BY SHAUN WERSTED
I am currently in my fourth year of teaching, my second at Natick High School. During these four years I have used many different types of teaching skills with varying degrees of success. It still amazes me how one style of teaching can be so effective in one class yet a total failure in another.
As I read Fourteen Common Teaching Methods… I found six methods that I have used in my classroom: lecture, lecture with discussion, brainstorm, discussion, small group discussion and worksheet/surveys. I also found 42 methods that I have used, 27 quite regularly, when I read 150 Teaching Methods. I could not possibly discuss all of these in a paper this short so I chose instead to discuss the two types of classes that I teach this year and the styles of teaching I use in these classes.
Approaches I take to delivery instruction and the pedagogical principles they are based on.
PART I: Integrated Math 42
I use two totally different approaches for the two classes that I teach right now. I teach a predominately senior level class called Integrated Math 42, which, for most of the semester, is an SAT preparatory class. Just about every day in the three sections of this class I give a pretest for the first 15 minutes. These pretests are not graded but are meant to prepare the students for the SAT exam by showing them the types of questions they can expect. These pretests also help the students learn effective time management, which is very important during the real exam. I administer three of these tests, one each day, and then give an untimed, graded test on the fourth day to see if the students are grasping the mathematical concepts covered in those pretests. After each pretest I discuss the problems with the class, doing the problems at the chalkboard, and asking students not only how they did the problems but also if they think they could have done them more effectively. A couple times each week I assign homework, which has the students reading parts of the textbook and doing some problems to bolster the concepts we covered in class.
PART II: Algebra 12
I also teach two sections of Algebra 12, which is a first year Algebra course meant for freshman but open to all students. One of the sections is predominately freshman with 7 or 8 sophomores, and the other section has the opposite make-up of students. Both classes also have 2 or 3 juniors who have failed the course at least once and need to take the class to graduate. This is an eclectic mix of students, and the fact that over half of the students in each of these classes are on an IEP makes it even more challenging. I am constantly looking for new ways to teach these two classes and have found that a combination of techniques needs to be used for my teaching to be effective.
Two methods that I use regularly with these classes are peer teaching and small group learning. After I introduce a new topic I give students some problems to do and then ask them to work together in finishing this task. I stress that there are people in the class besides myself that may understand the topic, so they should walk around and ask each other for help if they do not understand the new material. Usually within the first quarter I find one or two exceptional students that become peer teachers on a regular basis. These are usually students that are in my class because of problems in their life outside of school, not because they lack the mathematical ability. Peer teaching shows them that they can be leaders and that they really are smart. Even more importantly they see that it is okay to be smart, which is important because their peers outside of class may look down at smart kids.
Adaptation of my pedagogical approaches.
The methods I use to teach the SAT preparatory classes have worked very well for two years now. For a while last year I tried going over questions at the beginning of each class and then doing the pretests, but it was difficult to get the class settled down to take the tests. I have found that doing the pretest within five minutes of the start of each class creates a precise structure, which the students follow, and I have had very few problems managing the classes when I keep to this structure. My classes this year are quite large (64 students split up in three classes) yet I have virtually zero problems with class management.
It sometimes takes quite a while for my Algebra 12 students to get used to my style of teaching and at first they may be apprehensive to work together. This year is no exception. One of my Algebra classes already works great in the peer teaching environment, while students in the other class rarely turn to each other for help and seem to be against working in groups. I will keep at it though, because I have found that most students turn around, and I have been very successful in using this method for four years now.
When I introduce concepts to these Algebra classes I always try to use examples taken from the real world to explain the pertinence of the material. Students do not have the same stake in mathematics if they cannot make a connection with it. Unless they see that the concept is something they may use later in life they would rather not even try. Therefore, I use anecdotes that include such things as spending money, working on construction jobs and playing sports or other games. I am not saying that this method is successful every time but it definitely works better than trying to use pure math in introducing concepts. Students also look at word problems differently, and with less apprehension, because they view them as real life problems. To support these discussions I frequently use newspapers and magazines that I collect in my classroom.
When and how did I learn my pedagogical principles.
Most of my pedagogical principles have been developed form teaching methods I found successful when I was in high school. I was fortunate to have some excellent teachers and have adapted many of their methods into my classrooms. Other approaches were introduced to me by fellow teachers, or were presented at conferences and classes I took at Framingham State College.
Constraints that limit teacher's choices in delivery methods.
Many schools have specific pedagogical principles that all teachers must abide by. Other schools have principles set by each department, with common midterm and final exams restricting the type of material that is to be taught and the amount of time you have to teach that material. Few schools today allow its faculty to use any approaches they want in their classrooms. Teachers usually are given a textbook with specific content that must be covered in a specific time frame and are restricted because of this. States may also impose standardized tests upon students requiring the schools to "teach to the test". This becomes a severe restriction in which teachers must emphasize multiple choice, short answer and essay type exams when teaching so their students will be prepared for these standardized tests.
As you can see my classes are quite challenging and I am always looking for ways to improve my lessons. That is one of the main reasons I am attending Cambridge College at this time. I am looking forward to learning how to use the technological resources at my school as yet another tool to teach my students.
Additional Comments (4/02)
The above text was written in October of 2001 during the first semester of a Master's program at Cambridge College. As I add these comments it is 6 months later, and I have learned immensely about both the great possibilities that technology can offer to the classroom, and the intense politics that keep good teachers from doing what they do best (teaching with no undue constraints).
As I reflect on this past school year and reread this paper I find that many of my teaching styles and convictions have remained the same. I still regularly use the same four major teaching styles mentioned in Article I: lecture, lecture with discussion, brainstorm, discussion, small group discussion and worksheet/surveys. These methods fit my beliefs and have worked well for four years now. I also kept to my strict style of teaching in my Integrated Math class that I discuss in Article II. This was even more successful this year than last, and though I had many complaints from students that it was too difficult, the grades remained mostly high, I had virtually no problems with class management, and the average student went up more than 50 points in the math portion of the SAT test.
These facts seem even more pertinent now that I am in a battle for my position at Natick High School because the Principal does not agree that I am doing a good job with these students. I have stuck by these facts and my convictions though, and have been supported widely by many teachers in the faculty, the guidance department, students, parents and the new Superintendent. Yet the Principal has refused to accept the high success rate as anything short of an anomaly. He does not understand how a nontraditional teacher can be successful with nontraditional students, and therefore is trying to remove me. I have a grievance filed through the union, so I cannot discuss this any further at this time, but will fill in the gaps when it is resolved.
Meanwhile, I have increased my knowledge of technology greatly and have been incorporating it into the classroom slowly but surely. I have created a website for each class that keeps an updated assignment board and I hold online office hours via instant messaging twice a week. During these sessions students can ask me specific questions about lessons we've had in class, or just talk about their lives. I have had quite a bit of success with these sessions. There are some very shy students that will not ask for, or accept, help in class that seem to open up once they are online. There are also many students that would rather get help online after school then physically stay after to get help. I am planning on expanding these sessions next year and making it mandatory that students supply their IM nicknames to me.
There are many other ways I have started to incorporate technology in class, including webquests, online tutorials, spreadsheets and excercises in searching for information. I am also in the midst of an ambitious program with my Capstone project where students will be able to keep up with daily lessons by visiting my website.
Fourteen Common Teaching Methods: With Strengths and Limitations
150 Teaching Methods