of no fixed subtitle
June 01, 2005
Curious George: Teaching Technique
What have you taught and what have you learned from your own teachings? How can I become a better teacher?
16 years ago
What kind of teaching do you do? I was just wondering, because probably techniques for leading good college discussion sections would be pretty different from good kindergarten teaching skills.
I have taught a paralegal course. My style was to try to engage the students as much as possible. I tried to involve everyone and to give careful consideration to anyone's questions or points. This worked fairly well for me, but I had one student who was an absolute bully. She would have to have the last word on everything and would, of course, often be completely wrong. I had a very difficult time dealing with her. She liked me a lot at first because I actually would listen to her. She liked me less when I began to cut her off to allow the class to have some sort of flow. I wound up getting one poor evaluation because the student complained that the bully was accomodated too much by me.
I teach art history, usually introductory courses. I feel it's important to try and connect with the students on some level, but it's sometimes difficult to find the fine line between making the material seem relevant to their own experience and coming across as the sad old fart who tries to be hip and with it. I mention movies they've seen (Gladiator was important for our discussion if later imperial art), try to show parallels between "remote" civilizations and our own (they really enjoy the porn frescos in Pompeii) and try to make the lecture entertaining. No one wants to sit through a bland droning of endless facts. Although it can backfire. One year I played 20 minutes of Monty Python and the Holy Grail (from "Bring out yer dead" to the French knights) to introduce the section on medieval art. The kids were cracking up and at the end, one girl piped up, "What
that?" But what I've learned is that half the trick of teaching (at least in my discipline) is your schtick. It's a performance. You've got to be comfortable up there at the front of the room and not let the eye-rollers distract you. Even with good preparation, though, you're going to have a day when your timing is just off. You have to roll with it. I think you also need to love what you're teaching- students can smell insincerity a mile away. As for what you can do to be a better teacher: ask your students. From day one, try to establish a rapport with them. If they are old enough, treat them like adults, so when the time comes to ask what you can do better, they will feel like answering you as adults. Ask them right around midterm, so there's a chance for them to get used to your style and decide what they don't get. What ages are you teaching, Jerry?
when curious, students will learn in spite of their teachers and not because of them.
It really depends on the teaching and the curriculum. Do you control the curriculum? Is this teaching really a training class for new hires or are you teaching academically or perhaps teaching crafts at a local community college or rec center? It makes a world of difference if you ask me, but there are still a few universal tips I've picked up.
Be fun. Smile, toss jokes, share experiences, but beware of terminal subject derailment.
Review early, often and !QUICKLY! This helps me keep everyone on the same page as much as possible, even if the skillsets in the room vary greatly. (I use
jeopardy powerpoint templates
as a review tool quite often, the upsides are too numerous to list if you keep the questions lighthearted and can do a passably funny Trebek impersonation from time to time.)
Especially with adults and high density training/teaching, increase the frequency of breaks throughout the day.
Anticipate questions and be able to answer EVERY SINGLE ONE, even if answering it means looking up the answer together with the class or coming in with the answer the next day. Students need faith that their teacher knows their shit.
Be fun. Bring in a box of otter pops or peppermints randomly every few days.
At least once thoughout your course tie your subject into a current events talk among the class. But don't let it go all day.
Use PowerPoint wisely. Like any tool, and perhaps more than most tools, it can be used for good and evil. A good deal of my job involves this tool in some regard and I'd be happy to elaborate if you'd like.
Be fun. Nobody likes a somber lecture. Juggle some Jolly Ranchers while taking questions if that's what it takes. Everyone looks friendly and a bit silly when juggling Jolly Ranchers.
What? No bullet points? Mea Culpa Monkeyfilter, Mea Culpa.
Well, we are all learning. ;-) I am a music teacher, FWIW, but a good teacher is a good teacher no matter the subject.
Always be prepared to admit you are wrong. Students get a big kick out of "besting" the teacher. That, and even if it it makes you look like a mega-dork, prove to them on a daily basis that there is nothing in the world more exciting to you than the subject you teach. I learned that this year when a struggling student's parent commented, "He says your class is 'mad hard but you can tell that he (me, the teacher)
Enthusiasm for whatever it is you happen to be teaching is key.
There are no boring subjects
. If you are excited, your students will be as well. If circumstances allow, chatting with your students a bit outside of class time helps. They need to realize that you are a human being, rather than just another manifestation of The Man. I teach high school physics, by the by.
I taught high school and it was teh suck. I've taught college for four years now and it rules. I've decided that, if class size allows, the best way for me is to have presentation groups so that each class a different group of students is responsible for teaching. I make them engage the class and come up with a clip or a game or something. I only expect them to go half the class and I don't hesitate to jump in and grill them on the tipic of the day. I find that works well because 1) there are at least 4 or 5 kids that have read that day's article and 2) even if the group is crappy you still have a captive audience and can ask the group to correct things and 3) that means only half a class to plan for! I always try to think of examples where the topic at hand has come up and always ask them to think of their own examples. I'm a 6tf 4 230lb man so I don't get many discipline problems. If someone gets into a heated debate, I try to stress that these are just opinions and that you can disagree, but you have to disagree politely and not personally. I don't hesitate to stop personal attacks or foul language. And if someone challenges my authority I will just ask the class, "What do you guys think about that?" and see what the class thinks and then make it more of a debate over the class rather than me, personally. I have had to kick a girl out once, and it sucked, but it was for the best and I think the class ended up working better for it.
I agree with what everyone else is saying - I used to be an art teacher & I was in museum education for years. Enthusiasm for your subject is the main key. The other thing that always worked well for me was making my lessons a mutual voyage of discovery "What will happen if we put watercolor over the oil pastel? What happens if we mix red and green?" The students need to be participants, not just learners. This is why I swear by the Socratic method - which you can even adjust downwards to pre-K - the more they discover on their own (with your guidance) the more they will remember. So I ask, ask, ask - I hardly ever tell. And everything ties into everything else, and digression can be your friend. Leaving the train of the lesson for a few minutes to discuss history/sociology/film/math/chemistry sometimes facilitates the best learning - there's no point to education, IMHO, if it can't be tied into the rest of the world. Synthesis & extrapolation - they can't learn it if they don't see it.
I used to be a ski instructor. We tried to follow several principles when teaching to provide for a better clinic. They were: * Give meaning to the learner. * Less is more. * Activate prior knowledge. * Strength ID and enhancement. * Catch the guest doing something right. * Foreshadow the clinic. There were a couple more but I can't remember them. You also need to recognise the types of learners that you have, ie visual, aural, kinesthetic and structure your teaching to suit those different students.
You have to show respect for the students. A teacher who complains about or belittles his students is a bad teacher, without exception. As to becoming better--ask the students. Set aside the last day for a talk about the class. Stress that this is a free speech zone and they can say what they like without punishment. Ask them what worked and what didn't. You'll be amazed at the frankness and honesty. And be willing to try new things. Mix it up. The great teachers do not resemble one another.
I think all teachers struggle with feelings of inadequacy. It has something to do with the fact that we as teachers cannot simply open the pupils' heads and place our knowledge in there. But I don't think there are any techniques or methods that will transform us into super teachers. The learning process is far too complex. As time goes on, we learn that it is up to the pupils to learn. Our job is simply to facilitate their learning. Being ourselves goes a long way towards creating the right learning atmosphere, as does showing an interest in them as people. They will reciprocate, expressing themselves and showing an interest in you and what you're doing (music). Really, you should, if you haven't already, take a course in music education or music didactics; the topic is far too comprehensive to be answered satisfactorily here.
Oh, and I teach English, God help me.
It's commendable that you ask the question Jerry Junior. I don't disagree with anyone. The only thing I'd emphasize is that each individual learns in a different manner and at a different rate. Unless things are way off base, all points of view and learning styles should be encouraged, fostered. Also, imbuing enthusiasm for the subject matter is the primary goal -- students will put in the effort if their interest is properly piqued. I say this from a left-base learner mindset and only a small ESL teaching experience. 6 months after returning from Vietnam, I'm still 'teaching' in exchange emails with my former students.
Attention. Persistence. Patience. Do as much one-on-one work with each student as you can without killing yourself. Study them as people not just students. Help them find their strong suits. Teach/show them how to teach themselves after the period of instruction is over. Be willing to open doors for them with colleagues and friends. Don't be too predictable, keep it fresh for a student -- and if possible, for yourself. There's always more to learn. And they will teach you if you can stay loose.
wish i could add something tremendously insightful that others haven't already covered. Be yourself--in adopting any of the strategies of the above, if you feel uncomfortable, students will spot it and it usually will not be pretty. This does not mean you should fear to fail; on the contrary, I always tell my students that I will reward spectacular failure for the effort and the thought processes involved, and I model failure--not inentionally, but sometimes shit happens--and show them that we learn from that. Be consistent. Do what you say you are going to do regarding attendance, participation, late work and so on. I teach first year college writing and professional/technical writing. Similar in build to jccalhoun, I have few disciplinary problems (6 ft. 7" [just shy of 200 cm] and 250 lbs.), but I do what I can to soften my size so that the students are not terrified.
I teach my disciples through the medium of SONG. Hey nonny noo! One and one is two! Hey nonny naw! Two times two is four! Hey nonny nant! The limit as s approaches one of sigma of s minus one over s minus 1 equals the Euler-Mascheroni constant!
Great thread--I'm taking notes! Also, what Peacay said about inculcating enthusiasm for the topic. I don't have a list of "standards" I want every student in my history classes to learn, but I do want everyone to leave the class saying "Hey, history is actually pretty interesting." My hope is that this creates lifelong learners, people who will visit history museums and sites for the rest of their lives.
quid, bwhaaa! jerry, i've never taught but i did have a teacher who changed my life. and through that experience i might offer this advice: remember that attention and direction from a caring adult does indeed hold a lot of sway with young people, whether they admit it or not. back in 1974 i took a journalism course because the clarinet class was all full that period. (damn!) i figured it was just a throw-away credit. i'll never forget after i wrote the first assignment and walked up to the desk to retrieve my paper. the teacher looked at me and said, "this is damn good. you're a journalist and don't even know it yet." he suggested i join the school paper. i was stunned -- but intrigued. that was the beginning of my life in journalism. long after i graduated high school i kept in close contact with jim yoggerst, my beloved teacher. as he lay dying two ago i flew home to sit by his bedside, grateful for one last opportunity to visit with him. i told him i loved him and thanked him, once again, for giving me my life. "oh, you would have found your way there without me," he said, as self-effacing as always. i guess what i'm saying is, nuture the sparks you see within your students. to me, that's the essence of teaching.
A good sound beating learns 'em right quick.
I'm a 6tf 4 230lb man so I don't get many discipline problems
OK, so you have me by 30 pounds there jccalhoun but I do agree that 6'4" helps with the discipline - if you are short, you need to step up and make up for it with attitude. Some of the best teachers I've seen are the 4'5" ones who talk like they're 7 feet tall.
we as teachers cannot simply open the pupils' heads
Not unless you get the proper "research using human subjects" permissions forms all signed, Skrik. :Þ I've got 6 years of college teaching experience so far, mostly as a grad student. I'm starting my first real full-time spot this fall. So far the things that seem to work are: -Making fun of myself. I'm the only person in the room it is safe to make fun of. You never know what will be offensive to a student, so I joke about me. -Playing the "old guy trying to be hip" angle. As they generally don't see me as being that old, it comes off as funny rather than desperate. (I generally do this with one-on-one things rather than in lecture though.) -Being willing to embarass the entire class into participating. I'll ask a question, and if nobody attempts an answer I start the old "Hey, we're here for another 45 minutes; I'll wait for an answer until the end of class if I need to" thing until somebody cracks and raises their hand. That, and being totally and completely comitted to the syllabus. If I say we are covering Chapter 7 on Tuesday, we sure as hell are going to do it. So far this hasn't backfired on me, and the students appreciate the fact that I keep the class on schedule. I teach intro biology, vertebrate comparative anatomy, developmental bio, genetics, and so on.
Hey nonny nite! Charles Darwin was right!
I agree about the enthusiasm part. I've had teachers who are obviously bored with the material -- so why should I care? I try to convey that enthusiasm to my students by being geekily excited about what we're reading -- and by picking readings that geek me out to begin with :) I'm starting my first full-time job this fall by teaching 3 classes online. Does anyone have any tips for online teaching, whether you've taught online or taken a class? Any tips would be greatly appreciated (I was actually thinking of putting up my own CG in a while, but I'll just ask here!)
Oh -- the classes will be humanities, "intro to multi-culturalism" type classes.
Sidedish, that's a truly touching story and captures the essence of a great teacher.
I've decided that, if class size allows, the best way for me is to have presentation groups so that each class a different group of students is responsible for teaching.
I attended a film history class where this was done. It was categorically AWFUL. I think this works well ONLY when you have a class of *exceptional* students who know or care enough about teaching their classmates. If you don't, the result ends up being dull, depressing and worse, demotivating.
I find that works well because 1) there are at least 4 or 5 kids that have read that day's article
Wow 4 or 5 out of what 20? What would account for such a low rate?
and 2) even if the group is crappy you still have a captive audience and can ask the group to correct things
Sure, let's add some humiliation to the mixture.
and 3) that means only half a class to plan for
How nice for you. I'd come right out and say it but i'm only 5'6".
I think one of the best pieces of advice I ever got was that you have to do what works for you. Cooperative grouping does not work so well for me. However, I have seen other teachers use it exclusively and get great results from the kids. Different techniques need to fit the personality of the teacher. There is no magic bullet. Sometimes straight lecture is what gets the job done, if you can pull it off. Feel free to experiment with different teaching styles and see what happens. Even if you fall flat on your face one day, the best thing about teaching is that you get to try something new the next.
Thanks so much everybody. Lots to think about. I've been going through a rut lately, getting pedagogically lazy, and your stories and thoughts are inspiring.
I find that works well because 1) there are at least 4 or 5 kids that have read that day's article Wow 4 or 5 out of what 20? What would account for such a low rate?
The fact that they are undergrads. If they were grads, at least 6 out of the 20 would have read the article.
A ( to you, jb! That somehow reminds me of this math joke: When you're a 1st year math student, it takes one hour to prove that 1+1=2. When you're a graduate math student, it takes only twenty minutes. When you're a math professor, you can take it for granted.
J.J.: What are you teaching? Courses? Group music lessons? Private lessons? Directing ensembles? I ask because there are different things to consider in each of those situations (although the general advice given above is all sound).