Learning to learn – an interesting phrase which holds an interesting thought, don’t you think?
They are words that popped into my mind just now when I was reading the words of another: Leo Babauta: 9 Essential Skills Kids Should Learn. Originally published on his blog zenhabits … breathe I actually came across this post on Daily Good: News that inspires.
I found my thoughts getting mixed up though with the words of a colleague who had just posted a reflective comment. It seems like a ‘light bulb’ moment had just hit:
to successfully engage with an audience it’s necessary to feel passionate about the subject.”
I admit to being taken aback a little. “Isn’t this obvious?” I thought. Surely all educators know that to successfully impart knowledge to an audience you have to be able to connect and engage and that to successfully connect and engage, you have to feel passionate about the subject matter you are presenting. Furthermore, my mind was telling me, you have to be able to project that passion in the style of presentation adopted!
Is this a case of presuming that everyone thinks like me? Am I being naive to assume that all teachers are passionate?
So when I was reading the post about essential skills that kids should learn, my mind kept flicking to a list of essential techniques and skills needed by teachers to successfully teach. Needless to say “passion” came out as number one!
- Passion: To successfully impart knowledge or light the flame of inspiration in students, teachers just have to feel passionate about the subject matter they are teaching. If you can’t connect passionately with your subject matter, you just shouldn’t be in front of a class! Passion comes from within us. Once passion for a subject is developed, it becomes ingrained. Being ingrained implies that it becomes part of your soul. Being ingrained means that you can’t help but share your passion with those you connect with in the classroom, the lecture hall or from the conference podium. Sharing your passion ignites a flame of desire in others – a desire for knowledge or at best a desire to emulate the passion of you the teacher.
- Knowledge: I guess this is a no-brainer too. For learners to learn there is an assumption that the teacher has more than a basic knowledge of the subject matter. While learning never ends and while we will never know ‘everything’ there is to know on a given subject, there is an expectation that teachers do have more than a basic grasp of the subject matter they are teaching. Facts and information imparted must be accurate and, dare I say, up-to-date. Presenting the same teaching notes year after year isn’t the way to go. Information assembled in the previous year must be up-dated. Auto pilot should not have a place in today’s classrooms.
- Presentation: I recollect one of my college professors telling us in no uncertain terms that to be in education you had to be an actor. Once in the field, I quickly understood what and why he said this. There’s simply no room for a boring presentation in front of students. The same goes for any kind of presentation. Being able to engage and connect via an interesting presentation style is as important to sharing knowledge as is the knowledge itself. We’ve all heard the boring presenter and seen the number of people who fall asleep or slip into day-dream mode. Avoid this at all cost! Modulate your voice from loud to soft or slow to fast. Be animated. Move around. Vary the presentation style. Use a mix of chalk and talk with question and answer. Throw in some visuals via an interactive white board. Have students write on the interactive white board. Involve the students in your presentation. Plan your presentation and be conscious of how well it is progressing and be ready to change your path mid way if need be. Know that learning will not occur if the attention of your class wanes half way through.
- Communication: Know your audience so that you can pitch what you say to their level of understanding. The nature of the class will determine the tone and level of language used. Addressing a senior maths class in the tone usually used with young primary aged students won’t go down well. Conversely, talking above the heads of young children will get you nowhere. Be sensitive to the needs of students. Constantly be on the lookout for those that don’t understand what it is you are saying, explaining or teaching.
- Differentiation: Students in a class are not a homogeneous group. One size does not fit all. We are all individuals who learn in different ways. Some quickly grasp new concepts; others need more time to consolidate understanding. Some learn visually, others use auditory cues. Some need much reinforcement and repetition before new concepts can be synthesized. Others ‘get it’ the first time. Be conscious of the needs of your students and be ready to modify your teaching and communication style as needed.
- Content: The content of a lesson, talk or lecture needs to be both varied and inspiring. Make sure there is sufficient ‘colour’ in your lesson or presentation. Don’t fall into the trap of adopting one format for the entire lesson. Vary it. Start with an intro by talking about the topic. Move on to a short video to explain a point. Read some information. Ask pointed questions of your participants to tease out facts. Involve the class in the content delivery.
- Small steps: One of the most important skills a teacher must have is the ability to break down a body of knowledge into small bite size pieces. It’s really like building a scaffold for students to climb. Students need to be able to learn and to then consolidate that learning before moving on to the next layer of learning. Being able to measure students’ understanding before moving onto the next stage of learning is essential.
- Time: Just because you’ve been told that your class, lesson or presentation is to run for an hour doesn’t mean that you have to teach or present for the full hour. Leave time at the end for questions. Generate discussion mid-way through the lesson. Have written responses built into the class. Allow time for web searching. Build a wide and varied range of styles into the lesson so there’s no chance of boredom, distraction, negative or passive behaviours taking a foot hold in your classroom.
- Lifelong learning: One of the most forgotten aims of education is to teach students how they can learn on their own and that school days are just a stepping stone to never-ending lifelong learning. Incorporate examples into your lesson that demonstrate the power of self-discovery, exploration, learning and mastery. Today’s online world is replete with opportunities for all of us to determine our own learning path. Specifically demonstrate the vast range of sources available to achieve personal goals.
- Globalization: No longer are our classes confined to the walls of the classroom. In an instant we are able to exchange thoughts with others at any point in the world. Globalization underpins the fact that both teachers and students participate as members of a team in their quest to explore, investigate and learn. Learning the importance of being a team player, respecting the views of others, tolerating differences and dealing with change are essential skills that the teacher needs to bring to their classroom so as to teach these skills to their students.
Teaching is an all-encompassing occupation. It is a profession of the upmost importance in our world. Teachers are mentors to the young they teach. Inspiring our young and filling them with a desire to learn is one of the most important roles in society. Knowing how to teach is essential.