6 Things Every Teacher Should Know
Recently, I was co-leading a workshop for high school students alongside three DC teachers. It was the first time I’ve co-taught something in a while, so it was enlightening. I’m no expert teacher but I’ve taught in diverse classrooms and have been trained by some expert teachers in my life. Most of these may be obvious but are too often underutilized. These apply mostly to my experience in high school and university teaching but I’ve used them with adults as well. Here are a few teaching ideas every teacher should have in their toolbox. Let me know what you think.
1. Don’t hand anything out to students while giving instructions. As soon as you start handing things out, students stop listening. Give your instructions first, then hand out whatever you need to.
2. Always stop fun games and activities BEFORE you reach the climax of fun and excitement. I know this is counterintuitive, but this will keep students interested, wanting, and anticipating the next activity. If you reach the climax (and go past it), students start getting bored and lose focus.
3. If you ask your students a question, don’t answer it yourself before your students have a chance to think about it. Silence is okay. Don’t rush to answer your own question. If no one is responding, wait in silence and/or repeat the question in a different way.
4. When students answer a question you’ve posed, don’t evaluate each response on the spot with stuff like, “That’s a good answer” or “That’s fascinating!” Doing so will make other students question themselves and lose confidence: “Is my answer good or fascinating??” It’s better to say things like “Thank you for your comment.” And if you think one is particularly interesting, point out what about the comment is noteworthy. “I appreciate how you brought in your personal experience in your response.”
5. Don’t use extrinsic motivators to get students to participate. For instance, “If you do this, I’ll give you…” or “the team that wins will get…” If you haven’t read Daniel Pink’s book Drive, do it. The thesis: extrinsic motivators displace intrinsic motivation. If you use extrinsic motivators to get students to learn, don’t expect students to care about the learning the moment the extrinsic motivators are gone.
6. Never do for a student what they can and should do for themselves. This is perhaps my golden rule of teaching. Teachers generally talk too much. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a firm believer in the role of the lecture but generally teachers do too much of the talking. In my experience, the more I am doing/talking, the less my students are engaged.
Here’s one way to solve the teacher-talking problem (this is called a Jigsaw activity): Say you have three case studies you want your students to know about. One way to teach those case studies would be to go through them, one by one, on the board. I don’t recommend that. Instead, why don’t you give one third of the class the text for Case Study A, one third of the class the text for Case Study B, and one third of the class the text for Case Study C. Have them individually read and make notes about the case study assigned to them and tell them that they will have to explain it to their classmates. Then break into small groups of three, one person from each case study and have the students teach each other about the case study they investigated. At the end, make sure every student has a copy of all three case studies to reference later, but don’t hand that out until after students have shared themselves. If at the end you desperately need to tweak something or summarize things, go ahead, but remember that if students anticipate you’re going to sum it all up at the end, they’ll be less motivated to learn the case study for themselves or listen to their fellow students in the future.
Do you agree?
What are some of your best teaching tips?