Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati
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Let’s admit it once and for all: teaching is hard-work! From choosing the right techniques to use and gradually building rapport with your kids over the academic year; to marking and admin – the teaching profession requires of its disciples skills like no other.
But is it possible to distill all the research, experience and mumbo-jumbo into just a few effective strategies that work like a treat?
I believe so: hence this blog and my books.
Here are what I believe to be the most effective ways to ‘squeeze the most juice’ out of each lesson:
Tip 1: Quick starters
Give the kids something to do as soon as they walk through the classroom door (or immediately as the lesson starts). This kickstarts momentum from the outset, making it easier to build up knowledge and understanding later in the lesson.
And that’s another thing – a good starter activity should either introduce a new concept, or build on things (or review things) that were learned last lesson (or recently).
My second most popular blog post ever, ‘7 Starter Activities for PGCE Students and Newly Qualified Teachers‘, is well worth a read as it contains very simple games and activities that can be applied to any subject area.
The Lancashire Grid for Learning describes the successful elements of good starters really well in their online document, ‘Pedagogy and Practice: Teaching and Learning in Secondary Schools‘:
During successful interactive starters:
• pupils engage fully in learning from the outset;
• they gain an understanding of the objectives and purposes of the lesson;
• there is a sense of pace;
• pupils spend most of their time on-task and focused on learning;
• there is an appropriate level of challenge that enables pupils to make good progress in their learning.
Unit 5: Starters and Plenaries, Lancashire Grid for Learning [Online]. Accessed 3rd March 2019
If I were to add anything to the above list, it would be:
- the teacher exhibits a large amount of energy and enthusiasm
- the students enjoy what they are doing
Without energy and enjoyment, starter activities are only partially effective.
Tip 2: Quick plenaries
Plenaries give the students a really good chance to review what they’ve learned in a lesson (or sequence of lessons). When used frequently, they can really boost retention of knowledge.
Another very popular blog post of mine is ‘7 Plenary Activites for PGCE Students and Newly Qualified Teachers’. Check it out – simple techniques that require very little prep and resources.
Tip 3: Break-up learning with questions
Some kids can get really switched-off when they are lectured to for a long time. use textbook questions, question banks from exam boards, online questions (e.g. the BBC Bitesize tests), software (e.g. Educake and MyMaths) and even integrated presentation and task technology (e.g. Nearpod) to break up the lesson into sections.
This is important because, contrary to popular belief, the human brain keeps developing well into adulthood. This means that, although teenagers may look like small adults, their brains are still developing and actually resemble closely the brains of smaller children (Source: The Guardian).
So keep students focused with variety. Include various types of questions within lessons to review content (or to develop research skills).
Tip 4: Use Spatial Learning
Turn your kids into the concepts they are learning!
Teaching diffusion? Great – turn the kids into ‘particles’ and get them to move across the room and ‘diffuse’. Teaching maths? – Try getting your kids to make number shapes using their bodies.
Two favorites to get you warmed up are ‘The Human Graph’ and ‘True or False Walls’ (shown below) – again, taking simple concepts and techniques and making spatial.
You can see more spatial learning techniques at my blog post here.
Tip 5: Differentiation
Do you know what the word ‘differentiation’ really means? Most teachers think it means adjusting the difficulty level of tasks in a lesson to meet the needs of the learners. This is wrong.
Modifying difficulty to suit individual learners in lessons implies that those ‘more able’ students will have higher objectives than those deemed ‘less able’.
This philosophy is very damaging in my personal opinion. If you’ve got a group of kids in a class that you teach, then your aim must be that all learners achieve the same objectives, no matter how aspirational those objectives are.
Our job is to get those kids there, no matter what it takes. Normally, it takes a bit of differentiation.
Here’s the very best differentiation definition I have found to date:
Differentiation refers to a wide variety of teaching techniques and lesson adaptations that educators use to instruct a diverse group of students, with diverse learning needs, in the same course, classroom, or learning environment. The basic idea is that the primary educational objectives—making sure all students master essential knowledge, concepts, and skills—remain the same for every student, but teachers may use different instructional methods to help students meet those expectations.
COURTESY OF GREAT SCHOOLS PARTNERSHIP [ONLINE]. AVAILABLE AT HTTP://EDGLOSSARY.ORG/DIFFERENTIATION/ (ACCESSED 21ST APRIL 2017)
So, we now see differentiation clearly defined (finally). All students should master essential skills and knowledge, but we should change our instructional methods to suit the kids’ needs. We shouldn’t make stuff easier for some learners, and harder for others.
It amazes me how slowly education systems all around the world are moving towards this. We must stop ‘boxing’ kids into ability brackets. In the absence of some pre-defined cognitive hindrance, all students are equally capable. We’ve just got to find the ways to inspire them.
You can read more about differentiation (with lots of suggested techniques to use) at my blog post here.