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Posts Tagged ‘teaching style’

I came across this video a little while ago.

It’s one of those videos which makes you appreciate how easy it is to impart knowledge in the most simple of ways.  For teachers we refer to it as our

bag of tricks!

Once you’ve been in teaching for a little while, knowing how to present to students so that they really ‘get’ the point of the lesson really becomes second nature.

Teaching becomes so routine, that sometimes, we even forget that we have these skills ‘up our sleeve’!

What am I talking about?  Simple teaching skills such as

  • Gaining attention by breaking with routine.
  • Using silence for optimum results.
  • Ensuring words of instruction are minimized.
  • Engaging with students at their level.
  • Asking pointed question to stimulate thought.
  • Utilizing student knowledge to highlight information being shared.
  • Injecting humour into the lesson.
  • Incorporating physical objects to illustrate a point.
  • Exploring alternate teaching styles.
  • Allowing students to draw conclusions.

The lesson being imparted in this video is valuable for us all.  The point of the lesson is made clearly and strongly.

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Knowing how and when to raise your eyebrows to elicit the kind of response you’re after from a student or how to move around the classroom and/or moderate your voice to ensure that students are engaged and ‘with you’ are just some of the skills that should be second nature to teachers in our classrooms.  But are they?

Are teachers born with these skills or are they skills that need to be specifically taught in teacher preparation programs?   Or maybe they are the kinds of skills that develop along the way during the ‘on the job’ training gotten during teaching pracs?

It’s a while since I went through my teacher preparation program, but I’m certain that I never sat through specific instruction sessions on how to ensure I was an ‘engaging’ teacher.   I’ve no recollection of ever collecting ‘how to tips’ from the classes attended during my three year long teacher preparation program.   Instead, I just kind of picked up skills, gleaned either from my own trial and error in the classroom or as helpful suggestions by supervising teachers or lecturers who critiqued me during my teaching pracs.

Yet when listening to Christopher Emdin in this TED video, his advice makes perfect sense.

Student teachers can gain much from listening to what this man has to say and taking on board – in the classroom – some of those skills used routinely by those whose profession it is to reach out and engage an audience.   Making those routines a part of a teaching personae will ensure that students in our schools are engaged and inspired.

Teacher training programs too, would do well to take note of Edmin’s message.

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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!

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

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It’s strange how it can be little things said that can have the strongest impact on you.  It’s probably even stranger to realize that a few words said many years earlier in fact become the basis for a lifetime’s approach to not only work practice but life practice.

For me, it was all those years ago, when I was just starting my career in education, that I ever so nervously sat on the other side of the desk of the overwhelming figure of Dr Leo Murphy.  Whilst being keenly  scrutinized by him for acceptance into the specialist education program over which he presided, he warned me:

Treat a man as he is and he will remain as he is.  Treat a man as he could be, and he will grow to be that man.”

Commonly attributed to the great philosopher Goethe, I realize today that this saying has underpinned not only my approach  to classroom teaching but also my approach to working with other professionals in the  wide range of education sectors in which I have found myself over the years.   Countless examples come to mind.  Those who have worked alongside me will recognize the many instances when I have held this approach high on my agenda.  For purposes of this blog though, it is is suffice for me to acknowledge the impact these words have had on shaping my career in the hope that these words may also impact on my readers.

Establishing goals in teaching is a given basic in education.  Goal setting and defining goals are one of the first and most basic aspects of education that we, as educators, learn.  After all, if you have not defined what it is you are teaching, how on earth can you teach it or communicate it to your students.

Establishing a teaching style or an approach to teaching is, however, more abstract and esoteric than goal setting.   While teaching styles vary greatly from one educator to another and are often dependent on our own character traits, the approach we have to our students is one that is often overlooked and little discussed.  As educators however, it is imperative for us to recognize the impact we have on our students.   As such, it is incumbent on us to contemplate our overall approach to teaching.

Do, for example, our end goals aim to develop clones of ourselves – students who can spew back to us content which has been provided to them on the so called ‘silver platter’?   Or, should our overall goal be to provide our students with the tools by which they can direct their own learning?  Do we work with our students from the base that they have no knowledge as in the controversial tabula rasa theories promulgated by a range of worthy philosophers, academics and teachers or do we hold our students in the palm of our hand and instill in them the belief that they can grow, learn and develop to great heights?

Providing our students with tools to develop as lifelong learners must be paramount in our approach to teaching.   Providing our students with opportunities and situations in which they can safely and confidently develop knowledge and skills should be equally paramount in our approach to teaching.  As I have eluded to in past blog posts, risk taking in a safe and secure environment is a wonderful way to learn.   Establishing a level playing field, in which we recognize that teachers and students are able to learn much from each other is also equally valuable.   But establishing expectations that our students can become whoever it is they wish, is really a focus that has dominated my approach to teaching.   Instilling confidence in our students that they are able to learn and achieve at a level well beyond their present level is a gift that I strongly believe is of the utmost importance in an approach to teaching.

As I now traverse the path of new learning, I feel that the value of this belief applies equally to us all, not just to our students in our schools.

If, for example, I continue to regard or treat myself as I am now, it is  apparent to me that I will remain the same as I am.   If, however, I regard or treat myself as I could be, I will be setting the scene for me to travel along the path of growth and discovery.

Thus it is that I consider the impact of the saying I heard all those years ago:

Treat a man as he is and he will remain as he is.  Treat a man as he could be, and he will grow to be that man.”

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