Effective Teaching

Effective Teaching Strategies: A Recipe For Success.

Effective teaching strategies are one of the cornerstones of classroom success, along with a good classroom management plan and a sound behavior management plan.

There are lots of different strategies for effective teaching, inlcuding cooperative learning and accelerated learning to name but two very popular teaching techniques, as well as techniques that involve multiple intelligences and teaching thinking skills. These teaching strategies focus on active learning and many teachers use them, but no matter what methods and techniques you use, effective teaching techniques all have the same ‘ingredients’ in common.

When I’m coaching, mentoring or training colleagues I often use the metaphor of ‘baking a cake’ to illustrate the process of developing effective teaching strategies.

The base layer of the ‘cake’ consists of the four ‘Ps’:

All teaching involves a partnership between teacher and student. The teacher can’t do it without the students and it’s best of teachers think of doing it with the students rather than doing it to them.

Once the partnership is established all effective teaching has a clear purpose – everyone needs to know what teaching this information aims to achieve.

The process is the means by which teachers enable students to learn and the product is the final outcome of the teaching and learning process.

This all might seem fairly obvious, yet in the hundreds of lessons I’ve observed, those that failed most dramatically usually failed because of deficiencies at this basic level of thinking.

The next level of the effective teaching strategies ‘cake’ is made up of 5 more ‘Ps’:

Prepare Present Practice Perform Permanent
Effective teachers prepare their students at the start of every lesson to be in the right frame of mind and ready to learn. They do this by helping students to ‘warm up’ in the same way that athletes do, except in lessons the warm ups are mental rather than physical – these starter activities also help settle students and give a clear signal the lesson has started.

In this preparation phase, effective teachers also explain the purpose of the learning, and help to get students ready to learn by showing the WIIFM factor [What’s In It For Me] – it’s very important to let students see how they can profit from what they’re about to learn.

After that the teacher needs to present the information to be learned. There are many effective teaching techniques you can use to present information: successful teachers build up, over time, a wide repertoire of presentation techniques, that take account of students’ different learning styles, the nature of the learning, and the need to motivate and engage all learners.

Next comes the crucial practice phase. It’s important not to neglect this phase. Often teachers spend a lot of time presenting, to the detriment of practice. Students need time to assimilate and organise what they experience in the presentation phase, to make mistakes, to make their own sense of it.

Practice does not always mean students being left to try lots of different examples on their own. Some research suggests that the practice phase works best when practice attempts by the students alternate with worked examples that are teacher led.

The logical next step is for students to have the opportunity to perform what they’ve learned. Performance here means students get the chance to show what they know – not necessarily as a formal assessment [although sometimes this is apropriate].

The more imaginative ways that teachers can find for this demonstration phase the better. These might include: literally performing by using drama techniques to show what they know, producing posters, creating web pages or other ICT -led activities, presentations to other students, short video presentations, formal examination questions… with imagination the list can stretch a long way.

Making the learning permanent is crucial so techniques to help students recall what’s been covered in lessons over a period of time are necessary. These are more than just homework assignments or class-based memory tests – a systematic program of revisiting key information by spacing learning over time and getting students actively to recall the learning will help to optimize the learning for students.

The next level of the effective teaching strategies ‘cake’ comprise 4 ‘Es’:

Engage Evaluate Enjoy Excite
If the teaching activities don’t engage students they won’t be successful. Students will accept some dull activities for a while if they can see a greater ultimate value further down the road, but strategies for effective teaching depend on being able to engage students most of the time.

An important ingredient is evaluation because you need to to test if what you’re doing is successful. Testing here does not necessarily mean academic testing of knowledge, although clearly that is appropriate some of the time.

Testing the success of effective teaching strategies means setting aims and objectives, and building in milestones to enable you to check how much progress students are making and what the next steps are.

Evaluating also means getting feedback on how students learn as well as what they learn.

Effective teaching has built in mechanisms to check ‘qualitative’ measures , in other words, do the strategies being used do what they set out to do, and, importantly, are they popular with students.

Most people accept that learning is more effective when it’s fun. All teachers know that sometimes learning can get a little ‘gritty’, but teachers need to make real efforts to enable students to enjoy lessons.

Fun doesn’t mean a chaotic free-for-all where students can do as they please, but it does mean a positive imaginative approach that harnesses young people’s natural predipostion to light-heartedness, to make sometimes heavyweight learning more accessible and tolerable. I call it enabling students to have ‘serious fun’ in lessons.

We may not often be able to get the pulses of our students racing in lessons, but if we do get the opportunity to spice things up with a dash of real excitement we should take it and use it to best effect.

So our effective teaching strategies cake is taking shape nicely. Only a couple more layers to go.

Next come 3 ‘Cs’:

Choice Challenge Creativity
Just like adults, young people respond better when they are presented with a choice of things to do, and, more importantly, how to do them. A consistent feature of effective teaching strategies is that they give students different options of how to arrive at their learning goals.

Choices based on different learning styles often make learning much more accessible and represent a ‘win win’ situation for all learners. Of course, effective teachers know [or learn] how to control choice in the interests of good learning – for example, it’s not good for students always to learn in the same way, despite their ‘preferred’ learning style, as this will disadvantage them when they enter the ‘real world’ beyond the school gates.

Despite what they sometimes say, most students repond well to being challenged in their learning, but it needs careful handling and is a long term process in developing effective teaching strategies. A lot of evidence suggests that teaching that does not challenge students is at least as harmful as teaching that is beyond students’ capabilities.

Creativity doesn’t mean teachers have to be particularly artistic. Effective teachers encourage creative responses to learning. For example, a powerful way of assimilating information is by converting the information from one form to another. A section from a textbook or worksheet might be re-created in the form of a poster, or a comic strip; students might demonstrate their understanding of coordinates in math by creating a ‘treasure island’ in the classroom and physically standing on different squares to represent different coordinates. There are many, many ways to be creative in what you ask students to do.

Almost done.

It just remains to put the topping on our effective teaching strategies cake.

The icing on this particular cake is a liberal sprinkling of the teacher’s own personality.

We are all different and we need to let our students see our personality, in the same way as we need to get to know our students’ personalities. We shouldn’t try to be someone we’re not just because we think it will give us some ‘street cred’ with students; we don’t have to be their best friends, but we should let them see that we enjoy being in their company, and that we are human beings who empathise with them as ‘learning partners’.

And the final touch.

Drizze some over the top of the effective teaching strategies cake.

Drizzle it liberally so it permeates all the way through. It will add a light touch to all classroom proceedings, and will be a powerful way to take students with us on the learning journey. Humour should never be at anyone’s expense, it should always be respectful. Teachers who learn how to laugh with students are often much more successful than their more strait-laced colleagues.

Of course humour needs to be used appropriately, after all, this is learning not a game show. The best advice I can give about humour is, start with yourself – when students see you can be good sport and poke gentle fun at yourself, you’re on to a winner, provided of course you can serve up all the other ingredients of the effective teaching strategies cake.

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