We can all agree that there has been much research done on education, instruction and curriculum in the last few decades, but there was a time when new teachers simply learned from a mentor and taught their own students as they were once taught. This is in fact a very dangerous practice, especially if the teachers who came before you were ineffective, not certified, or unfamiliar with proven research-based practices.
It is so important to find your own style of teaching and implement research based practices in your classroom. The reality is that your college professor who taught you to be a teacher may very well not be a certified teacher.
These practices have absolutely no research to back them, yet we see many of our teachers use them more frequently than they should.
1. Assign chapters to read and workbook pages to complete based on the chapter.
If you must assign book work because you have a substitute or you know you will be out and your students will be dispersed to another classroom, then don’t just save all the questions for the end. A better way to go about it, which allows for a higher cognitive level of thinking is to embed the questions within the body of the text.
Assigning too much text can also lead to student disconnect. It should only take a few minutes to get through all of the assigned text. Much of the time spent should be analyzing the text and writing meaningful responses to the questions based on the text.
Think about when you are having class discussions. Do you save all of your questions for the end? I hope not. You probably ask a multitude of questions throughout the discussion, which is a much more effective approach.
2. Let students pick their own cooperative groups.
I am all for cooperative learning in my classroom, but I always pick the groups. You know that students will pick their friends to work with if allowed, and this does not always make for a cohesive learning environment. You want the students to support each other and create an environment that will increase engagement and a higher level of understanding for all members of the group.
In the work force, you will generally not be able to pick your partner or co-worker and you will have to learn to work with a diverse group of people who may have a difference of opinion. By creating diverse cooperative groups comprised of students with various learning styles and personalities, you are inadvertently preparing your student for the real world. Ignore their whining and don’t give in. They will get over it!
3. Only do activities.
Activities are often time-wasters or time-fillers. However you choose to look at it, it is generally busy work for your students. These activities may be content-related, but they often lack engagement or promote a higher level of thinking for your students.
While activities have their place in the classroom to spur creativity in your students, it should not be the only thing you do with your students on a consistent basis. Instead, try some project-based approaches to learning and allow them to get their hands dirty with the content. Get them to ask their own questions to spur class discussion.
4. Show video after video.
Videos can be great openers to the lesson or closers, but it should not be what you do all class period. If you are using a video as an instructional tool, it should be brief.
Instead, break your students up into cooperative groups and give them a quick overview prior to viewing the video about what they are about to see without spoilers. Stop the video at certain points to ask questions and spur class discussion and then assess your students with a brief quiz or test about the content of the video. You will not see many heads down with this approach to using videos in your classroom!
5. Monopolize the classroom with direct instruction while the students take notes.
Teachers are notorious for monopolizing class time. As teachers, we are natural speakers and many of us like to talk or hear ourselves talk and we are passionate about our content so we can talk about it for a lengthy period of time, but your students may not need as much information as you are willing to give them.
I understand that you must deliver some direct instruction. There’s not many ways around it, but don’t use up a whole class period lecturing your students. Your secondary students can likely only withstand 15-20 minutes max of you talking about Shakespeare or the life cycle of a frog until their brains begin to suffer from information overload and shut down. Elementary students have an even smaller attention span.
Instead, break up your direct instruction into small chunks, giving them only a small piece of the content pie each day. This allows for your students to better process the information you just delivered and make more meaningful connections without feeling overwhelmed.
6. Construct a test based on a certain number of points, not on standards.
For example, every test you’ve made in the past is worth 100 points, but you simply cannot come up with enough standards-based questions to equate to 100 points, so you create “filler questions” or questions that are similar to, but not the same as the one you just used to assess your students, perhaps in a different format (multiple choice versus short answer). Now you have a 5 page test that will overwhelm your students and will result in some of them not even being able to complete the entire assessment in the time allotted.
Your tests do not have to be a certain number of points, and you only have to assess your students’ understanding of a particular concept once. Chances are if they didn’t get the multiple choice question right that assessed that standard, they will not get the short answer question right either. I could be wrong, but it is what I have seen in the past.
I understand that sometimes as a teacher we just need a break and these above practices can be tempting, especially on “those” days (you know the ones I’m talking about), but we must push on and try to reach every one of our students to the best of our ability each and every day no matter how difficult it may be at times.
Don’t fall into the traps of these dangerous education practices. You are depriving your students and robbing of them of reaching their full potential. Create your own style, what ever that may be. Personalize your style to fit the individual needs of your students and see positive changes in your classroom.