Ten Best Teaching Tips

Here, from my limited experience, are the best recommendations ever made to me.  I know they work on ages 12-18 and I bet they work on more ages.  They are drawn from a variety of sources, but mostly from the excellent advice of faculty at this great school where I first began teaching ( I did tweak these suggestions, perhaps beyond recognition of their originators!  Nevertheless--thanks!)

1. Arrange space in classroom so as to be able to walk around and be physically present to the class. Get behind the students. Back there, you will be able to see what’s going on; you may even be able to sort work they turned in and correct homework, etc. since they will not be as ready to goof off—they can’t see if you are looking at them or not.

2. Discipline—various punishments and warnings can be assigned, but the ingredient always necessary is to look the student in the eye, catch his eye and hold it, and say very distinctly what the problem is and that it should stop.

3. If / when giving notes on the board, avoid Roman numerals, Arabic numerals, and letters. For some reason, students can obsess about whether we are on point c or d or maybe number six. Just use dashes and bullet points, if anything.

4. Never underestimate the need for a physical change. If students are zoned out, have them catch balls, race, run outside, jump up and down, or change seats in a musical chairs style.

5. If things need to be handed out, do that in the middle of class to give the students a change of pace. Also, have students do your physical tasks (for a change of pace)—erase the board, open the window, shut the blind, hit the lights, pass out books/maps/handouts.

6. If you ask a question and kids are zoned out, or only a few keep answering, have everyone write their answer. And say, “Keep writing and thinking; don’t stop writing and thinking until I say stop.” (For questions that demand more than a one word answer.)

7. Give very short quizzes now and then on very recent material right at the beginning of class, letting them review notes five minutes. This gets them to read their notes (at least then) and gets them reviewed for the new material. This also lets you see what they remember right now, what they got out of the last class, and maybe what they got out of the homework.

8. Divide tests into objective sections, short answers, long answers, etc.—one kind of section to one sheet of paper. Beginning with the objective section, pass out the first page. Then let students come up and get the succeeding tests sections. This gives them some exercise and a chance to stretch during the test. Further, this method collates the test for you to grade quickly. You won’t have to remove staples from a student’s single test and separate the pages out. Further, you can whip through correcting the objective sections, sometimes during the exam.  Also, you can enter the information more readily into different sections of a gradebook.  For example, geography scores can go right into a geography section, dates into a dates section, ability to read a new document and answer questions, ability to compare events, ability to apply a rule, word problems, etc.  I used to just write down test scores, even though the tests themselves tested many different skills and areas of knowledge.  Now I can look at the gradebook immediately and know what the student can do and where he struggles.  

9. On tests, offer a significant amount of bonus questions, new and more interesting things to think about or more challenging uses of the material. Maybe 60% to tested material, and 40% to more in-depth, interesting, challenging work.

10. Keep portfolios for each student with highlighted or commented-upon samples of the student’s work. These offer the best way to review a student’s work at the end of the semester. In addition to mere scores, you have some samples of work which make it easier to describe what the student understands, questions, appreciates, confuses . . . Also, at the end of term I ask students to write for an hour: What I learned. After reviewing the portfolio, this is the last thing to read before evaluating the student. This can be a real treat—sometimes funny, sometimes poignant, sometimes profound.



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