By Dr. Myo Win (Yangon University of Education)
What is an effective teacher? A century ago, this question was answered very simply. A good teacher was a good person – a role model who met the community ideal for a good citizen, good parent, and good employee. At that time, teachers were judged primarily on their goodness as people and only secondarily on their behavior in the classroom. They were expected to be honest, hardworking, generous, friendly, and considerate, and to demonstrate these qualities in their classrooms by being organized, disciplined, insightful, and committed. Thus, to be effective, all an effective teacher needed was King Solmon’s wisdom, Albert Einstein’s knowledge, and Florence Nightingale’s dedication. However, this definition of an ideal teacher lacked clear, objective standards of performance that could be used to train future teachers.
Then, an effective teacher was defined again in terms of psychological characteristics which include a teacher’s personality, attitude, experience, aptitude, and past achievement. Again, they have not been useful criteria for defining a good teacher as they have a certain intuitive appeal. History proved that defining good teachers by community ideals was unrealistic. It was also seen how teachers’ psychological characteristics proved to be poorly related to what teachers actually do in the classroom. In the last three decades, a revolution occurred in search of effective teaching. During the 1970s and 1980s, researchers developed new methods for studying the classroom interaction patterns of teachers and students.
According to the findings of the research, there are ten teacher behaviours that have shown promising relationships to desirable students performance. The first five behaviours which are called key behaviours are: lesson clarity, instructional variety, teacher task orientation, engagement in the learning process and student success rate.
Lesson clarity refers to how clear a teacher can teach. More effective teachers can make their points clear to learners who have different levels of understanding. They can explain concepts in ways that help students follow along in a logical step-by- step order. Moreover, they have an oral delivery that is direct, audible to all students, and free of distracting mannerisms. Not all teachers are able to communicate clearly and directly to their students without wandering, speaking above students’ level of comprehension, or using speech patterns that impair their presentation clarity. If teachers teach with a high degree of clarity, they can spend less time for the lesson. Research shows that both the cognitive clarity and oral clarity of presentations vary substantially among teachers. This in turn produces differences in student performance on cognitive tests of achievement.
Instructional variety means teachers’ variability or flexibility of delivery while teaching a lesson. One of the most effective ways of creating variety during instruction is to ask questions. Therefore, effective teachers need to know how to ask questions effectively and how to discriminate among different question formats – fact questions, process questions, convergent questions and divergent questions. Another aspect of variety is clear: the use of learning materials, equipment, displays and space in the classroom. An effective teacher begins lesson with an activity in a modality that is different from last lesson or activity. He varies modes of presentation.
Teacher task orientation
It is a key behavior that refers to how much classroom time the teacher devotes to the task of teaching an academic subject. The more time allocated to the task of teaching a specific topic, the greater the opportunity students have to learn. Allocating time for planning a lesson, presenting it and assessing learners’ performance needs to be balanced. Students perform highly if teachers spend the maximum amount of time available. Students may have higher rates of achievement if teacher-student interactions focus more on subject matter content that allows students the maximum opportunity to learn.
Engagement in the learning process
Student engagement in the learning process is a key behavior that refers to the amount of time students devote to learning in the classroom. To promote student engagement in the classroom, the teacher sets rules that let students attend to their personal needs and work routines without obtaining teacher’s permission each time. He moves around the room to monitor students’ seatwork and to communicate his awareness of student progress. He also ensures that independent assignments are interesting, worthwhile, and easy enough to be completed by each student without his direction. He makes abundant use of resources and activities that are slightly above a student’s current level of understanding.
Student success rate
Student success rate refers to the rate at which students understand and correctly complete exercises and assignments. Their success rate and their learning are directly related. Their success rates are varied. Some students understand the subject matter and make only occasional careless errors. Some students have partial understanding but make some substantive errors. Some students have little or no understanding of the subject matter. It was found that student engagement was closely related to student success rate. The average student in a typical classroom spends about half of the time working on tasks that provide the opportunity for high success. But researchers have found that students who spend more than the average time in high-success activities have higher achievement, better retention, and more positive attitudes towards school. These findings suggest that students should spend about 60% to 70% of their time on tasks that allow almost complete understanding of the material being taught with only occasional errors.
All five key behaviours – lesson clarity, instructional variety, teacher task orientation, student engagement and success rate – are essential for effective teaching. In addition to these five key behaviours, there are some helping behaviours related to effective teaching. They are using student ideas and contributions, structuring, questioning, probing and teacher affect.
Using student ideas and contributions
Using student ideas and contributions is a behavior that includes acknowledging, modifying, applying, comparing and summarizing student responses to promote the goals of a lesson and to encourage student participation. If the teacher acknowledges a student’s correct response and repeats it to the class, he can increase lesson clarity. If he uses a student’s idea by rephrasing it in his own words, then he can also create instructional variety. In the same way, if the teacher applies a student’s idea to teach an inference, such behaviour can increase students’ success rate.
Teacher comments made for the purpose of organizing what is to come, or summarizing what has gone before, are called structuring. If structuring is used before teaching, it serves as instructional scaffolding that helps learners in bridging the gap between what they are capable of doing on their own and what they are capable of doing with the help of teacher. If structuring is used at the end of teaching, it reinforces learned content and places it in proper relation to other content that has been taught. Both forms of structuring are related to student achievement.
The art of questioning
Questioning is another important helping behavior. Two types of question that teachers often uses are content questions and process questions. Teachers use content questions to have the student deal directly with the content that has been taught. In asking content questions, the effective teacher often uses questions that encourage higher-order thinking, such as problem solving, decision making, and valuing. Not all questions can be content questions. There are different purposes for which questions can be asked. They can encourage different mental processes. They can be used to solve problems, to arouse curiosity, to encourage creativity, etc.
Probing refers to teacher statements that encourage students to elaborate on an answer, either their own or another student’s. Probing may take the form of a general question or can include other expressions that elicit clarification of an answer, solicit additional information about a response, or redirect a student’s response in a more fruitful direction. Probing is often used to shift a discussion to some higher thought level. Generally, student achievement is highest when the eliciting, soliciting and redirecting occur in cycles. The teacher may begin a lesson with a simple fact question; then, by eliciting clarification of student responses, soliciting new information, or redirecting an answer, the teacher can move to a higher level of questioning.
Teacher’s affective nature is the foundation on which he can build a warm and nurturing relationship with learners. A teacher who is excited about the subject being taught and shows it by facial expression, voice inflection, gesture, and movement, communicating respect and caring for the learner, may hold the attention of students and motivate them to higher levels of achievement. Students take their cues from these affective signs and lower or heighten their engagement with the lesson accordingly. Enthusiasm is an important aspect of a teacher’s affect. Enthusiasm is the teacher’s vigor, power, involvement, excitement, and interest during a classroom presentation and willingness to share this emotion with learners.
These five key behaviours and five helping behaviours are the skeleton of an effective teacher. They are essential for effective teaching. There can be no simple answer to the question –“ what is an effective teacher?”. But these ten factors can help a teacher to make his teaching successful.
Gary D. Borich (2007) Effective Teaching Methods: Research-Based Practice
Pearson Education, Inc., New Jersey
By Dr. Myo Win (Yangon University of Education)