How Can Teachers Help Pupils To Learn Education Essay
This assignment will consider some of the main techniques and elements that can help creating a good teaching and learning practice. Successful teachers normally employ an array of techniques and strategies in order to ensure high levels of pupil interest and motivation, allowing them to achieve their full potential. However, before analysing how teachers can help the process of understanding and assimilating knowledge during their lessons, I will briefly look at few theories that are relevant to teaching and that teachers should consider when planning their lessons. These theories focus on the important role that pupils’ emotions, their different kinds of intelligences and their brains activities have on the development of their minds.
Emotions can be defined as ‘feelings and….their distinctive thoughts, psychological and biological states, and range of propensities’ (Goleman:1996:289). According to Goleman’s definition of Emotional Intelligence, there are several primary emotions – anger, sadness, fear and enjoyment and these all affect our learning in different ways. In extreme cases, emotions and feelings can block the learning process. The learner is a creative and active agent and the recognition of its emotions is the way to become a whole person. Maslow demonstrates this with his hierarchy of needs: physiological, safety, love and self-esteem moving on to self-actualisation. The pupils that have difficulties in fulfilling one or more of these basic needs encounter problems in their learning process. Therefore, pupils must have self-acceptance and be completely aware of their feelings to be able to build up their self-esteem.
In general, learning is the process by which skills, attitudes, knowledge and concepts are acquired, understood, applied and extended. However, there is another level of learning that teachers should consider, pupils learn about their feelings towards themselves, towards each other and towards learning itself. Learning is therefore partly a cognitive process and partly social and affective. Successful learning may result in confidence, pleasure and a sense of achievement. Failure may result in low self-esteem, apathy, avoidance and aggression. (Pollard:1997)
How pupils’ brains work
The multiple intelligence theory was developed by Howard Gardner. He suggested that not just one type of intelligence exists, such as the intelligence that can be measured by an IQ test, but several. He described a number of intelligences, each of which was related to a different part of the brain. He discovered that there were nine intelligences and that all humans possess these intelligences in varying amounts. The education system must cater for all these intelligences because pupils do not learn at the same pace, same time or in the same way. By doing this, pupils are more likely to engage with the work, teachers should highlight that it is not relevant to be the quickest to find a solution it is important to be able to understand how we can get to the same solutions starting from a different point or using a different process.
This theory was very useful in my understanding of the role of a teacher, teaching is not just about giving a worksheet to fill but it is about using different techniques in order to engage with the pupils and their different intelligences. So looking at this theory it seems that teachers when planning their lessons must ensure to cater for most and if possible all types of intelligences in order to engage the whole class.
Another theory that focuses on how the brain works is Skinners’ theory of Operant Conditioning. All pupils want to receive praise in any form and therefore praise is a method to keep pupils motivated and keen to learn. This theory was based on the idea that learning is a change in any learner behaviour. Skinners believed that individuals respond to changes (stimulii) in the environment and these external inputs change their behaviour. If a response is rewarded the pupil is conditioned to respond as suggested by it (Kearsley, G.:2005). However, I agree with the opinion of Cohen. L et al (2004, p.177-178) that praise can lead to a rather superficial, mechanistic and repetitive type of learning. Learning just for the reward does not make the pupils focus on understanding or on the pleasure of learning.
Ideally then, teachers should consider their pupils’ emotions, needs, intelligences to be able to engage and motivate them with a satisfying lesson.
Tools for teaching and learning
A huge variety of tools and techniques can be chosen by teachers to create stimulating lessons. The following selection includes the most commonly used by teachers in lessons I observed recently:
Stimulating classroom environment
Good lesson planning
Good control of the class
Constructive feedback and praise
Questioning is a particular technique that require practice and well-thought preparation, planning and delivery, therefore I will focus my attention particularly on this tool on the second part of this essay.
Stimulating classroom environment
The classroom environment can play a vital role in pupils’ interest and motivation towards learning. Julie Briant (1997) commented “It is important to plan an effective learning environment where there is a positive ethos for learning, a common sense of purpose, where children feel safe and secure and are confident enough to take risks”.
The atmosphere that a teacher can create in a classroom is the first and probably the most important influencing element for a good or bad learning experience (Gipps, McCallum, Hargreaves, (2000:144). In order for any learning to take place children must “feel secure and valued” Hyland, (2003:105). Therefore, if we as teachers can create this kind of environment, (Hyland 2003:104), where children feel they “are actively engaged, understand what they have to do and the purpose of an activity, and believe it matters that they do their best,” then the pupils will be engaged and motivated to learn.
As part of a stimulating environment computers and interactive whiteboards are crucial tools that teachers should master in their classrooms. National Curriculum (1999, p.96) “ ICT prepares pupils to participate in a rapidly changing world in which work and other activities are increasingly transformed by access to varied and developing technology. Pupils use ICT tools to find, explore, analyse, exchange and present information responsibly, creatively and with discrimination.”
Although the use of ICT can stimulate pupil learning, it is essential that teachers give plenty of thought during the planning stage and only use ICT in an appropriate way, and not merely because it is available. These tools do not improve the interaction unless the teachers are able to do so. In most of the maths lessons I observed, teachers used the interactive whiteboard effectively for geometry topics, showing the common characteristics of quadrilateral for example, or to demonstrate the Pythagorean theorem. However, the richness and effectiveness of the whiteboard is still linked to the ability of the teacher. The whiteboard can be good presentations tools but they are really interactive only when the teacher is able to use other teacher skills together with technology. This has been also suggested by a research conducted by the British Society for Research into Learning Mathematics. In this research they concluded that during most of the lessons using interactive whiteboards made little difference in teachers’ interaction with the class, most of the teachers where still spending most of the time explaining what to do and asking closed questions to assess the understanding of the class.
On the other hand, due to their versatility, interactive white boards can have many applications within an educational context. For instance, they can enhance the learning experience for students with different learning styles. Interactive white boards can be used to support, as (Bennett, 2005:68) suggests “the visual, audio, kinaesthetic (VAK) model of preferred learning styles.” Visual learners like to see information; auditory learners enjoy hearing and learn by listening to information and kinaesthetic learners learn by doing; they like to physically engage with information. Using interactive white boards can cater for all of these different types of learning style, at the same time, within the whole class context.
Good lesson planning
The teaching process cannot be perceived as suggested by Oldham, (2002:23) “as the space in which teachers recount their knowledge to pupils who, merely by listening, simply absorb the information.” Learning and teaching should be, as stated by Gipps et al (2000:10) “an active process, so the learner must be encouraged to think about what they are learning, to make sense of it, and to link it with other concepts, constructs or pieces of information.”
Planning is a major factor in allowing the teacher to be effective, and help the pupils to make sense of their learning. Lessons need to be well planned and structured in order to allow the children to learn. They must also allow pupils with different abilities to achieve their targets. As Ausubel, (1968:vi) states “the most important single factor influencing learning is what the learner already knows. Ascertain this and teach him accordingly.” During one of my observations of mathematics lessons, the teacher of a year 9 – bottom set was explaining algebra: the substitution of letters with negative numbers. She knew that this class had already had a lesson on substitution with positive numbers the week before, but her mistake was that she did not check before starting the lesson the level of knowledge of negative numbers. She started teaching but half-way through her lesson she realized those pupils did not remember the rules of how to add, subtract, multiply and divide negative numbers. So she tried to go two steps backwards explaining those rules to be able to go one step forward. The class at that point was confused and lost focus on the lesson. She finished the explanation in a noisy class, nobody was listening anymore and she had problems in making the pupils work on their worksheets. This was the proof that a mistake on planning a lesson properly can completely spoil the teaching and the learning experience.
Control of the class
Another element of a good teaching and learning environment lies in a good control of the class and of the teachers themselves. Kyriacou, (1998:79) suggests that “Discipline is the order which is necessary in the classroom for pupil learning to occur effectively.” One of the most effective ways of maintaining discipline within the classroom environment is to develop “conventions and routines for behaviour.” Kyriacou, (1998:80). Children must understand what is expected from them. There are many strategies available to teachers to assist them in maintaining good behaviour and allow effective learning, for example: (Hyland, 2003:119), teachers and pupils should know the behaviour policy of the school and consequences for their bad behaviour, teachers should be consistent and fair when they apply the rules, and they should organise the days in their classrooms with a routine. However, thinking about my own experience, for new teachers having the control of the class is one of the most difficult skills to acquire.
Good feedback and praise
Humphreys, (1995: 105) states that “when parents, teachers and others react positively to successful performance and punishingly to failure, the child will begin to doubt his or her ability.” Feedback can improve the learning process only if pupils are helped to act upon it.
In one of the schools I observed lessons, some of the teachers feedbacks were “you must try harder” without any more suggestions. Comments such this one can destroy the self-esteem and motivation of the pupils, the teachers should apply a more constructive approach. It is crucial to use more helpful and informative comments.
Feedback and praise can have an impact upon pupils’ interest, motivation and achievement. When giving feedback to pupils it is useful to set achievable targets and goals. If targets are given as a result of feedback, then the targets set need to be SMART. Craig (1997, p.41) highlights this point:
“Specific - What exactly do I need to do;
Measurable - I’ll know when I’ve done it;
Achievable - I believe I can do it;
Realistic - It makes sense to me;
Timed - I’m going to be successful in this by …”
Questioning is one of the most common strategies for enriching the teaching and learning of a classroom and has been examined by many researchers. Effective teaching is based on teachers’ skills in being able to ask questions which create many kinds of effective learning (Morgan and Saxton, 1994). Therefore, questioning is a helpful and powerful strategy for teaching, learning and assessing in the classroom. Drawing from the above definitions, classroom questioning affects both teachers and students. Specifically, asking questions is helpful for teachers to understand students’ thinking as well as for students to improve and develop their learning, understanding and thinking. Hence, questioning is one of the most important key strategies of assessment for learning. In this respect, Bruner highlights that ‘judicious questioning is nearly half the learning’ (Bruner, 1986 cited in lecture notes, 2006). An important work that it can be mentioned according to classroom questioning is Vygotsky’s work (Kerry, 1998). According to Vygotsky’s theory of “proximal development….what the child can do alone is extended and transformed by the intercession of the teacher”. Moreover, Vygotsky mentioned that talk is an essential factor for pupil’s development and higher cognitive processes since it helps the communication between the pupils and people in their environment (Kerry, 1998). As a result, this theory has implications on the role of the teacher as the main person who knows more knowledge and can develop a good communication with the pupils by asking questions in the classroom. Furthermore, during the 1970s Turney et al. (1973, cited in Wragg and Brown, 2001) listed some possible reasons for which the teachers ask questions. For example, teachers use questions: to create curiosity and interest on a specific topic; to engage with the students and to motivate them; to assess the students and find out their weaknesses and to give them the chance of spending more time on thinking not just finding right answers (Wragg and Brown, 2001).
Additionally, questioning is considered as an ‘educational art’ and requires good communication and interaction between teachers and students (Moore, 1995). This point serves to emphasise that good questions should be of the appropriate type and worded properly. Subsequently, it is important to examine the recommended types of questions that teachers ask in classroom and how useful and helpful are these types to teachers and students.
Types of Questions
Firstly, there are two basic groups when categorising the types of questions: the closed and open questions. Closed questions require short and correct answers. Even more importantly, these questions test students’ “knowledge and recall, acquire information from students as well as promote lower order thinking” (Brooks, 2002).
Particularly, closed questions give the teacher the opportunity to increase the pace of the lesson because they can be answered with short statements (Morgan and Saxton, 1994). Generally, closed questions are useful to students’ learning and teachers’ summative assessment. Specifically, closed questions test students’ prior-knowledge before the teacher starts a new topic or review students’ understanding of the topic at the end of the lesson. On the other hand, open questions give the students the opportunity to answer extensively with many possible answers (Morgan and Saxton, 1994). Furthermore, these questions encourage analysis, problem-solving and reflection (Brooks, 2002). Open questions are part of a formative assessment as defined by Black and William “when the evidence is actually used to adapt the teaching work to meet the needs” of the students (inside the black box, black and william). In addition, open questions promote a more thoughtful and slower pace of a lesson and therefore, enhance discussion and dialogue between teacher and students during the lesson. Moreover, Gipps (1994 cited in Brooks, 2002, p.54) notes that open questions are fundamental tools for formative assessment purposes because ‘one of the most potent forms of learning is receiving and giving elaborated explanations’. Developing Gipps’ suggestion further, it can be demonstrated that open questions help teachers to gain deeper information regarding students’ learning and understanding. Taking therefore into account open questions in the classroom, teachers should bear in mind that they need to listen carefully to students’ replies regarding to these questions, in order to use the ‘information diagnostically’ (Brooks, 2002, p.54). Subsequently, discussions based on open questions can diagnose and identify the
extent to which students are thinking and learning. Even though open questions ‘promote deep learning’, from my observations of mathematics lessons I have seen that teachers ask more closed than open questions. Probably due to the lack of time during a lesson, teachers I observed tended to promote a faster pace of their lessons. During one of the mathematics lessons I observed in a year 7 top set, after few exercises on finding the area and perimeter of a rectangle, the teacher asked the following open question: what if the perimeter and area are identical? Using this question instead of “what is the area of the xyz rectangle” this teacher made the students think about what they knew of rectangles and apply their knowledge to find a meaningful answer exploring all the possible options.
We can identify two more kinds of questions: recall and thought questions. Specifically, recall questions are used at the beginning of the lesson, where the teacher assesses students’ knowledge and thinking before moving on the major step of the lesson. As a result, the teacher assesses students’ understanding and prior-knowledge. Besides, recall questions are used for refreshing students’ previous knowledge and to create new ideas to students (Wragg and Brown, 2001). According to Wragg and Brown (2001, p.21) teachers should bear in mind that recall questions might puzzle students if they are easy and simple to answer them and therefore, students may be bored and start ‘to behave disruptively’ if the questions are not interesting for them. On the contrary, thought questions “can yield a large number of responses from students, particularly when these questions are broad” (Wragg and Brown, 2001, p.22). Thought questions may help teachers to gain a broad and rich insight into students’ understanding and students to evaluate teaching more positively. In most of the class I observed the starter of every lesson is very often used as a question time on the topic learned the previous lesson. It is developed as a quick assessment of students understanding before going on with a new topic.
Additionally, Black and Wiliam (1998, cited in Brooks, 2002) divide the different types of questions into ‘information-seeking’ and ‘response-seeking’. To explain further, closed questions belong to the ‘response-seeking’ questions since students have to answer in a precise way. Usually, students when answering these questions seem more to seek for their teacher’s approval rather than express their own thoughts. Recall questions fall into ‘response-seeking’ instead. “Response-seeking questions do not give to teachers everything they want and need to know about their students” learning (Black and Wiliams, 1998 cited in Brooks, 2002). When teacher use response-seeking questions they are looking for short answers and with this kind of questions students focus on giving answers which gain teachers’ approval rather than answering based on their understanding. Moreover, students can answer to these questions without understanding the meaning of their reply (Brooks..). Accordingly, these questions facilitate students to guess answers and they ‘regurgitate faithfully what has been transmitted to them’ (Brooks, 2002, p.54). On the other hand, open and thought questions fall into ‘information-seeking’. Developing this further, Brooks (2002, p.55) states that when stress is given to ‘information-seeking’ questions, ‘wrong answers are as useful as correct ones because they provide diagnostic clues to pupils’ thinking processes’. Similarly, Simpson (1990, cited in Brooks, 2002) highlights that when students give an answer to a question, teachers should take into account their try to answer and discover what they really mean by giving the particular answer rather than to consider if they find the target of the question.
In order to encourage complex thinking, teachers should ensure that questions are open-ended, instead of closed questions which require a simple yes or no. For example, during a mathematics lesson I observed the teacher instead of asking “Are all squares rectangles?” that could have led to a yes or no answer, stated that “All squares are rectangles!”, “ What do you think? ” enabling pupils to think deeply, trying to reach a conclusion. Whilst observing a year 4 lesson on decimals and fractions I was able to see how pupils can become motivated and interested by their contributions to questions and sharing ideas. It was the end of the topic and the teacher asked the pupils to write few things about what they thought they had learnt over the previous few weeks. Pupils rose to the challenge with extreme interest. They were proud to be asked to contribute with their ideas. This helped them to contemplate the work that they had undertaken. The answers from the children enabled the teacher to assess what the children knew, what they thought they knew and what they needed to do the following time in order to broaden or deepen their understanding.
Bloom’s Taxonomy; A Hierarchy of Thinking Skills
Morgan and Saxton (1994) explain that “Bloom’s Taxonomy is the process where somebody should take into account the following statements in order to be able to judge and estimate something know the facts, understand the facts, can apply the facts, can take the facts apart and put the facts together in such a way the new perspectives are revealed” (Bloom and Krathwohl, 1965 cited in Morgan and Saxton, 1994, p.10).
Morgan and Saxton (1994) assume that teachers, in order to formulate questions during the lesson should bear in mind the kind of thinking that a question generates to students as well as the opportunities that this question gives to students to think the same thing in different ways. In this respect, questions should be formulated regarding what the concept of lesson is as well as what teachers and students require (Morgan and Saxton, 1994). As far as the ‘Bloom’s taxonomy’ is concerned, questions can be categorised into six levels; knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation (Moore, 1995). In addition, these six levels of questions belong to two major categories regarding to the hierarchy of thinking skills; higher order and lower order questions. Specifically, questions which require knowledge, comprehension and application belong to lower order questions. On the other hand, questions which promote evaluation, synthesis and analysis are considered as higher order questions. It can be mentioned that higher order questions promote students’ extended thinking and lower order questions require the recall of facts and situations (Wragg and Brown, 2001). Even more importantly, Wragg and Brown (2001, p.16) suggest to teachers:
“…you have to choose what kinds of learning you want to promote, and then choose the appropriate types of questions.”
Drawing from the above argument, teachers during the lesson should take into consideration what they really want to teach and then consider their students’ thinking. In this way, questions should be designed to help teachers to reflect on students’ engagement with the material of the question (Morgan and Saxton, 1994). Nevertheless, ambiguous feedback may lead students to confusing conclusions. According to Ofsted (1998, cited in Brooks, 2002, p.56) teachers’ tendency to be ‘over-sensitive’ to students’ opinions and accept only partial or irrelevant answers does not make students to go further and reflect in order to find the correct answer. Additionally, Brooks (2002) adds that students are encouraged from ‘negative’ or corrective feedback. To this direction ‘negative’ or corrective feedback may confuse students regarding their understanding of the question.
‘Wait time’ after questions
Taking into consideration the time that teacher needs to wait for students’ answer, it is important to mention a research regarding to questions and ‘wait time’. Particularly, Moore (1995, p. 268) explains that a research (Rowe, 1974) found that ‘most of the teachers wait about only one second for students to answer questions’. As noted by Black and Harrison (2001), the fact that the average ‘wait time’ is one second constrains students in answering difficult questions. Developing this further, the research (Rowe, 1974, cited in Black and Harrison, 2001) has shown that if a teacher becomes accustomed to increase the time for the answer to at least three seconds or more, then the following effects will happen: students present more answers in an analytical and creative way, the possibility of students’ response to fail decreases, less competent students answer more questions, students ask more questions and students’ self-confidence as well as theoretical thinking increases (Moore, 1995). Similarly, Gardner (2006) adds that teachers can make students be actively involved in classroom dialogues and discussions by increasing the wait time after asking question. Black et al. (2003) based on their project, concluded that increasing the wait time can make students more involved in discussions and dialogues in the classroom as well as more prone to answer. Additionally, teacher’s advantage from increasing the waiting time is that they learn about their students’ pre-knowledge, understanding and difficulties and can improve their teaching during the next lessons.
...questioning becomes a vital component of effective teaching, …, questioning is basic to
good communication and lies at the heart of good, interactive teaching. (Moore, 1995, p. 254)
Questioning is a fundamental strategy with the potential to play an important role in learning, teaching and assessment. Furthermore, it is a natural process for teachers and students in the classroom and this reality leads teachers and students to an efficient communication in the classroom.
Questioning generates the kind of talk and communication which can lead to learning;
questioning reveals to the teachers the readiness of students to control; and questioning
(by both students and teachers) establishes the cultural nature of the classroom. And it
is the nature of the discourse which dictates the quality of the learning (Morgan and
Saxton, 1994, p.98).
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