Teaching Techniques for Supervisors: Here Are Essential Techniques for Assessing and Improving Teacher Presentation Skills

Article excerpt

When a K12 supervisor recently observed a teacher in a classroom with continuing discipline problems, he noticed that she consistently violated a fundamental teaching technique by asking "everyone questions." Questions such as "Is everyone on page fifty-three?" and "Did everybody get a handout?" invite every student to respond, which increases classroom noise and threatens control. Therefore, teaching the teacher to rephrase questions in the format "Who is not on page fifty-three?" and "Who did not get a handout?" resulted in fewer voices and improved discipline (see sidebar, "The Art of Questioning").

Supervising classroom teachers and critiquing lessons can be difficult for the supervisor as well as the person being supervised, especially if little usable information is exchanged following an observation. General comments such as "good lesson" or "interesting discussion" offer no direction for improvement and leave teachers wondering how they are really doing. On the other hand, supervisors may not have the background and experience to assess teacher presentation skills and recommend changes. Consequently, even veteran teachers make strategic errors repeatedly--such as asking "everyone questions"--because no one pointed out those problems and showed them better ways. That's what this guide is all about.

Throughout my career in K12 education I observed and evaluated close to a thousand lessons--I can hardly believe it myself--taking notes on what took place, prescribing improvements and following up on the results. This led me to compile a list of essential teaching techniques for initiating, managing and concluding learning activities, which appears below. And since techniques for giving instructions and asking questions are crucial skills across each of these areas, I highlighted those topics separately.

These methods have been documented by supervisors at every level and content area and have been used to help weak teachers become better and good teachers become excellent. They also support teaching standards promulgated by curriculum associations and state departments of education, though occasionally my opinions differ (see, for example, the technique "avoiding Lysiphobia"). So whether you are an administrator, a curriculum coordinator, a mentor or a classroom teacher, this guide will help improve teaching in your district. Feel free to distribute copies and link to the article on our Web site (www.districtadministration.com).

THE FUNDAMENTALS

The teaching techniques that follow are based on two fundamental principles confirmed time and again in educational research:

* Students learn best by doing. The most meaningful learning takes place through direct interaction with concrete materials, so students need experience with all sorts of materials, including math manipulatives, science specimens, art supplies, measuring devices, maps, graphs and interactive software.

* Students need to do their own thinking and exploration. Learning how to process information and draw conclusions is one of the most important outcomes of education, as opposed to only getting predigested content from texts and teachers.

THE TECHNIQUES

Each teaching technique below is followed by its rationale and is grouped into sections for initiating, managing and concluding learning activities. I recommend that teachers focus on one or two skills at a time.

Techniques for Initiating Learning Activities

1. Relate New Activities to Previous Student Experience One of the best ways to add interest to a classroom activity is to integrate local content. For example, teaching graphing with data from local sports teams or school surveys is more interesting and meaningful than using impersonal data from a textbook. It is also helpful to link new activities to earlier learning experiences, such as reviewing primary level lessons on patterns with colors and shapes before introducing patterns with sounds. …