Effective teaching strategies are intended to create environments where learners can actively participate and engage the material of the subject they are expected to learn.
Activities, which allow students to explore applications, and the implications thereof, vastly improve learning capacity. The traditional mode of lecturing in a classroom environment, focusing only on content presented by an instructor, does not encourage or promote the active engagement and participation of students.
Because most faculty members come from this latter style of teaching, it becomes hard to recognize that traditional lecturing is no longer an environment where effective learning can take place, as many students do not feel comfortable in participating actively during traditional lectures. The majority of students dutifully copy down what the instructor says or writes or shows on a screen, but do not actively process the information, giving credence to the statement “the lights are on, but nobody is at home”.
An enormous amount of research, undertaken in the past two decades, on how individuals learn, support these findings. A summary of the National Research Council’s publication in 1999 on “How People Learn” clearly shows that:
– To learn, a person needs to be engaged by actively observing, participating, writing, speaking, listening, drawing, thinking and doing;
– When a person sees potential implications, benefits and applications to others, the learning is enhanced;
– Current understanding is a platform for further learning to build on (this includes misconceptions!)
Before getting into effective teaching strategies that will promote the active participation of students, another important aspect of learning needs to be looked at, and that is “learning styles”. Because no two people learn the same way, it is not easy to create a teaching strategy to optimize learning in all students. How individuals learn varies widely, as well as individual preference for receiving and processing different information, which influences how effectively they will learn.
One particular learning style will not match everyone in the class and what may work well for the instructor, will not necessarily work well for the majority of students. Having a basic knowledge of learning styles in general as compared to your own particular learning styles, will be a tremendous help in planning activities and assignments that will reach as many different student learning styles as possible. More information on “The Index of Learning Styles”, how to use it, and how to responsibly use the results, can be found in the article by Felder & Spurlin (2005).
Below are some effective teaching strategies which actively engage students where the focus is more on the student and learning and less on the teacher and presenting, placing more responsibility on the students themselves for their own learning.
1. The Jigsaw Technique
If you struggle with group work in a class situation, this technique can serve as a well-structured template for group work. Students are divided into teams, each being given separate assignments, but related to the topic. After all members are prepared, the students are once again divided. This time into mixed groups, one member from each team forming a group. Each student in a group will teach the rest in the group what he or she knows about the subject. The group then takes on the assignment set, and together they pull all pieces together to form a picture (jigsaw).
2. The Gallery Walk
In this cooperative strategy for learning, an instructor posts several pre-defined questions or problems at tables or on the wall (gallery). Groups are formed according to the amount of questions, each group moving from one question to the next (walk), writing a response to each question the encounter. At the end of the gallery walk, the group summarizes and reports the results to the rest of the class.
3. Effective Discussion
Rather than listening to a lecture, discussion is a more effective way to involve students in analyzing and thinking, or defending one side of an argument in preference to another. Students are encouraged to interact with each other and not only with the instructor. Although good discussions are difficult to start, it will be worth the effort to have a few tips and examples on hand to generate interest.
4. Concept Sketches
Concept diagrams are concisely annotated using short statements to describe the concepts, processes and interrelationships in the sketch. Students are assigned the task of generating their own concept sketches and it is a powerful way for students to process concepts, and then convey those concepts to others in the class. Concept sketches differ from concept maps and can be used as in-class activities in the field or in a lab, or as a tool for assessment.
5. The Use of Case Studies
A favorite of business schools and medical schools, with case studies students are actively engaged in the problem-solving process relevant to the particular discipline. The primary task is to solve a problem that revolves around a story (case). For example, a patient who has a particularly challenging illness in medical case studies. Good case studies will offer students considerable latitude in decision-making and problem solving, and provide an excellent environment in which to actively engage students.
In taking part in debates, students are forced to deal with complex issues and matters with “grey areas” and they contain embedded content, leading to improved student learning. Debates provide golden opportunities for students to see the relevancy of the material to everyday issues in life, while improving their oral communication skills as well.
7. Just-in-Time Teaching
JiTT is used to engage students in the course material prior to class attendance to prepare them for active class participation during the next class.
8. Role Playing
Well constructed role playing, or simulation exercises, is an excellent way to engage students. By emphasizing real world situations, students become deeply involved in the topic and take active part in lively discussions.
By employing some or all of the above effective learning strategies, students will be given an opportunity to explore and show preference for their particular and individual style of learning, and be able to learn more effectively.