Flipped instruction. Project-based learning. Cooperative groups. Mobile technology.
Much of the discussion about effective teaching focuses on instructional tools and techniques, which makes sense since it's important to use the right methods at the right times in the right ways. And yet teachers with the same training, same curriculum, same resources, and similar students often get different results.
A lesson that is energizing for one teacher's students can be tranquilizing for another teacher's students. And as notable as this is when teachers use the same approaches, sometimes it's even more notable when they use different approaches. As a new teacher, I resolved to never bore students with lectures. I wasn't going to disseminate information. Students were going to discover it.
I spent the summer preparing dynamic activities and projects. I read about cooperative learning. I did what I could to create a student-centered classroom. But what I ended up with was a chaotic classroom. By contrast, the following year I relied on whole-group instruction, and my classroom was more peaceful and productive.
The improvement my second year was not because lecturing is better than projects or small group activities. Nor was my return to student-centered approaches the reason I was even more effective in later years. The point being that it's not the strategy that makes the teacher, but rather the teacher that makes the strategy.
Why, then, are some teachers more or less effective despite similar circumstances? And why would teachers get different results using different teaching methods? One factor is classroom management. No matter how adept you are with a teaching technique or tool, your lessons are going to bomb if you're disorganized or don't provide students clear procedures and expectations.
Still, even when teachers seem to have everything in place for a lesson to go well, that lesson goes better for some teachers than it does for others. And a big reason for this is the effect of a teacher's affect on student behavior and learning. In my case, for example, students were more responsive to me only after I became more responsive to them. This wasn't embodied by a change in instructional methods, but rather a change in how I interacted with students--my classroom became their classroom. (Children Should Be Seen AND Heard)
The message here is that how students feel in your classroom influences how they perform in your classroom. So, how do students feel in your classroom, and what do you do--or not do--to affect how they feel in your classroom?
Do you praise students because you're trying to manipulate them or because you appreciate them? (Motivation or Manipulation?)
Are students (and you) afraid to make mistakes in your classroom or do you model and reinforce thoughtful risk-taking? (Don't Prevent Students' Mistakes, Prepare for Them)
Do you deny or defend your mistakes or do you acknowledge and apologize for them? (Great Teachers: Perfectly Imperfect)
Do you overpower students or empower students? (Controlling Teacher, Out of Control Classroom)
As summer winds down, many teachers will prepare for the new year by developing curriculum and deciding how to deliver it. Again, this is great, since you should always be thoughtful about what you teach and how you teach it. But no matter how ready you are to teach, your answers to the above questions will help determine how much your students learn.
Image by Creatista, provided by Dreamstime license
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