Tag Archives: teaching

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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


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.


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.


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.


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 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.


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.


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 preparing for their next class or the 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 questions can be addressed in a journal or in whatever way works for you. As time progresses, it becomes natural to reflect and 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 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 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 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 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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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