Teachering: Practices and Techniques You Never Learned in Methods Class


Practices and Techniques You Never Learned in Methods Class.


Doctoring. Lawyering. Such terms suggest a back woods informality, a certain amount of trial and error, more art than science, more craft than art. Teaching in a rural Upstate New York hamlet and living on the shores of Lake George in the heart of the Adirondack Mountains have taught me not to take myself too seriously, to keep a childlike curiosity, and to take risks.

Most who attempt teaching will admit the job requires a little show biz, a lot of planning, and endless trial and error. And what works smashingly with one group may fail spectacularly with another.

This blog aims in an informal way to showcase workable classroom activities, offer solutions to persistent annoyances, and suggest helpful books, no matter their age. Few of the activities that follow are original, but then great teachers are master appropriators, scavenging what they can in service of a better lesson. Moreover, the great teachers see the world through the lens of instruction and are always asking themselves, “How can I use this idea in my classroom?”

With the right group at the appropriate moment, these suggestions can work like charms. Enjoy.

First, Get Their Attention

First, Get Their Attention—Then Keep It

There is an old joke about the cowpuncher, explaining how to train animals, hits his mule with a stick and says, “First, you have to get his attention!” Capturing your audience and maintaining sufficient order rest upon three or four practices:

1. Begin at the bell. Do not give students time to start ten conversations. Bringing them back once they have lost focus is tougher than grabbing their attention out of the gate. Take attendance once they have begun working.
2. While preparing the lesson ask, “What about this subject will likely interest students?” Use this as a “bell ringer.” Focus their attention; then begin.
3. If appropriate, strive for more than one activity with appropriate transitions, of course.
4. Work until the closing bell rings. If given time to squander, students will creatively fill it—sometimes to your chagrin.
5. Although easier said than done, continually persuading students that classroom skills and content matter makes keeping attention more likely. Expect to “sell” them regularly. Then find essential material that they will recognize as important.
6. Prepare. Master teachers make running a class seem effortless. It isn’t. The best spend gobs of time finding, developing, and practicing their material. They also work on improving their storytelling skills. In the end, the best storytellers run the world.

Question: How can you keep students in their seats making productive use of time until the final seconds?
Answer: Play with Language daily (More in the next Post).

Keep Them Fascinated

Photo of the Milky Way galaxy
Photo by Greg Rakozy http://www.grakozy.com

Keep Them Fascinated

When newly minted teachers network after their first few weeks on the job, they invariably repeat the same cliché: “I learned more in the first month of teaching than I did in four years of college.” And so it is.

As the latest batch of fledgling educators sat in Morris Finder’s “Fundamentals of Teaching Methods” in April of 1979 at SUNY Albany and the start of practice teaching loomed, one frustrated undergrad implored the wizened professor to divulge the secret of classroom success. All expected to hear the wisdom of the ages. Instead, the teacher simply stated, “Keep ‘em fascinated.”

Thinking the instructor must be joking, another student begged, “Come on, really. What’s the secret?” Finder repeated, “I mean it: Keep ‘em fascinated.”

Admittedly the ultimate in understatement yet a big no-brainer for experienced educators, this advice can be lost on self-absorbed, zealous presenters. More than one eminent television journalist has expressed this axiom a little differently: “There are no uninteresting subjects, only uninteresting presentations of those subjects.”
New teachers do well to take this old professor’s advice to heart, taking into account their audience’s orbit.

While preparing the next lesson ask, “What about this subject connects with the students’ interests? Is there a local issue they will find irresistible? Often an angle exists that can be worked in the service of their attentiveness.

At this moment, ubiquitous Pokémon GO grabs headlines: travel agents tout the game as a “new way to see America”; recently two distracted players fell to their deaths. Clever educators are already planning ways to mine interest in this trend.

Try the following as a class bell ringer: “In the next minute and a half, list five smart safety rules to observe when playing Pokémon GO. Then transition to your subject of the day—once you compose an effective segue.”

Finder’s advice illustrates an important point: Spend as much time thinking about How you will present today’s material as What you plan to say.