By Jeri Mattics Omernik
We’ve all had experiences with great teachers who have knocked it out of the park and, well, others that were not-so-great. Take a minute to think about what sets those experiences apart. What did the good teachers do that the not-so-good ones didn’t, and vice versa?
One thing good teachers tend to do is take into consideration the student’s perspective. They think about how students perceive things and how they, as teachers, can best position information so that it will interest their students.
Paul Larson shows his students the ins and outs of hydroponics.
It all starts with considering why you became a teacher in the first place. What is your purpose? What is your goal? If your goal is to teach all of your students as much as you can, then it is important to make every minute of classroom time count.
Consider, “If I was a student, what would I be expecting to learn? Where would my mind be?” The teacher needs to think about the answers to these questions, then craft an interest approach that will address where the students are, mentally, when they walk in the classroom door. You want to get them interested in the topic and escort them through the learning activity so that they reach the end point of learning the day’s lesson by the end of the allotted time period. Thinking about your lessons from that perspective, what questions would you have if you were a student? If you knew that answer, how might you change how you start your classes?
Another technique good teachers use is shifting the responsibility for learning from the teacher to the student. Paul Larson, who teaches agriculture in Freedom, Wis., says, “When you make the students captains of their own ships of learning, you can eliminate much of the resistance you might typically receive, particularly from more challenging students.”
Instead of students hearing, “I want you to do this,” the teacher flips the responsibility by saying things like, “You’ll want to discover X so that you can do Y.” Larson continues, “I set the stage for the day’s lesson, make sure the necessary resources are available and that the students’ questions are answered, then I get out of the way. When students are motivated to learn because the information is meaningful to them, they take ownership and tend to dig deeper, peel off more layers and better understand the information. It’s more enjoyable for them because they are in charge, and it’s more enjoyable for me because now instead of lecturing to a large group, I can be more of a facilitator floating between a number of small groups or individuals.”
Changing Your Ways
Experienced teachers know that changing teaching techniques isn’t easy and that it takes a little bit of time for students to adjust to these new approaches. Larson says, “It takes a while for students to adapt to new techniques when they are first introduced in the classroom, but don’t give up just because everything doesn’t go smoothly at first. Once the students get used to the techniques, they respond well, and you’ll find your classroom runs more smoothly.”
Hugh Mooney, a veteran teacher from Galt, Calif., who recently accepted the challenge of becoming a regional supervisor, underscores Larson’s message. “Adopting these techniques is more of a challenge for experienced teachers than it is for new teachers because we’ve been doing things differently for a long time. However, these little changes are powerful and can make a big difference in the classroom. I encourage teachers to risk boldly, and enjoy the students’ response.”
Interested in learning more teaching tips? The book Quantum Teaching: Orchestrating Student Success, by Bobbi DePorter, Mark Reardon and Sarah Singer-Nourie, provides a wealth of information and practical tips that bridge the gap between educational research and practical application in the classroom.