Before the start of each teaching session I try and create an environment that will encourage learning. Physical barriers like tables and chairs are moved if possible out of the way. Sounds from outside the workshop can be a hindrance to learning so; if possible, I try to find a quieter part of the workshop to teach in. Students are given a reasonable amount of time to organise themselves ready for the lesson and when an expected degree of attention is attained we begin.
A typical two-hour lesson would nearly always be split into three parts: 1. Lesson introduction and description of practical demonstration. 2. Practical demonstration. 3. Reflection and evaluation. The purpose of any lesson is to convey knowledge to the learner using as wide a range of teaching methods as possible, including support and resources, so ensuring that any learning difficulties can be overcome. An important part of teaching is the careful use of verbal and non-verbal communication.
Effective Communication Effective communication can be achieved using the various methods available. Verbal / language Different levels of speech – fast, slow, loud, soft, authoritarian and passive. Handouts, OHP, TV/ video, flipcharts, power point and yourself as tutor are all resources which help communication. Body language Body language can be used to express your thoughts and opinions to your students in a wide variety of ways. Posture – arms folded, hands on hips, even scratching your head in dismay can put out signals you want your students to receive, as will eye contact, facial expressions and mannerisms. Students in turn will have their own body language that you must be aware of and be able to respond to.
How I use verbal/non-verbal communication in my teaching At the beginning of my teaching sessions I usually explain to the group the planned activities and expectations of the lesson. If a practical demonstration is required they will be informed of any special clothing, i.e. safety wear, or equipment they need to have. This complimentary communication precedes the lesson.
The students in my group down at Harold Town are your typical teenagers, full of themselves, moody, aggressive, lazy, knowing all, laugh a minute kids, who are for most of the time not in the slightest bit interested in what you have to offer. Their level of speech can be at best hard to understand, ranging from a mixture of street talk and foul language to the latest brand of ‘Yo, ride on mother’, so communication is very dependent on quickly finding the correct level.
Do they need a strong authoritarian ‘show them who’s boss’ attitude or coaxing gradually back to earth with verbal prompting? They may need confidence boosting jabs, i.e. ‘You can do it’ or ‘Just ask for help if you’re stuck’ etc, reinforcing with handouts, questionnaires, practical tests, tutorials and one-to-one talks to build up tutor confidence. They need reasons why they should attend class, wear overalls, do written work, look interested. They need to see a light at the end of the learning tunnel. All these needs have to be met, so constant communication, both verbal and non-verbal, is employed.
Body language is equally as important to me in teaching – my own and that of my students. More so, I would say, in the teaching of pre -nineteens than in any other age group. Some of the pressures that are put on their shoulders by their parents and peers can sometimes lead to all sorts of problems, so their body language has to be carefully observed. My own body language can be used to enhance the verbal lesson. I might use eye contact, facial expressions, exaggerated waving of arms and complete silence to make my point.
In some instances the group may band together and switch off from the lesson and learning process. They might start talking amongst themselves about any given subject other than the one they should be. My way of dealing with this is to stand arms folded, head to one side, eyes moving from one student to the other in silence until one or two of them stop talking and look back at me. Once this weakening begins I can then exploit it by saying ‘Thank you. Can we now continue with what we are supposed to be doing’. This usually works better than raising my voice and threatening all sorts of actions they know will never happen.
Asking the students for their opinions and views on a subject can encourage group interaction. This can start with something that has nothing to do with the lesson. It could be music, fashion, football or whatever. If I have detected through their body language or certain words that they are not in a mode receptive to learning, then I might start a group discussion this way. I use the playback technique to reinforce learning within the group, i.e. when I am describing a certain decorating process/skill I often use a key word like Preparation and emphasise it over and over. Later I would stop and say ‘What’s the word that I am looking for?’ and the group would usually chorus it out loud. This demonstrates to me that learning is taking place.
Benjamin Bloom created his taxonomy to provide a framework for categorising test questions. (Bloom, B.S. ed. 1956. Taxonomy of educational objectives). The six levels of the taxonomy have question cues, which can help the learner identify the area of study needed. These lists of verbs can be used in the setting of questionnaires, assessment sheets, lesson plans ect. To test my student’s knowledge of a certain subject, I use verbs from these lists in the hope that they will help them select the correct answers. PART 6
REVIEWING THE EFFECTIVENESS OF MY TEACHING
I review the effectiveness of my teaching after each session because I am new to the job and learning as I go. The demands made on the tutor by pre-nineteen’s make reviewing something that should be done all the time. Everybody has different ways of taking in information so each individual must be carefully catered for. This I can do with the help of one-to-one tutorials – needs and preferences can be agreed upon. A straightforward question like ‘Which way do you understand best?’ or ‘Do you want me to show you on your own?’ helps. The feedback I get from these questions can help me clear up any communication difficulties.
Simple questionnaires or practical tests give me an idea of how much learning has taken place or how much hasn’t. Teaching is all about communication and support. A tutor can teach a two or three-hour session giving the learners a whole wealth of knowledge, but if he/she has not found the correct level of communication then it’s all to waste. Review as you go, reinforce with handouts, playback etc. Check that your teaching is being understood. Learning a practical skill is all about understanding the technique and application. The student will achieve these methods easily, but nine times out of ten will suffer from lack of confidence and therefore struggle in his/her attempts at the set task. The best method the tutor then has to help the student is to encourage, and talk them through it, using all the modes of communication available.
The scheme of work I used had its teething problems. Pacing of the lessons at first was extremely difficult. If I moved on through the lesson at the pace of the slowest learner, it accommodated that particular student, but some of the others became impatient and moved on at their own initiative, causing no end of problems. They would be racing ahead, often making mistakes that I couldn’t correct until I had got the slower ones up and running. These mistakes would lead to some loss of confidence and then I would spend more time than I had planned for rebuilding this loss.
Eventually I realised that teaching the group on different levels was a possible answer. I started this method and had a good deal of success. Although quite challenging to do, once I got going, I enjoyed it and I think my students did too. Different break times helped as well, some would have their break half an hour before the others, which gave me precious moments to get around one half of the group and talk to them individually.
Explaining to the group why we were doing one particular task, and how it would lead to another and so on was a definite bonus. The students could clearly understand the reason for each activity and also could see the light at the end of the tunnel, you might say. This reason for often quite physically demanding projects and a definite outcome propelled the group to achieve each week’s objectives. My next planning for a scheme of work would include provision for different levels of learning, a set time each week to talk as a group about the last session, and discuss any problem areas. I was happy with my scheme overall and felt the learners benefited from use of resources and handouts.