Having worked extensively in a variety of schools where I facilitate professional development for teachers and school leaders and work intensively with teachers in small groups, I often get asked ‘How can I be a better teacher?’ The following are some of my ideas, obviously there are many more that could be added; hence 11 to start with…. I am more than happy to hear what others think. Tania Lattanzio
1. Flexibility and Adaptability: the ability to adapt as needed, to not follow a rigid plan and realize that lessons often do not go the way you intended. Being a flexible teacher means that you are more likely to meet the needs of your students as you change what you had planned according to the students. It is not about following a set of activities that have been pre designed and ticking them off, but instead it is about being flexible and adapting what is planned to meet the needs of students.
Tip: Let the planning be organic and develop in response to student needs and interests not be too pre planned. The less planning there is at the beginning (recording possible ideas is fine) the more likely for adapting and being flexible.
2. Co-constructing meaning: co-construct meaning with your students. Provide opportunities for students to be involved in their own learning and make decisions about it. Whether through enabling them to follow their interests or ensuring they are continually building their own knowledge and understanding.
Tip: Teachers who co-construct with their students involve students ideas, thoughts and questions in the planning.
3. Challenging: continually challenge students regardless of where they are in their learning. The bar is never too low and the teacher ensures they know where a student is in terms of their learning so that they can organize the next stage of learning as a way to challenge students. It is not just about giving students more work it is about giving them different challenges that will move them on in their understanding and knowledge. Knowing what a student knows, understands and can do at the beginning of the learning is key to this.
Tip: Developing ways to gather students' prior knowledge is important if you are going to challenge students. This information is then used to differentiate the class so all students are extended. Also let students struggle through problems, be less helpful. If students struggle and get through the challenge themselves they will arrive at deeper learning.
4. Connect with Purpose: ensure that the learning that students are involved in, where possible, is connected to their real world and they see relevance to their learning. Opportunities need to be provided for students to see those connections so that they see the purpose in their learning.
Tip: It is not about selecting fun activities it is about deciding what it is you want students to learn and planning the most effective way for them to do this. All learning engagements need to be purposeful and meaningful and give students the ‘why’ to their learning.
5. Real People, Places, Objects: use resources that are real where possible as a way for students to learn. Real people, real experiences, real objects. If students understand that their learning is connected to the real world, it provides the purpose and enables them to see that their learning is connected to the real world and therefore has meaning.
Tip: Use primary resources wherever possible so that students can make connections and apply their learning to the world in which they live.
6. Concepts: use concepts, larger ideas, as a way to connect knowledge and skills. Using bigger ideas that have meaning and purpose that can be connected to the real world gives students the opportunity to build their understanding of a larger idea. Concepts also provide a connection amongst and between learning, providing opportunities for students to develop deeper learning and understanding.
Tip: Using concepts, provides opportunities for students to make connections between their classroom, across the curriculum and beyond in order to develop a deeper understanding.
7. Facilitate: when organizing a learning engagement a good teacher thinks, ‘Do I have to give students this information/understanding, or is there a way I can set up learning engagements so that they will give me the information/understanding.’ If students discover things for themselves they are far more likely to retain it. Teachers should carefully select appropriate learning engagements that make students think and given them the chance to draw their own conclusions and ideas.
Tip: Misconceptions may come out of this, which is fine. A good teacher will then look at the misconceptions and plan the next learning engagements as a way to address these.
8. Environment: develop an environment of trust, collaboration and innovation. It is in this environment where students will feel safe and emotionally ready to learn. A culture of innovation in the environment understands that mistakes provide opportunity for new learning and further innovation. Students understand that together with their peers they are part of the learning process and know that it is not about who is best, but rather how can we best support each other to further our knowledge and understanding.
Tip: Give students the opportunity to create the environment they want to be a part of and ensure that there are resources at their disposal that promote independence, thinking and curiosity. The environment is a shared environment and where appropriate students should have a say in the way it is set up.
9. Feedback: provide specific feedback for improvement. Whether written or oral each time a teacher gives feedback it needs to come with meaning and purpose. Saying ‘good’ achieves nothing Feedback needs to be used as a way to assist students in deciding what their next steps in their leaning are. It assists students in understanding there is room for improvement.
Tip: To give specific feedback a teacher has to know exactly what it is they are looking for and the purpose of the learning. Having clear criteria as a teacher ensures that you can give clear specific feedback.
10. Problem Solving: not only provide opportunities for students to problem solve, but also opportunities for students to develop their own problems to solve. Students who develop their own problems will be far more engaged in their learning as they are invested in finding a solution. Teachers need to develop more opportunities for students to solve their own problems, regardless whetherit is a social problem or educational problem.
Tip: Too often teachers jump in too quickly without giving students a chance to grapple with their problems and come up with possible solutions. We want students to be resilient and to not give up so we need to give them time to reach their own solutions. We need to be less helpful at times.
11. Think: get students to think, whether it is about their own learning, reflecting on how they are doing or solving a problem. Thinking is a key to learning.
Tip: Use questioning as a way to get students to think. When students answer or suggest something, ask them a question that will make them think deeper about their learning. What makes you say that? How do you know? Can you elaborate on that? Good questioning promotes thinking and deeper learning.
Tania Lattanzio is one of the Regional Directors of Innovative Global Education
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