Introduction “Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. ” That was the view of the characters Thomas Gradgrind and Mr M’Choakumchild, created by Charles Dickens in his novel Hard Times, a novel which satirises school teachers who teach “nothing but facts” and regards students as “little vessels … ready to have imperial gallons of facts poured into them until they were full to the brim. Reciting facts for students to absorb is undoubtedly an easy method of teaching, but is it effective? This essay attempts to answer the question of what it means to be an effective teacher by examining in more detail five areas that, when implemented effectively, can help to produce a productive learning environment that will enable effective teaching to take place – classroom organisation; student diversity; managing student behaviour; planning for instruction; and student motivation.
The effective teacher A productive learning environment is a classroom that is orderly and is focused on learning (Eggen & Kauchak, 2010). According to Lyons, Ford, & Arthur-Kelly (2011), students feel more motivated to learn when they feel accepted as part of the school community, feel physically and emotionally safe, and feel that their needs are being met by teachers and other students. In order to create such an environment, the classroom needs to be well managed and organised.
Effective organisation of the physical classroom is of fundamental importance according to Arthur-Kelly, Lyons, Butterfield, & Gordon (2006) and an effective teacher should have input into the layout of the workspaces to ensure that they have visual contact with students from anywhere in the classroom. This point is reinforced by Reynolds (cited by Freeman, p273) who noted that “competent teachers should also determine the most appropriate social arrangements for the students and lesson”.
Along with the physical layout of the workspace, a teacher’s personal traits such as positivity; friendliness; compassion; respect; ability to listen; possessing good communication skills; and a willingness to help are integral to developing a productive learning environment by helping to establish a positive ‘climate’ or ‘feeling’ within the room (Eggen & Kauchak, 2010). Indeed, Walker (2008) conducted studies that show that the personal (qualitative) qualities of a teacher have a greater impact on students than their academic (quantitative) qualities as it helps to build a personal relationship with the students.
In addition to creating a positive climate within the classroom, it is fundamental to effective classroom organisation to establish a set of rules and routines to ensure safety, order and predictable consequences for behaviour (Eggen & Kauchak, 2010). Whilst rules detail acceptable standards of behaviour, routines give students guidelines for completing recurring tasks such as going to the toilet or transitioning from one activity to another. Research has also shown that an effective teacher will involve students in setting up the rules and routines, making students feel more accountable for maintaining them (Lewis as cited by Marsh, 2008).
This also complements the idea that an authoritative approach to teaching tends to be more effective than an authoritarian or permissive approach, as documented by Whitton, Barker, Nosworthy, Sinclair & Nanlohy (2010). Effective authoritative teachers provide students with a model of competence and recognise that their students need to feel autonomous and have an ability to adhere to expectations, rather than simply following instructions (Whitton et al. , 2010).
In order to implement and display any of the above, an effective teacher has to be well organised so that instruction can start on time, transitions from one activity to another are quick and smooth and the required materials are available, which maximises available instructional time (Eggen & Kauchak, 2010). To understand what type of instruction will most benefit the students, an effective teacher needs to have a good understanding of the student’s background, knowledge and abilities.
In the 19th century, students with special needs were termed handicapped and were sent to speciality schools that were deemed more able to cope with their alternative requirements (Foreman, 2007). In today’s classroom, however, teachers are facing a diverse range of backgrounds and abilities and an effective teacher is expected to be able to accommodate all of their differences under the term inclusion. Eggen & Kauchak (2010) define inclusion as “a comprehensive approach to educating students with exceptionalities that advocates a total, systematic and co-ordinated web of services”.
Student’s exceptionalities can have a diverse range from sight/hearing impairments; mental health illnesses and medical conditions through to injury related impairments, intellectual challenges (which includes gifted and talented children) and sensory impairments (Foreman, 2007). In addition to these physical and mental impairments, a student’s ability to grasp a concept may be influenced by such things as their ethnic background, gender, socio-economic status, and style of learning (Whitton et al. 2010). Whilst accommodating all of these special needs could be seen as a challenge, for an effective teacher, it should also be viewed as an opportunity. Having students with differing needs encourages teachers to vary their style of instruction because, as Brophy (2004) points out, different students prefer differing instructional strategies. However, in order to deliver an effective lesson, a considerable amount of prior planning is needed (Whitton et al. , 2010).
Initially, a teacher needs to decide what is important to learn (Anderson & Krathwohl as cited by Eggen & Kauchak, 2010, p. 390) and, in order to do this the teacher must have a good understanding of their student’s current knowledge of the topic and their abilities (Whitton et al. , 2010). If, as suggested in paragraph four, the teacher has taken the time to get to know each of their students, this knowledge will be to hand when it comes to planning the lesson.
Furthermore, as part of the overall lesson plan, an effective teacher will specify the objectives that are to be achieved, that is, what students should have learnt or be able to do with the information taught (Whitton et al. , 2010). This ensures that the teacher can design their learning activities effectively, stay on-topic and control the momentum of the lesson – an important factor in effective classroom management according to Kounin (as cited by Hurst & Cooke, p. 232).
The method by which the content will be delivered also has to be considered when planning a lesson, and variety in delivery is important to offer students different ways in which to learn (Featherston, 2007). The instructional strategy chosen will vary depending upon the topic, the age of the students and their prior knowledge, although teachers who want their students to focus on thinking and reasoning will naturally integrate group work and activities with instruction and assessment rather than lecturing (Rathmell, 1994).
Again, an effective teacher will keep the students group work focussed on the task in hand to ensure that the activities lead to a higher level of thinking and understanding of the topic, rather than simply keeping the students busy (Howe, 2000). Finally, to understand how effective a lesson has been, the teacher needs to assess the students thinking to ensure that they have understood the content. This can come in the form of ongoing questioning and coaching throughout the lesson, or as part of a more formal quiz or test.
The feedback students receive from assessment is an important part of their motivation and learning, as it shows them whether they are constructing their knowledge effectively and helps to elaborate on their understanding of a subject (Eggen & Kauchak, 2010). Moreover, to maintain a productive learning environment, an effective teacher needs to understand how to motivate their students to keep them focussed on the required tasks, and build that into their lesson plan. Eggen & Kauchak (2010), state that motivation is classified into two types – extrinsic and intrinsic.
Extrinsic motivation refers to a task that is undertaken as a means to an end and is usually reinforced by either a reward (for example good grades) or to avoid punishment. Intrinsic motivation refers to undertaking an activity without any discernable external reward. Student motivation is a complicated subject and is influenced by many factors including personal needs (self determination, preservation of self-worth); beliefs (including beliefs about one’s intelligence, capability, value and outcomes); and goals (the outcome a student hopes to achieve) as discussed by Eggen & Kauchak, 2010.
Marsh (2008) however, would argue that many of these influences are in fact motivators in their own right and claims that esteem needs for example, as one of the most basic human needs, is a powerful factor in classroom behaviour. Regardless of the influencing factors, teachers would agree that would be ideal if students remained intrinsically motivated all of the time. Brophy (2004) suggests that this is unrealistic and that it would be more feasible for an effective teacher to focus on developing and sustaining a student’s motivation to learn from their academic activities.
By setting appropriate and achievable goals for the students, an effective teacher can keep students intrinsic interest stimulated. According to Whitton et al. (2010) goals are either performance related (where the emphasis is on grades, performance compared to others and public displays of ability); mastery related (where the emphasis is on understanding, effort and improvement); or socially related (where the emphasis is on improving self esteem, forming friendships and gaining acceptance from teachers or peers).
Underpinning all of the above are certain characteristics that will be demonstrated by an effective teacher to develop and maintain student motivation – a high personal teaching efficacy, spending time developing student understanding of a subject; modelling their own interest and enthusiasm in a subject; caring about their students, helping to meet a students need for belonging; and having positive expectations of all students (Eggen & Kauchak, 2010). . Even for an effective teacher, however, there will be occasions when a student is not motivated to study and is intent on misbehaving.
This is one of the biggest challenges that teachers face and is often the highest concern for new teachers (Marsh, 2008). The emphasis here needs to be placed upon prevention rather than intervention (Arthur-Kelly et al. 2006). The term ‘withitness’ (Kounin as cited by Hurst & Cooke, 2010) is described by expert teachers as “having eyes in the back of your head” (Eggen & Kauchak, 2010) and relates to a teacher’s awareness of what is happening throughout the classroom at all times.
This allows an effective teacher not only to respond to and prevent misbehaviour before it escalates, by spotting inattention, but it also allows them to spot confusion and therefore to make adjustments in their teaching strategy to re-involve the off-task student (Eggen & Kauchak, 2010). There is a certain skill that an effective teacher possesses when responding to misbehaviour according to Bennett & Smilanich (1994) who believe that the effectiveness of the response is determined by the skill selected; when it is selected; how you enact it; and where you enact it.
A skilled low-key response to the misbehaviour such as proximity; the look; a pause; or removal of the problem (for example, a tapping pencil) does not interrupt the flow of the lesson or change the atmosphere in the classroom (Bennett & Smilanich, 1994) and will help to avoid a ripple effect, where other students start to become off-tack and misbehave (Kounin as cited by Bennett & Smilanich, 1994).
Also, whilst it is important to be consistent when it comes to student discipline, over-use of low key responses will render them ineffective may not teach the student responsibility for their actions (Bennett & Smilanich, 1994). An effective teacher needs to be fully committed to maintaining the productive learning environment and be prepared to follow through with further discipline (Eggen & Kauchak, 2010) if low-key responses are proving ineffective.
Any interventions should be kept brief and non-argumental, and along with the use of cognitive approaches to intervention, helps the student learn how their actions impact others. Conclusion The unpredictability of teaching is extraordinary, with no two days being the same. Given that children starting school this year will be retiring around 2070, nobody has a clue, what the world will look like then, and yet teachers are expected to educate students for it. Eggen & Kauchak (2010) define an effective teacher as one who maximises student learning.
Whilst a teacher cannot make a student learn, an effective teacher will be able to ensure that, despite the ever changing world, all of the prerequisites for learning are provided in the form of an effectively managed classroom environment; an acceptance and inclusion of all students; effective management of student behaviour; appropriate selection and delivery of lesson content; and motivational support to keep students focussed on their learning. References Arthur-Kelly, M. , Lyons, G. , Butterfield, N. & Gordon, C. 2006). Classroom Management: Creating Positive Learning Environments (2E). In Freeman, L. (2010). Key Competencies in Inclusive Education. Victoria: Cengage Learning Bennett, B. & Smilanich, P. (1994). Classroom management: A Thinking and Caring Approach (pp. 63-66, 187-218). Toronto: Educational Connections. Retrieved from Curtin University Library (e-reserve) Brophy, J. (2004). Motivating students to learn (2nd ed. ). Boston:McGraw-Hill Dickens, C. , (1854). Hard Times. Wordsworth: Printing Press Eggen, P. & Kauchak, D. 2010). Educational psychology: Windows on Classrooms (8th. Ed. ) French’s Forest: Pearson. Featherston, T. (2007). Becoming an effective teacher. In Hurst, C. & Cooke, A. (2010). Introduction to Teaching. Victoria: Cengage Learning Foreman, P. (2007). Inclusion in Action. In Freeman, L. (2010). Key Competencies in Inclusive Education. Victoria: Cengage Learning Gettinger, M. & Kohler, K. M. (2006). Process-outcome approaches to classroom management and effective teaching. In Evertson, C. M. & Weinstein, C. S. (Eds. ).
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