Guide to Teaching Methods and Strategies

Teaching Methods and Strategies: The Complete Guide

Written by Dr. Kris MacDonald, reviewed by EducationCorner.com Team

You’ve completed your coursework. Student teaching has ended. You’ve donned the cap and gown, crossed the stage, smiled with your diploma and went home to fill out application after application. Suddenly you are standing in what will be your classroom for the next year and after the excitement of decorating it wears off and you begin lesson planning, you start to notice all of your lessons are executed the same way, just with different material. But that is what you know and what you’ve been taught, so you go with it. After a while, your students are bored, and so are you. There must be something wrong because this isn’t what you envisioned teaching to be like. There is.

Figuring out the best ways you can deliver information to students can sometimes be even harder than what students go through in discovering how they learn best. The reason is because every single teacher needs a variety of different teaching methods in their theoretical teaching bag to pull from depending on the lesson, the students, and things as seemingly minute as the time the class is and the subject. Using these different teaching methods, which are rooted in theory of different teaching styles, will not only help teachers reach their full potential, but more importantly engage, motivate and reach the students in their classes, whether in person or online.

Teaching Methods

Teaching methods, or methodology, is a narrower topic because it’s founded in theories and educational psychology. If you have a degree in teaching, you most likely have heard of names like Skinner, Vygotsky, Gardner, Piaget, and Bloom. If their names don’t ring a bell, you should definitely recognize their theories that have become teaching methods. The following are the most common teaching theories.

Behaviorism

Behaviorism is the theory that every learner is essentially a “clean slate” to start off and shaped by emotions. People react to stimuli, reactions as well as positive and negative reinforcement, the site states. Learning Theories names the most popular theorists who ascribed to this theory were Ivan Pavlov, who many people may know with his experiments with dogs. He performed an experiment with dogs that when he rang a bell, the dogs responded to the stimuli; then he applied the idea to humans. Other popular educational theorists who were part of behaviorism was B.F. Skinner and Albert Bandura.

Social Cognitive Theory

Social Cognitive Theory is typically spoken about at the early childhood level because it has to do with critical thinking with the biggest concept being the idea of play, according to Edwin Peel writing for Encyclopedia Britannica. Though Bandura and Lev Vygotsky also contributed to cognitive theory, according to Dr. Norman Herr with California State University, the most popular and first theorist of cognitivism is Piaget.

There are four stages to Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development that he created in 1918. Each stage correlates with a child’s development from infancy to their teenage years.

The first stage is called the Sensorimotor Stage which occurs from birth to 18 months. The reason this is considered cognitive development is because the brain is literally growing through exploration, like squeaking horns, discovering themselves in mirrors or spinning things that click on their floormats or walkers; creating habits like sleeping with a certain blanket; having reflexes like rubbing their eyes when tired or thumb sucking; and beginning to decipher vocal tones.

The second stage, or the Preoperational Stage, occurs from ages 2 to 7 when toddlers begins to understand and correlate symbols around them, ask a lot of questions, and start forming sentences and conversations, but they haven’t developed perspective yet so empathy does not quite exist yet, the website states. This is the stage when children tend to blurt out honest statements, usually embarrassing their parents, because they don’t understand censoring themselves either.

From ages 7 to 11, children are beginning to problem solve, can have conversations about things they are interested in, are more aware of logic and develop empathy during the Concrete Operational Stage.

The final stage, called the Formal Operational Stage, though by definition ends at age 16, can continue beyond. It involves deeper thinking and abstract thoughts as well as questioning not only what things are but why the way they are is popular, the site states. Many times people entering new stages of their lives like high school, college, or even marriage go through elements of Piaget’s theory, which is why the strategies that come from this method are applicable across all levels of education.

The Multiple Intelligences Theory

The Multiple Intelligences Theory states that people don’t need to be smart in every single discipline to be considered intelligent on paper tests, but that people excel in various disciplines, making them exceptional. Created in 1983, the former principal in the Scranton School District in Scranton, PA, created eight different intelligences, though since then two others have been debated of whether to be added but have not yet officially, according to the site. The original eight are musical, spatial, linguistic, mathematical, kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal and naturalistic and most people have a predominant intelligence followed by others. For those who are musically-inclined either via instruments, vocals, has perfect pitch, can read sheet music or can easily create music has Musical Intelligence. Being able to see something and rearrange it or imagine it differently is Spatial Intelligence, while being talented with language, writing or avid readers have Linguistic Intelligence. Kinesthetic Intelligence refers to understanding how the body works either anatomically or athletically and Naturalistic Intelligence is having an understanding of nature and elements of the ecosystem.

The final intelligences have to do with personal interactions. Intrapersonal Intelligence is a matter of knowing oneself, one’s limits, and their inner selves while Interpersonal Intelligence is knowing how to handle a variety of other people without conflict or knowing how to resolve it, the site states. There is still an elementary school in Scranton, PA named after their once-principal.

Constructivism

Constructivism is another theory created by Piaget which is used as a foundation for many other educational theories and strategies because constructivism is focused on how people learn. Piaget states in this theory that people learn from their experiences. They learn best through active learning, connect it to their prior knowledge and then digest this information their own way. This theory has created the ideas of student-centered learning in education versus teacher-centered learning.

Universal Design for Learning

The final method is the Universal Design for Learning which has redefined the educational community since its inception in the mid-1980s by David H. Rose. This theory focuses on how teachers need to design their curriculum for their students. This theory really gained traction in the United States in 2004 when it was presented at an international conferece and he explained that this theory is based on neuroscience and how the brain processes information, perform tasks and get excited about education. The theory, known as UDL, advocates for presenting information in multiple ways to enable a variety of learners to understand the information; presenting multiple assessments for students to show what they have learned; and learn and utilize a student’s own interests to motivate them to learn, the site states. This theory also discussed incorporating technology in the classroom and ways to educate students in the digital age.

Teaching Styles

From each of the educational theories, teachers extract and develop a plethora of different teaching styles, or strategies. Instructors must have a large and varied arsenal of strategies to use weekly and even daily in order to build rapport, keep students engaged and even keep instructors from getting bored with their own material. These can be applicable to all teaching levels, but adaptations must be made based on the student’s age and level of development.

Differentiated instruction is one of the most popular teaching strategies, which means that teachers adjust the curriculum for a lesson, unit or even entire term in a way that engages all learners in various ways, according to Chapter 2 of the book Instructional Process and Concepts in Theory and Practice by Celal Akdeniz. This means changing one’s teaching styles constantly to fit not only the material but more importantly, the students based on their learning styles.

Learning styles are the ways in which students learn best. The most popular types are visual, audio, kinesthetic and read/write, though others include global as another type of learner, according to Akdeniz. For some, they may seem self-explanatory. Visual learners learn best by watching the instruction or a demonstration; audio learners need to hear a lesson; kinesthetic learners learn by doing, or are hands-on learners; read/write learners to best by reading textbooks and writing notes; and global learners need material to be applied to their real lives, according to The Library of Congress. There are many activities available to instructors that enable their students to find out what kind of learner they are. Typically students have a main style with a close runner-up, which enables them to learn best a certain way but they can also learn material in an additional way. When an instructor knows their students and what types of learners are in their classroom, instructors are able to then differentiate their instruction and assignments to those learning types, according to Akdeniz and The Library of Congress.

When teaching new material to any type of learner, is it important to utilize a strategy called scaffolding. Scaffolding is based on a student’s prior knowledge and building a lesson, unit or course from the most foundational pieces and with each step make the information more complicated, according to an article by Jerry Webster. To scaffold well, a teacher must take a personal interest in their students to learn not only what their prior knowledge is but their strengths as well. This will enable an instructor to base new information around their strengths and use positive reinforcement when mistakes are made with the new material.

There is an unfortunate concept in teaching called “teach to the middle” where instructors target their lessons to the average ability of the students in their classroom, leaving slower students frustrated and confused, and above average students frustrated and bored. This often results in the lower- and higher-level students scoring poorly and a teacher with no idea why. The remedy for this is a strategy called blended learning where differentiated instruction is occurring simultaneously in the classroom to target all learners, according to author and educator Juliana Finegan. In order to be successful at blended learning, teachers once again need to know their students, how they learn and their strengths and weaknesses, according to Finegan. Blended learning can include combining several learning styles into one lesson like lecturing from a PowerPoint – not reading the information on the slides -- that includes cartoons and music associations while the students have the print-outs. The lecture can include real-life examples and stories of what the instructor encountered and what the students may encounter. That example incorporates four learning styles and misses kinesthetic, but the activity afterwards can be solely kinesthetic.

A huge component of blended learning is technology. Technology enables students to set their own pace and access the resources they want and need based on their level of understanding, according to The Library of Congress. It can be used three different ways in education which include face-to-face, synchronously or asynchronously. Technology used with the student in the classroom where the teacher can answer questions while being in the student’s physical presence is known as face-to-face. Synchronous learning is when students are learning information online and have a teacher live with them online at the same time, but through a live chat or videoconferencing program, like Skype, or Zoom, according to The Library of Congress. Finally, asynchronous learning is when students take a course or element of a course online, like a test or assignment, as it fits into their own schedule, but a teacher is not online with them at the time they are completing or submitting the work. Teachers are still accessible through asynchronous learning but typically via email or a scheduled chat meeting, states the Library of Congress.

The final strategy to be discussed actually incorporates a few teaching strategies, so it’s almost like blended teaching. It starts with a concept that has numerous labels such as student-centered learning, learner-centered pedagogy, and teacher-as-tutor but all mean that an instructor revolves lessons around the students and ensures that students take a participatory role in the learning process, known as active learning, according to the Learning Portal. In this model, a teacher is just a facilitator, meaning that they have created the lesson as well as the structure for learning, but the students themselves become the teachers or create their own knowledge, the Learning Portal says. As this is occurring, the instructor is circulating the room working as a one-on-one resource, tutor or guide, according to author Sara Sanchez Alonso from Yale’s Center for Teaching and Learning. For this to work well and instructors be successful one-on-one and planning these lessons, it’s essential that they have taken the time to know their students’ history and prior knowledge, otherwise it can end up to be an exercise in futility, Alonso said. Some activities teachers can use are by putting students in groups and assigning each student a role within the group, creating reading buddies or literature circles, making games out of the material with individual white boards, create different stations within the classroom for different skill levels or interest in a lesson or find ways to get students to get up out of their seats and moving, offers Fortheteachers.org.

There are so many different methodologies and strategies that go into becoming an effective instructor. A consistent theme throughout all of these is for a teacher to take the time to know their students because they care, not because they have to. When an instructor knows the stories behind the students, they are able to design lessons that are more fun, more meaningful, and more effective because they were designed with the students’ best interests in mind. There are plenty of pre-made lessons, activities and tests available online and from textbook publishers that any teacher could use. But you need to decide if you want to be the original teacher who makes a significant impact on your students, or a pre-made teacher a student needs to get through.

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