There is a lot of strong opinion among teaching and learning practitioners, policy-makers and managers that teacher-led learning is passive. In her brilliant book Seven Myths About Education, Daisy Christodoulou suggests that Ofsted reports that praise student-led learning far more often than teacher-led effectively discourage the latter to the detriment of education.
RuTC Teaching and Learning Manager Clare Dignum agrees that teacher instruction will always be essential to learning but must be balanced and complemented by various other methods of teaching.
‘The teacher’s role in introducing new concepts is absolutely crucial,’ says Clare. ‘How well they can explain is one of the most important skills.’ She encourages teachers to adopt a 1 to 4 ratio of content transmission (knowledge formation) to application, consolidation and reviewing of knowledge. In that mix, she believes, the 25% dedicated to the delivery of content via teacher instruction often determines the standard of learning outcomes. But how does one ensure that that 25% leads to active learning?
Here are four ways to make learning more active:
1. Create mixed-media content: Many of our teachers use screencasts to combine video, Powerpoints, images, voice-overs and texts to present their lessons. For example, Clare taught Richmond upon Thames College English students skills of critical analysis by modelling the process first in a screencast which provides a close analysis of a poem. Having watched the screencast, students then worked in groups exploring questions about the poem which enabled them to probe and think more deeply.
2. Make your content available before the lesson: Screencasts or other mixed-media content or videos can be shared with the students as homework so that they can begin learning before class even starts. This allows students to go at their own pace and leads to more engagement during class as more learners are up to speed on what’s being taught.
3. Get students who master the content to teach others: Teaching what you have learned is an excellent way to consolidate knowledge. Allowing the students to become teachers furthers the scope of their learning and understanding. In one of our college construction crafts classes, more experienced students advised others who were stuck. Every student in the class was absorbed in the learning activity.
4. Set tasks that encourage relearning: In one of our college history lessons, after learning about the relationship between the USSR and China, students had to create a timeline of the relationship and re-write it as a love story.
‘Take a step back and watch them. Enjoy the process of getting to know the students,’ says Clare. ‘It is not good enough for teachers to know the content; they need to also know their students.’ The other 75% of the lesson which is student-led allows for this, giving the teacher an opportunity to see where content needs to be retaught and if it needs to be taught in a different way. All in all, balance is the key. As author Colin Wright once said, ‘Extremes are easy. Strive for balance.’
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