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Human beings learn from personal experiences, and I am no different. After twenty-five years of teaching English, I have learned an ocean’s amount of teaching techniques and have determined which ones succeed for me.
Although I have many other worthwhile methods, I have discovered that when these ten approaches are established with parents and young people, I experience wonderful, teaching-learning partnerships. Partnership is a key theme here.
1) Assert honest and clear classroom policies from day one and practice them; make these policies readily available in hard copy and on-line to students and parents.
2) Develop a positive rapport with each parent and student establishing the teacher’s role as flexible facilitator, not stern dictator; use 1-1 conferences to learn about students’ backgrounds and learning styles and continue frequent contact through e-mail to encourage and update. Open communication foments understanding and harmony. Avoid pretentiousness!
3) Explain why each piece of content introduced in the classroom is important to the student’s present and future education; students naturally always want to know the WHY behind their studies, and it is important that they embrace the activity to learn from it. If they do not invest into the learning opportunity, they will not benefit from it, no matter how effective it has been in the past. Teach skills-not just data.
4) Emphasize active learning by inculcating 21st Century Learning Skills: Critical Thinking and Problem Solving; Creativity and Innovation; Communication; and Collaboration. Design projects that involve a variety of media. A variety of media will connect to at least some aspects of students’ learning styles and, therefore, be meaningful to them.
5) Insure that their learning is fun by creating assignments that instill popular but positive electronic sites and topics that interest them; the teacher should see himself as an entertainer with edifying content. He should know his audience. His students should exclaim, “I cannot wait to go to English class today!” But I also know we all have those days when comma splice exercises make our students want to drool. Fight the drool! Be imaginative!
6) Establish a grading system that rewards the learning process and is not punitive in a draconian manner and does not focus just on the end product—for instance, allow students to retake tests and quizzes and to revise their writing multiple, multiple, multiple times. At the same time, the teacher should set due dates with accountability parameters.
7) Collaborate with colleagues and other professionals to ascertain the best methods to help students succeed --- and never give up on a struggling student. Never.
8) Schedule the teacher’s day to make him available for prepping and tutoring sessions and afford time for prompt feedback on student submissions.
9) Accentuate the importance of honesty in student work; implement an honor statement to be written on submitted documents that asserts that this student has done his own work, not copied from other sources—clarify plagiarism.
10) Collect, assess, and return student work quickly –- within 1-4 days, dependent on the assignment breadth. Create in-class magazines using Illustrator and/or Adobe InDesign where students’ writing can be shared with each other. If their writing will be viewed by peers, students will apply more care and effort, and I always help them polish their final editions.
What is a common denominator in my Teaching? Positive relationships. No matter what state-of-the-art techniques I might use, no matter how funny I am or animated, if I do not engender a positive relationship with my students, they will not buy it, listen to it, embrace it, or learn from it. An old adage from politics posits, “Win their hearts and souls.” It is true. If a teacher can tap into his students’ emotions, inspire them, captivate them, and especially, surprise them, they will read, write, think, and learn. Is this not our goal? It is mine.
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