Teaching techniques are the ways in which the information to be learned is presented. Teaching techniques vary in terms of the medium (textbook, video, computer, etc), structure of the program, how the teacher operates, and how progress is monitored and tested.
Several questions should be asked before selecting a teaching technique. Does the technique allow adjustment according to the needs of different students? Does it encourage the students to become actively involved with the learning? Does it adequately cover the material so that it is learned by all the students? Does it adequately monitor the students' progress? Does it permit extra assistance to students who require it? Does it allow an adequate amount of time to practice and integrate the skills?
The teaching technique that is best for the students is often not economically feasible, especially in terms of public schooling. Reducing class size is expensive, and many schools do not have the budget to maintain small classes. Similarly, the teaching resources best suited to the students, such as the latest technology, may not be available to the teacher. Teachers must find the best techniques to teach the students using the resources available to them.
Lecture and Discussion Methods
One of the most common teaching techniques is the lecture method. It is the most economical method of transmitting knowledge, but it does not necessarily hold the student's attention or permit active participation. However, lectures can be effective, if supported by texts and other references. About ninety percent of post-secondary instruction uses the lecture method, but it is significantly less common in primary and secondary schools. At these levels, discussion sessions are more effective in stimulating the students' interests and assessing their understanding of the material.
The discussion method is favored in secondary schools, particularly in the social sciences. Discussion not only helps teach material, but it also develops the thinking process, promotes a positive attitude towards learning, and develops interpersonal skills. Group discussions foster interaction between students whose skills, attitudes, and interests differ, and allow the students to use democratic leadership skills to lead the direction of their discussion and participation. In this manner, discussion sessions help students extend their knowledge through higher-level independent thought.
Grouping is a common teaching technique, especially at the elementary level. Organizational arrangements place students together in groups within the classroom to improve the learning conditions. Traditionally, grouping has been the most effective approach to teaching reading and basic math. The teacher follows a detailed program of instruction and examples, and then the groups work together to respond to the questions presented to them.
Grouping allows teachers to place students of the same achievement level together, making it easier for the teacher to work with them. On the other hand, cooperative learning groups place students of different abilities together, so that students within each group can help each other. These groupings are often effective in raising students' achievement while improving interpersonal skills. Grouping has been particularly successful with hard-to-teach and fast-learning students.
The recent trends of "streaming" and "tracking" - grouping students according to age and intellectual ability - have promoted much inquiry. It has attracted both ardent support and extreme condemnation. The uniformity created by putting students with their intellectual peers makes teaching more effective and learning more pleasant. Those opposed to streaming believe that it has a negative effect on the psychological and moral states of children in the lower streams. They also believe that a varied class allows the weaker students to benefit from actively sharing with the stronger students.
Tutoring is one-on-one instruction that is usually used to help remedy academic deficiencies. The need for tutoring tends to arise when other teaching methods have failed, or students needs extra instruction about a particular topic or subject with which they are having difficulty. Successful tutoring requires that the tutor has a firm understanding of the material being taught, and is adaptable to the student's learning needs. Tutoring by nonprofessionals, classmates, and older students have shown to be effective in providing extra support to students outside of the traditional classroom setting.
Games and Simulations
Because games and simulations are fun, teachers have sought to use them as an effective way to foster learning. Card and board games are popular to help teach basic reading and arithmetic skills, while simulations teach the principles of complex systems, such as economics, international relations, and power struggles. Simulations tend to focus on current social issues, or historical events. What makes simulations so effective is that they teach problem-solving and decision-making strategies in addition to the facts and principles that define the game.
Simulations are becoming increasingly popular for teaching new types of skills. Simulations can create conditions nearly identical to the actual situation. A common example of this type of simulation is a flight simulator, which introduces pilots to potential situations and problems.
Instructional media serves as a teaching aid. Teachers spend much time on repetitive tasks such as collecting and assigning books, marking, and preparing worksheets, tests, and lesson plans. Instruction aids help reduce the time spent on these routine tasks, allowing more time to be spent promoting students' understanding and intellectual curiosity, and motivating and providing feedback to them.
- Computer Assisted Instruction
In recent years, computer assisted instruction (CAI) has proved to be quite successful, whether inside the classroom or for independent learning. Various computer programs help students learning writing, math, science, and problem-solving, and those which are in the form of games help motivate the students while keeping them interested in what they are learning.
Teaching using a computer has many virtues: it is patient, positive, does not forget, and can keep track of each student's progress. However, the long-term benefits of computer assisted instruction is still unclear. It is not yet known how many students actually learn skills beyond performing the game, or the degree to which teachers need to participate in the process to ensure that the students learn what was intended.
- Speaking-Listening Media
For lectures, the teacher can prepare and organize the material in any manner than he thinks will work best, but the students usually respond passively since there is no opportunity for two-way communication or student involvement in the discussion. Furthermore, if the students are occupied with writing notes during the lecture, critical thought about the material is inhibited. Media can help supplement the lecture technique by allowing the students to become actively involved with the material being covered.
Language laboratories are one type of speaking-listening media. Tape recorders allow students to hear model pronunciation of foreign languages and record and playback their own voices as they engage in practice drills. Many language laboratories provide a master control board which allows the teacher to listen to and correct any student individually as they work. Some laboratories are equipped to use filmstrips or videos simultaneously with the tape recorders. This is an effective mode of operant learning, and once basic vocabulary and syntax has been developed the learning can switch to active problem-solving.
- Visual and Observational Media
Many students, especially visual learners, benefit from materials such as pictures, diagrams, charts, graphs, cartoons, posters, slides, and videos. Demonstrations and experiments also help reinforce visual learning.
Generally, visual media is used to provide concrete examples in order to lead the students to the generalizations, abstract thinking, and explaining that constitutes learning. On its own, visual media can be a hindrance to learning; for examples, interesting pictures in a history textbook do not necessarily help the students' understanding of historical events. However, when combined with careful classroom explanation and discussion, visual aids can help students interpret, infer, and understand the concepts being presented to them.
- Reading-Writing Media
Reading and writing form the basis of traditional education, requiring a sophisticated understanding of language. Textbooks are often essential in the classroom, providing extensive coverage of material at an appropriate level for the student. However, textbooks provide no feedback to or interaction with the student, and the teacher needs to fill this gap.
Programmed learning is a new form of reading and writing. Linear Programming - the most basic form of programmed learning - divides a subject into its components and arranges the parts into a sequential order. At each step in the reading, the student must respond and is immediately given feedback on his response. The program is structured so that most students' responses will be correct, encouraging them to continue. Another form of programmed learning is Branching Programming, which gives the student pieces of information and provides several possible answers to questions. The program progresses or detours the student according to his responses. This type of program reinforces the learning by backtracking over problem areas. These types of reading-writing media allow students to progress at their own rate and work independently; however, it can quickly become dull and tedious for the student.
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