, adolescent students make faster progress and are more effective at learning a language than young children.

Despite this, the myth that early exposure is best compels teachers to work with young children. As such, this post provides some tips on dealing with young children.

How Young Children Learn Language

Here are some basic characteristics of young learners in bullet format.

  • Young kids struggle with grammar so avoid it for now.
  • They need individual attention. This means try to limit the size of the classes.
  • They have short attention spans. Several small activities are better than one long one.
  • The respond to topics related to themselves and their immediate space. This means to limit the conversation to something in the room or their life.
  • They love to learn. Use this enthusiasm to motivate them.

Tips for Teaching Young Children

Teaching young children involves have a litany of activities. Since their attention span is so short, young children need many different activities in order to learn for long periods at a time. It is not easy to find enough reasonably relevant teaching activities that relate to goals and objectives while encouraging learning. This is perhaps the top challenge of teaching young children. Finding meaningful activities that are not only fun but lead to learning that is measurable and aligns with goals and objectives.

Classroom environment needs to be visually stimulating. This means that decoration is necessary. The easiest way to make this happen is to allow the students to decorate or at least pick the decorations for the classroom. This gives students a voice in a harmless decision. In addition, this is useful for male teachers who struggle with decorating.

Conclusion

Teaching young children English is a job that requires dedication and expertise. Young kids are fantastic imitators but struggle with truly understanding and appreciating another language. To overcome this problem, a teacher needs to keep in mind the traits of young learners as well as ideas for overcoming the disadvantages of teaching young children.

Best Teaching Practices: Reflection

Reflection is the process of reviewing what you have already done and extracting lessons and principles from these various experiences. Surprisingly, this is a commonly forgotten skill in teaching. Teachers are so busy prepare for their next class or next day, that sometimes they do not take a minute to see what works for them and their students. Through the process of reflection, a teacher begins to grow and develop as an instructor. Reflection helps teachers to identify their strengths and weaknesses. Some basic questions to consider when reflecting on your teacher include the following…

  • What did I do?
  • Why did I do it
  • How did it go
  • Where do I go from here?

These kinds of question can be addressed through in a journal or whatever way works for you. As time progresses, it becomes natural to reflect and to develop a course of action for the future. Another term for this concept is mental planning, which is a focus on long-term planning instead of daily planning. Experience teachers look more at the big picture of the course outline and course syllabus instead of focusing on the day-to-day lesson plan. This focus on the broader picture is due to experience and is important in student achievement.

In the beginning, it is important for people who are new to teaching to focus clearly on providing the day-to-day teaching with the end goals in mind. Knowing where you are going is only as useful as knowing how you will get there. Goals are good but it is the daily planning that gets you to your goal. While all this is happening, it is beneficial to think about how things are going in the classroom

Reflection may be one of the most important skills for teaching because it is through this trait that a teacher can identify their strengths and weaknesses. It is doubtful that a teacher is strong in all of the skills mentioned in this blog so far. Through reflection, a teacher can learn how to maximize their strengths while finding ways to develop and compensate for their weaknesses. Just knowing what you are good and bad t gives you an advantage when teaching. However, this self-discovery happens through reflecting on one’s teaching.

Best Practices in Teaching: Student-Teacher Relationships

Teacher affect is the rapport or relationship that teachers have with their students. Some teachers want to have very close and warm relationships with their students while other teachers need more space and distance from their students. As much as possible, a teacher needs to understand and develop relationships with their students. A teacher needs to show that they are comfortable with their students and that their students are comfortable with them as well. Whatever your style of relating is below are some ways to develop rapport with students.

Know about each student. Spending a few moments before class to talk to some of the students and learning about their lives. These few moments also provides time to see how they are performing in your class as well. This is valuable for developing rapport and will be useful if it is ever necessary to make unpopular decisions.  

Bring student interests into the lesson. When teaching, if a teacher can relate the lesson to something the students love it can indicate that a teacher cares about what they care about. This idea is related to the use of a needs assessment which helps to determine what should be taught in any given course. Bringing students’ interests into the class increases the relevancy of what they are learning, which heightens attention.

Humor. A good sense of humor can be beneficial in a classroom. People who laugh together often are able to work well together. However, use humor with care as it can be a double-edged sword as people perception of what is funny can be different.

Enthusiasm. Teaching with energy and passion is inspiring for many students. Such energy is contagious and helps to motivate students to achieve. It is not necessary to jump out of your chair while teaching. Rather, a steady controlled passion for teaching is more than adequate to demonstrate enthusiasm.

A Culture of Learning. As the teacher, it is your responsibility to set the tone in terms of how academics are valued in your classroom. Coming to class on time, submit assignments in a timely matter, being prepared to learn are all indicators of the learning culture in a teacher’s classroom. It is possible to establish this culture first by the example of the teacher. A teacher’s preparation and demeanor is a way of expressing this culture in a way that is not possible verbally. Whatever a teacher’s culture of learning is, it is important that it be set by them so that they are comfortable and the students can adjust to it.

Conclusion Connecting with students is vital to effective teaching. However, it is not necessary that introverted or people who are naturally cold and distant start to all of a sudden deny their personality. What is important is that teachers develop ways of indicating to students that they have enough rapport for the student to be successful.

Best Practices in Teaching: Probing

In this post, we continue looking at best practices for effective teaching. We will examine the concept of probing and how works in the classroom.

Probing are statements made by the teacher to encourage a student to further develop an answer. There are three common ways to do this and they include

  • eliciting
  • soliciting
  • redirecting.

Eliciting

Eliciting are statements a teacher makes to push a student to clarify an answer. If a student is close to the correct answer or if they are sharing an opinion but it did not come out clearly a teacher can use this approach. Usually, a follow-up question to what the student is trying to say can bring about a response that the entire class can understand. Below is an example

Teacher: Dan, what do we use a t-test for?

Dan: To see if there is a difference

Teacher: What kind of difference? (Eliciting)

Dan: Mmm, a difference between two groups.

In the example above, the student’s answer was partially correct but with a little help from the teacher through the use of questions, the student was able to strengthen their response.

Soliciting

Soliciting is similar to eliciting but it focuses on getting additional information from a student but not for clarification. Instead, the desire is to extend a response that is adequately correct already. Below is an example

Teacher: Dan, what do we use a t-test for?

Dan: To see if there is a difference between two samples

Teacher: What do you mean by difference? (Soliciting)

Dan: A statistical difference based on the alpha level chosen.

In this example, Dan’s answer was correct and the teacher encourages further elaboration for his benefit as well as for the class.

Redirecting

Redirecting is guiding an incorrect answer into a correct one. This takes a great deal of tact and interpersonal skills but is a valuable tool in effective teaching. Below is an example

Teacher: Dan, what do we use a t-test for?

Dan: To see if two groups are the same

Teacher: Same or different? (redirecting)

Dan: Oh! I think we want to see if they are different.

In this example, the teacher guides Dan to the correct answer through providing a small hint. Dan knows he is wrong without experiencing embarrassment about it.

Conclusion

Probing is an important skill in teaching. Eliciting, soliciting, and redirecting are all useful for guiding students to have success. The is by asking appropriate questions that encourage understanding in students. This skill in particular highlights components of indirect instruction, which is one of many styles of teaching.

Best Practices in Teaching: Task-Orientation & Student Success

In this post, we continue to examine best practices for effective teaching. The topics of this post are as follows…

  • Teacher Task-Orientation
  • Student Success Rate

Teacher Task Orientation

Task-orientation of the teacher is about how much time a teacher spends actually teaching. There are many hurdles to staying on-task from classroom management issues to interruptions by announcements from the administration. In addition, if the teacher is not prepared through thorough planning and if he/she is unclear in their delivery, a lot of time will be lost in having to re-explain and go over the same material several times unnecessarily.

Task-orientation plays a role in the environment of the classroom. As such, it influences the students’ perception of their learning experience. If the kids are off-task too much there learning suffers and their experience at school plummets as well. Therefore, If the focus of the teacher is not on teaching and the instructional guidance of the students, it could impact their effectiveness. This means that planning and the focus of the teacher are components of successful teaching.

Student Success Rate

Student success is the rate at which students are able to understand and complete assessments at levels that meet or exceeds objectives. It is a common misperception among many that if students do not perform well it is their fault. To be fair, it is often the student’s fault at least partially. However, an effective teacher also needs to look at him or herself if many students are struggling.

A general rule of thumb to determine how challenging a task should be is that students should spend about 2/3 of their time on tasks and assignments that allow for almost totally understanding of the content. This means that your goal should never be to overwhelm your students through requiring task beyond their ability. The desire should be the growth of the talents of the student and not to decimate them through requiring tasks that are beyond their zone of proximal development.

Frequent failure lowers self-esteem and could lead to students who become disengaged. On the other hand, moderate to high levels of success contributes to mastery of content and fosters deeper critical thinking. This may be because the students are learning but they are not perfect. Thus, they are doing well but are also aware of where they need to improve. This experience of good but not perfect contributes to a growth mindset in which the student is convinced that they can improve. To summarize, an effective teacher must be cautious of the twin dangers of total discouragement and on total success of students.

Conclusion

Time on task and implementing principles of assuring student success are core components of effective teaching. It is not necessarily easy to get things done in the classroom. In addition, it is a challenge to determine the right amount of difficulty for assignments. However, understanding how to achieve the goals of time on task and student success is necessary for those who aspire to increase the effectiveness of their instruction.

Best Practices in Teaching: Knowledgeable

In this post, we will continue to look at common best practices in teaching. A critical best practice for teachers is having a thorough knowledge of their field. As such, being knowledgeable is a core component of effective teaching.

Knowledgeable 

An effective teacher must be knowledgeable. However, there are several types of knowledge that teachers need. Among the various types includes the following.

  • Content knowledge
  • Pedagogical knowledge
  • Context knowledge
  • Curriculum knowledge

Content Knowledge

Content knowledge is perhaps the most obvious form of knowledge a teacher needs. Content knowledge is a thorough understanding of one’s subject. It is commonly taking for granted that content knowledge is a given by the time anyone reaches the level of teacher at any level of school. However, there are times when a teacher is called to teach outside their expertise which jeopardizes their effectiveness as they lack the necessary knowledge to teach at a high level.

Pedagogical Knowledge

Pedagogical knowledge relates to knowledge of various modes of instruction. Many lecturers love to lecture. Lecturing is only one form of teaching and there are many different ways to add “spice” to one’s instructional approaches without undue stress. Understanding how to teach in different modes is important. In addition, knowledge of how to assess students in various ways increases the variety of instruction and thus the teaching effectiveness of lecturers.

Pedagogical knowledge is closely related to variety of instruction.  However, pedagogical knowledge is an antecedent of variety of knowledge since you cannot teach different ways with having the necessary knowledge to do this first.

Contextual Knowledge

Contextual knowledge is possessing an understanding of what is happening within the institution. Such knowledge of context includes knowledge of decisions by leadership, happenings within various departments, and or student activities. Knowledge of the context is valuable because these factors within the school affect the students. For example, if the Student Association had an activity over the weekend, there may be a decline in the time spent by students over the weekend studying. This may mean having a major test the next week may not be the best decision after such a weekend. A teacher can choose to go forward with the same teaching decision without considering context but this could affect the effectiveness of the teaching.

Curriculum Knowledge

Curriculum knowledge entails the skill to develop a cohesive plan for instructional activities. Effective teachers need to understand principles of instructional design for the sake of information processing. In addition, an effective teacher needs to see the big picture of how what they are doing in their classroom influences their students, their department, their fellow teachers, and their institution. This view is often missing as teachers focus exclusively on their class to the detriment of the goals of the school.

Some questions to ask when thinking of curriculum knowledge is. How do my course standards support the goals of the department? How do the departmental goals support the philosophy of the institution? Being able as an instructor to answer these questions about curriculum provides direction in an effective teacher’s approach. All of these principles of curriculum knowledge relate to structuring the content, which includes indicating to the students what they need to know.

Conclusion

Knowledge of various aspects of the teaching experience is critical for strong teaching. The principles in this post are some of the most basic concepts of knowledge needed for teaching.

Best Practices in Teaching: Variety of Instruction

In this post, we continue our discussion on best practices in teaching. The topic of this post is the concept of variety of instructional approaches. This is a key characteristic of effective teaching.

Instructional Variety

Instructional variety is a description of the flexibility of an instructor when presenting a lesson. For a teacher, this means being able to shift from one form of instruction to another in order to maintain the focus of students. This is not easy and is considered a valuable skill in education. If a teacher teaches the same way regardless of what the lesson demands or the students need, this indicates a lack of a variety. This inability to provide instruction in a variety of ways suggest that there may be a lower level of teacher effectiveness.

There are naturally many different ways to provide a variety of instruction. Some of the ways to do this include showing enthusiasm, which helps to maintain the energy of the lesson. Having several forms of reinforcement in your classroom is another form of variety. Reinforcement encourages the behavior you as a teacher want to see in your classroom. The emphasis on reinforcement is psychological being based on operant conditioning. Other approaches include using student ideas. Using student ideas heightens relevance, which is a key component of humanistic teaching. Some ways to include student ideas are the following

  • Acknowledge a student idea-This can be done through repeating the idea the student shared to the class
  • Modify-Rephrase in idea provided by a student and repeat it to the class
  • Apply-Take a student’s idea and use it in a different context
  • Compare-Take the idea and relate it to something similar
  • Summarize-Use the student’s idea to review the lesson.

Using Questions

One of the simplest ways to bring variety into the classroom is through the use of questions. Questions stimulate thinking and provide a way to include simple forms of application within a lesson without extensive effort.

Two common types of questions are content and process questions. Content questions assess understanding of facts which have one answer. For example, “what time is it? Process questions require many different answers. An example would be “who was the best president of the United States?” Content questions deal with declarative knowledge while process questions often deal with procedural knowledge. In addition, content questions deal with lower level knowledge while process questions deal with higher-level thinking.

Conclusion

There is so much more that can be said on this subject. Variety of instruction can come through using student ideas, reinforcement, and or the use of questions. There are other ways to make this happen but the ways provided are perhaps the easiest for someone new to teaching. It would be nice for others to share some ways they bring instructional variety into their classroom

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.

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.

Cooperative Learning

Cooperative learning is a common term used in education. Many times, whenever people are working in groups, it is called cooperative learning. However, not just any group work can be called cooperative learning. Cooperative learning has distinct characteristics as we shall see and there is a clear process for using this teaching approach.

Distinct Traits

Task specialization is a key trait of cooperative learning. The group members each have a responsibility to perform, which helps them to achieve an overall goal. It is the teacher’s job to communicate what each member is responsible to do. If this does not happen the group work will often collapse into a group discussion. Action by each member focusing on their task is a component of cooperative learning.

While working in groups, students provide feedback and encouragement to each other. Even though they each have their own task to complete, students have to examine each others contribution to make sure it is acceptable. This maintains higher standards and helps in the development of such thinking skills as evaluation and judging.

Steps of Cooperative Learning

The steps of cooperative learning are as follows

  1. Set a goal(s)
  2. Organize
  3. Evaluate the process
  4. Monitor performance
  5. Debrief

1. Set Goals(s)

Setting goal(s) means telling the students what you expect. It is defining the outcomes of the group experience. The final outcome could be a presentation, portfolio, or anything that requires a group to work together. It is important to remember that group work should be used when the activity cannot be completed alone because of the complexity of the task. Therefore, group work should be avoided for easy tasks as this will lead to boredom and behavioral issues.

2. Organize

With the goal in mind, it is now time to determine who will do what. Other factors to consider are group size, who will be in which group, and sharing how they will be graded. Groups should normally have around four people. Larger causes problems in communication and smaller makes it hard to complete a complex task.

Groups should also have students of varying ability. Supergroups of elite students do not work well together. A group of weak students working together often cannot complete the assignment. Mixing helps both the strong and the weak most of the time.

Communicating grading expectations assists students in understanding the quality they need to produce. In addition, it helps them to see how hard they need to work to achieve what they want. One of the strongest ways to communicate grading expectations is through providing examples of a completed project. This provides a visual of what is expected of the students.

3. Evaluating the Collaborative Process

Students have worked in groups before but many have never worked cooperatively. As such, the teacher needs to model how to work in cooperative groups. Students need to see how to communicate, show respect for each other’s ideas, share specific points, and how to negotiate. Students need to understand that they are working together to help each other and this is demonstrated through the skills just discussed.

4. Monitor Performance

As the students work together, it is your job as the teacher to determine when students need help and when they need to be redirected back on task. If students are struggling the teacher serves as a guide to help them get back on track. This can be done by asking students questions so they can discover for themselves that they are going in the wrong direction.

5. Debrief

When the journey is over, it is time to discuss what happened. Reflection such as this is important in developing a stronger understanding of what took place. Students share how the group experience went and express concerns. At this stage, group members also should judge each other contribution to the team. This helps in holding people responsible. This experience helps the teacher to see how things went and what adjustments are necessary for using cooperative learning in the future.

Cooperative learning is an experience in group work that has distinct traits. As student work together, they are developing skills in communication, collaboration, and responsibility that are difficult to duplicate in other situations. A teacher should consider to occasionally include this experience in their teaching approach.

Reciprocal Teaching

In my opinion, one of the highest goals of education is to develop self-directed learners. These are individuals who have not only learned from their teachers but can go forward and acquire new knowledge on their own. They have learned how to learn by themselves and are no longer tethered to their teachers.

One strategy among many for developing self-directed learners is the use of reciprocal teaching. Reciprocal teaching allows students to explore content through the vehicle of a controlled discussion. In other words, reciprocal teaching is classroom discussion that has a purpose and a sense of direction to it. The teacher guides the students through a process during the discussion that stimulates reflective thinking and critical thinking skills.

Normally, reciprocal teaching has the following four steps to it.

  1. Predicting
  2. Questioning
  3. Summarizing
  4. Clarifying

Let’s examine each step

Predicting

The discussion begins by having the students make guesses about the text they are going to study. They can examine pictures in the text, the title, subheadings, and other clues to develop an idea of what they may learn. Students’ prior knowledge can also be a guide for making decent predictions.

After prediction comes the content experience in which the students read the text our learn it through some other approach of the teacher.

Questioning

Different students take turns asking the class questions about different aspects of the text or learning experience. Students respond to the questions and ask new ones. Developing questions is not as easy as it sounds, especially for children. It takes thought to develop decent questions as well as deep thinking to develop answers. At this point, the students are leading the learning experience while the teacher is facilitating.

Summarizing

One person is selected to provide a summary of what has been learned during the discussion. The teacher then calls on other students to comment on or elaborate on the summary. Again, the burden of learning is on the students and the teacher is only managing the classroom without much input.

Clarifying

If anything was unclear now is the time it is discussed. In many ways, this is like a miscellaneous section where loose ends are dealt with. Section of the reading or teaching are experienced again until the students have a better understanding of the content.

Self-directed learning is one of the major goals of education and reciprocal teaching is one way to address this goal. I would like to know if anyone has other ways of developing learners who can learn on their own