The Limited range of teaching techniques

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Some teachers follow a limited range of teaching techniques. Some others believe that if they involve pupils in whole-class activities, the pupils will misbehave. So both of them are reluctant to engage their pupils and they present their information in a lecturing style. However, involving pupils actively in the lesson is, I believe, the cornerstone in building up the lesson plan. If the teacher successfully draws pupils' attention and engagement from the very start of the session he/she will be able to fulfill the objectives of learning to a great extent. Teachers also can easily overcome the misbehavior problem of some pupils.( unlike what some teachers believe)

The successful start of a lesson is called an "effective starter". It is very vital in hooking students' interest and concentration. Moreover, it is important for directing the learning and moving it on. Otherwise, they may become bored and uninterested in the session. Of course, it is not an easy task to do. I will try, in this essay, to shed some light on what it should be like, how to make it effective, and how teachers can manage and plan the starters.

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A starter is an activity done by the teachers as a warm-up activity. It comes in the beginning of a lesson plan because the pupils at the beginning of lessons are often at the highest concentration levels. I have been practicing my career as a teacher for eleven years and I can assume that it is a skill that needs practice over time in order to make it almost perfect. Moreover, it is not a straightjacket. Rather, it varies according to the circumstances, the pupils' level, and the kind of thinking skill you want to develop. For example; there are some activities that involve remembering and others that involve creative and critical thinking and we will discuss that too through this essay.

They are intended to be a link between what the pupils already know and what a teacher wants them to learn as new knowledge. An example of good starters is when an English teacher asks pupils how they can use verb to be in trying to teach them how to form the present continuous tense.

Careful planning of starters and what makes them effective is that the pupils are told of the purpose of the task. The starters must be established since the start of the year as an agreed routine. The starters must come at first because the pupils expect that they will start work immediately

I think every teacher can do it. But only talented ones can manage to make it effective. So the most important question here is how can a teacher develop an effective starter? First of all, in order to answer this question, there are basic elements for a successful starter to be known. It must engage all pupils, contribute to the achievement of the objectives, have a clear purpose, establish pace, and providing a challenge.

Engagement

All pupils, including low attainers, have to be involved. Some teachers do not try to bother in order to engage less able learners. They follow "hands up" method and neglect the less able pupils. I have got a class of 40 pupils most of them do not raise hands to participate. I try to involve them by calling their names and in doing so I have to discuss and ask them in a friendly way. They have to be encouraged so that they can be self-confident.

Effective engagement is due to the teacher and the pupils as well. The engagement of pupils is often influenced by their emotional state. A good idea is to defer handing in homework, for example, to later in the lesson. As for the teachers, some items should be taken into consideration: not to outlast the concentration span of pupils, 'hook' pupils' interest by providing a kind of curiosity, and the teacher should maintain engagement every now and then.

Pace

Pace does not mean moving quickly through the lesson. It is about moving the lesson forward purposefully with the minimum number of distractions. A teacher must know what he wants and how he can present it. They have to manage the lesson plan in a well balanced way in order to cover all steps of a lesson plan. One idea that can facilitate the task for a teacher is streaming. Though it is not approved of by parents specially by those whose children are classified as less able, a teacher can do it more effectively. This is because he/she can move quickly through the lesson in a class of talented pupils who can participate easily and quickly in class wit less or no distractions. I think streaming is never applied in Egyptian schools and is rarely found in British education. Most parents feel it is an offense for their children to be classified according to their level.

Challenge

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It is very important for teachers that they should not depend only on asking questions that deal with the 'knowledge' category all the time. Some starters have to be presented in the form of recalling information, remembering identifications, or describing. On the other hand, some starters require higher categories of thinking. For example, sometimes we, as teachers, have to enhance the pupils' comprehension (including interpreting, describing in their own words…etc.). Sometimes information needs application (using rules to produce some results).

There are three other higher categories or classifications of thinking skills. They are analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Analysis includes the ability to separate from a whole into subdivisions, know how to compare and contrast, and know how to give evidence. Synthesis implies the combining or even creating of ideas to form a new whole. Lastly, but highest is the evaluation skill which is the development of opinions, judgments or decisions. These classifications involve pupils' critical thinking. These six categories are the components of Bloom's Taxonomy. In 1956 Benjamin Bloom led a committee of colleges and identified this classification.

In the five schools where I have worked in Egypt, many teachers are sometimes reluctant to make use of the three higher skills i.e. analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. This is because we have a lot of pupils in a classroom and big curricula in our schools to be finished in a limited time. I have watched some videos for classroom sessions in English schools. The limited number of pupils (about twenty five pupils in a classroom) makes it an easy task for the teachers to engage all the pupils in the starter effectively. However, Egyptian teachers don't despair! We do our best to make effective starters despite the difficulties we do have in the teaching facilities. But again, this needs not only practice, but also perfect practice. According to Dr Bob Kizlik, 1997, ' … there is a saying that goes like this "Practice doesn't make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect"' Teachers must not assume that a starter is easily understood by pupils simply because it is simple to themselves. They should use reflection in order to be sure about how well pupils responded. This can be done by video or audio recording and asking a colleague to observe and then give a feed back.

There should be a balance between challenge and engagement. This balance can be managed by the teacher through perfect practice. If the learning activity is too easy the pupils will get bored. If too hard, they will become frustrated. So, teachers have to introduce effective starters through reasonable development of thinking skills by making a balance taking into account good and thought through planning of the starter activity. This implies considering two factors in the starter activity: its purpose and the devices. The purpose is whether a teacher wants to find out what pupils know and understand. Or a teacher's purpose is to benefit other pupils from their classmates' knowledge. As for devices, the task has to be1- carefully planned. Also, 2-the classroom has to be well organized. And3-There should be reflection on the interactive teaching skills. The following quote gives more explanation of those three devices.

The first two steps clearly need to be undertaken before teaching a starter.

The third may seem less easy to plan in advance: you need to be responsive

to the pupils and, to some degree, to be flexible in the techniques you use.

DfES 0428-2004 G

The most important question is 'How can the starters be well planned and managed?'To answer this question, one has to consider many things in addition to the teacher's role. These things are related to the classroom, teaching resources and pupils. Each starter needs a particular organizing of the classroom. The pupils have to be arranged to best suit the starter and the class; i.e. arranging spaces between desks, seating or standing in a circle line and whether in groups or pairs as the lesson requires. There is no specific rule for it. Rather, it is a matter of the teacher's choice as long as it guarantees the effective participation and engagement of all pupils. When we consider teaching resources there should be an insight of what best to use and the availability of materials needed, e g Overhead Projectors, whiteboard, pupils' desks, printed cards, videos or TV sets. Concerning pupils, the issue would be whether to arrange them into groups, pairs or is there a teacher assistant or helper (for low- leveled pupils) and the late comers should be also engaged by giving them a quick briefing of what they have missed.

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To sum up, a starter is the base on which the whole lesson will be built up. . It comes at the start of the lesson in order to link what is going to be presented along with what is already known to pupils. If it is not done or done with no plan, it will become useless and the lesson will lack coherence. To make it effective many things must be thought of some of which are related to the teacher, others to pupils and others to the classroom and teaching facilities. Teachers should motivate pupils not only by the starters that require recalling facts, but also by those requiring higher thinking skills like applying, analyzing or evaluating information. In doing so, they can engage them more in effective starters. They have to arrange pair or group work at times when necessary for more engagement of pupils trying to establish the idea of working in a team or pairs. All the pupils matter so the pair or group work will be beneficial in involvement and participation of all of them. Another feature of effective starters is they should be reasonable in respect of difficulty and duration, in order to be relevant to pupils' levels and in order not to outlast their concentration.

Also classroom facilities are vital for the learning and the planning of effective starters. Teachers must use the teaching resources skillfully according to the starter itself. They can make use of the white board, OHP, cards, TV or video sets and the pupils' desks as well. They have to plan, in advance, which of these to be used and have a vision of how to use them. As for the pupils, their emotional condition has to be taken into account when in order to have a well planned effective starter. They would be bored if a teacher handles a too easy idea, and they will be distracted if it is not presented smoothly and skillfully.