Do you have a favorite teaching strategy? What is your best approach in the classroom?
Do you lecture with passion? Do you involve your students in collaborative groups? Do you have students complete stacks of worksheets? Do you use project-based learning? Do you have students craft personal, creative responses to demonstrate what they have learned? Do you use digital simulations? Do you show videos? Do you play games? Do you tell stories that capture students’ imagination and pull at their hearts? Do you have students role-play or use drama? Do you have students investigate solutions to authentic problems? Do you have students actively serve in their communities?
The methodologies we choose clearly show what we value. You might say that the teaching strategies you choose flow out of your personal philosophy of education. What you believe to be true and important and necessary are the things you will emphasize.
Parker Palmer, in his excellent book The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life makes the claim, “We teach who we are.” Think on that. Who you are as a human being is embodied in your teaching practice!
Early in the book, Palmer states, “Teaching, like any truly human activity, emerges from one’s inwardness, for better or worse. As I teach, I project the condition of my soul onto my students, my subject, and our way of being together” (p. 2). As I reflect on this, I think it’s important to think about the methodologies I choose for my teaching…and what these say about me…
How am I teaching?
Is this the right way for me to teach this concept?
How else could I teach it?
What does the way I’m teaching say about me as an instructor?
About what I value?
About what I believe about my role as a teacher?
About what I believe about my students?
I find I think a lot about questions like these. This is largely due to the influence of my friend, John Van Dyk, a long-time Professor of Philosophy of Education at Dordt University. In his book The Craft of Christian Teaching: A Classroom Journey he introduces “the 60% Rule,” which says, in a nutshell, that we should never use any teaching strategy–no matter how great it is–more than 60% of the time. He contends that every strategy can be overdone. Why 60%? Van Dyk says, “We need to take into account that teachers have ‘comfort zones.’ Depending on our own learning styles [preferences], we naturally gravitate towards certain comfortable ways of teaching, and tend to stick with them. But just as is true for learning styles [preferences], we need to cultivate the ability to flex teaching styles, lest we end up using only one or two strategies all the time” (p. 151). I think this is very true!I know, I know…there are going to be some teachers who argue that they should only use one or two teaching strategies, because then they can get really good at those strategies–master them, even. I understand that sentiment; I want to be a master teacher too! But in response, I would raise the question of what is behind the desire to stay where you are and not develop new skills and abilities? I’m not arguing for innovation for innovation’s sake…but rather exploring other approaches that might also be effective for helping your students learn.
This is really Van Dyk’s intent and approach, I think. He continues: “If you can flex your style, assured that failure will not be held against you, the door is open to more effective and creative teaching. Effective teachers employ a wide range of strategies. . . They recognize that students learn in many different ways and are motivated in many different ways” (p. 151). This is such an important point. If we want students to really understand a concept, they may need to see it, hear it, experience it firsthand, read about it, write about it, talk about it, reflect on how it connects to other things they have learned, and even teach it to someone else!
So my questions for you today are four-fold:
- What is your go-to teaching strategy?
What does this strategy say about who you are?
Are you satisfied with the messages being sent about what you value and what you believe through this teaching strategy?
Are there other strategies that you would like to learn more about?
I encourage you to experiment, to tinker, to play around with your teaching practice. If you do find yourself using just one or two strategies much of the time…consider this permission to try something completely different, at least 40% of the time.
Palmer, P. J. (1998.) The courage to teach: Exploring the inner landscape of a teacher’s life. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Van Dyk, J. (2000.) The craft of Christian teaching: A classroom journey. Sioux Center, IA: Dordt Press.
Dave taught in Christian schools for 14 years before joining the Education department at Dordt University in 2012. He has experience working with learners at every level from Kindergarten through graduate school, but spent much of his career teaching a variety of subjects for grades 5-8. He loves curriculum and instruction, has a mild obsession with educational technology, and is always excited to discuss reflective practice, school culture, and faith formation. Dave blogs at iteach-and-ilearn.blogspot.com