Tag Archives: effective teaching

Choose your focus

14 Mar

Anything you pay attention to in your classroom will inevitably increase. It truly is as simple as that. The human perception focuses on things we expect. This is why verbalizing your positive expectations in the classroom will make a difference.

As a teacher you are externalizing your values and beliefs while you teach, i.e. communicate with your students.  So, if you expect students to hate learning…. well… that is what you will get.  And vice versa, if you expect every student being capable for learning and submitting good quality work, that is what you will get (sooner or later- be patient).

Focusing your communication on what you want to happen in your classroom creates the expectation for students. I am talking about the subtexts of the classrooms anywhere, on any level of education.  There are ancient and new studies about this issue, one of my favourites being the Pygmalion Effect, of course. And I know already visited this issue in the post about Hidden Expectations, but  I wanted to focus more on communication here, and emphasize its effects on learning. Or, not learning.

Every teacher knows how it is not only important what you say, but also how you say it and the non-verbal communication accompanying your message. These three are commonly referred to as verbal, paraverbal and non-verbal messages, and the emphasis of each of them changes a bit depending on the age of your students. The younger the student, the more emphasis you need to put on the para-and non-verbal messages. Often this is expressed with a triangle showing a small portion on the tip being the verbal communication, and the other two being the  over 90% majority of what children actually receive. For more mature students the verbal message is stronger, but the other two parts of your message still remain important.

But there is actually more to that. Your classroom practices must match with your communication. If your words (and expressions) are being positive but the undertone strongly negative, students will be following the latter. Having practices that promote initiative, autonomy and student accountability strengthen your positive messages in the classroom, and also strengthen students’ understanding about their own learning process – which of course makes giving positive feedback even easier.

Creating positive spirals in classroom is easy! It is also a choice each and every teacher has to make. It starts from stating positive expectations to your students, and then making sure your classroom practices match with your words.

What do you want your focus to be?

The Learning Path

2 Mar

The Path of All Learning – How we move from Observation to Action.

Such a nice way of visualizing how learning happens! The amount of information (or the data) around us is bigger than ever, and the internet provides us with more and more data all the time. One important role for an effective teacher is to help students make good choices while searching data (and information). It may not be obvious for students what a reliable source looks like, so it is essential to teach about source criticism. I would also communicate early and often the fact that the knowledge two students construct from the same piece of information is different.

Your knowledge is different from mine, and that is exactly how it should be, because learning is highly individual (as opposite from teaching that can be done even with mass media). I know this does not exactly fit into the current testing culture, but let’s be realistic: students are learning for life, not for school. (At least that was the basic idea of public education when it was founded: to help students become ready for their lives.)

How could we lead more students to the path of learning?

How to build student centered class environment?

25 Feb

Student centered teaching is a way of making teaching and learning better in the classroom. As this is a highly qualitative measure, it is sometimes hard to summarize the necessary changes or easily communicate the differences between student-centered and traditional teacher-led instruction.

What makes definition even harder, is the fact that student centered education is not really a method. It is a philosophy, based on the fact that each human being learns individually. What is taught in a classroom is not necessarily learned, because each student has a different perception of what was taught – and that is exactly how it should be, if we want to foster (critical) thinking skills. When we are asked to follow someone else’s thinking we will not create the same competence as while thinking it through on our own.

There are certain indicators for student centered teaching and learning. The three  main characteristics to define whether a learning environment is student centered or not, are the use of cognitive, constructive and cooperative tools in teaching and learning. One very simple “measurement” is to pay attention to the amount of open-ended questions (as opposed to questions that have just single one correct answer). The other measure is the amount of individualization used in the classroom, and the learning environment supporting learner’s autonomy in majority of tasks and assignments.

Open-ended questions cater for the cognitive growth of your students.  These questions also help your students grow as learners and understand the way their individual learning happens when they hear different correct answers to the same question.  Discussing about the different points of view leading to these answers helps students understand the connections between concepts, and thus caters for deep learning.  When you as teacher know how learning happens, you can easily guide students beyond rote memorization. The question to ask yourself while planning the lesson is: what will my students really learn about this?

Individualization sometimes seems like a bad word, or being something that only adds to the load for the teacher. But it does not have to be  that way. Constructive teaching is student centered and acknowledges the importance of building the content to be learned so that it meets the students’ increasing understanding about the subject matter. Of course,  introducing more complicated concepts after the basics have been learned is just plain common sense. But, the constructive way I have taught with also includes the idea of providing choices for students, so that the more advanced students can learn further on their own speed, while those students who may need extra time can review the content one more time, if necessary. This is not hard to do. And it still is basic common sense: keep the learning meaningful for all of your students. I used to assign different homework for students, too.

Learner’s autonomy requires cooperation in the class.  Only cooperative learning is student centered, because teacher-led instruction is based on the teacher telling students what to do. Cooperation must happen between students to provide deeper understanding about the subject. Sometimes the students’ choice of words makes it easier for another student to understand, because they share the approximately same language level, which is not the case between the teacher and student. Cooperation  in the teacher-student relationship takes away the unnecessary power struggle between teachers and students: why have a battle when we are aiming to a mutual goal? Providing autonomy in class empowers students to learn more on their own,  and makes them become more interested in things they learn at school. This of course decreases the need for behaviour management in your class, when everyone is engaged in learning. Seems like a win-win situation to me!

Does your classroom have hidden expectations?

18 Feb

Teaching is a funny profession. Everybody has an opinion about it, because they have been involved with it, either as a student, a parent or a teacher. That is why classrooms carry loads of emotional baggage, thus always being a battlefield for different sets of expectations.

Every single person entering a classroom has their own expectations regarding learning, teaching, socializing or just education in general. It might not be a clear expectation, or even something they would have actively been thinking about, nevertheless it creates a filter that “colours” everything this person sees in the classroom. Think of coloured shades: depending of the colour of the lens, the whole classroom looks different. And this expectation makes us see exactly those things we want to see (or what we don’t want – because the focus can be the negative expectation, too).

Students’ expectations for school or learning in general are far from realistic, but this does not diminish the emotional and cognitive effect of them, unfortunately. And these hidden expectations that are never discussed tend to appear as “ghosts” in the classroom: hard to detect and hard to address or handle. But they they have a strong effect on how your students learn.

Have you ever heard about inherited math-phobia? A belief how nobody in a family has ever been good at math. Or how in some other family nobody has ever read well…? Or how a student is highly intelligent in one area, and thus should only concentrate on improving that single skill?  You know what I am talking about, right? These expectations will make learning very hard for students, unless they are addressed in the class.

Learning is a complex process, and we don’t even know all factors contributing to good quality learning. But we have learned about things that make learning harder. One of these things is poor communication, when the message is received in a very different way than it was sent. Hidden expectations are one part explaining why and how this happens.

Utilizing focused and effective feedback in your classroom is one way of addressing these hidden expectations and ensuring that you and your students are talking about the same things. It creates opportunities to understand what your students are thinking, and provides situations for asking those important open-ended questions.

Discussing expectations should be one part of casual communications in education. After all we share the ultimate goal: to see our students succeed in their lives (and studies, too).


31 Dec

You know how we don’t see things as they are, but how we are?  And sometimes we have hard time understanding, because the new information doesn’t seem to fit in? The same goes with your students, of course, and even more so because they have not yet learned to recognize their own filters.

Being able to help students create their own worldview is quite amazing. We as teachers are trusted with great responsibility! Being significant adults in our students’ lives we are also co-creators of their futures, and that makes me feel very humble and honoured, indeed.

One essential thing to teach your students as an all round survival skill is the ability to choose some of your own filters.

My current chosen filter is the 3C – approach for learning and teaching. It stands for cognitive, constructive and cooperative learning, and it empowers students to become autonomous learners. It places the student into the nexus of learning and helps them understand what and why they learn and become accountable for their own learning.

I strongly believe that these three components are also essential for good quality teaching.

Without cognitive part your students will never become critical thinkers – because there is nothing for them to think about, they are just asked to pass and perform.

Without constructive part students will never understand their own learning and become active learners – because knowledge is imparted to them, and someone else decides about the truth.

Without co-operational part students will never find learning meaningful and important – because they are objects in their own learning, performing learning tasks dictated by others.

Looking forward into the future (on this last day of 2011), and wondering what today’s students will grow into.  But that is the teacher’s job always: prepare students for the unknown future.

How do you want to equip your students for their journey?