The Essential Characteristics of Effective Teaching

Effective teaching is defined as “teaching that is in accord with sound principles, and which promote student learning and enhances the personal and social development of students” (Cole & Chan, 1987, pp.303). Key points relating to effective teaching are the ability to communicate effectively, ask effective questions, thoughtfully plan and prepare lessons, use varying combinations of instructional modes, motivate students and use constructivist teaching methods. These hallmarks of effective teaching will therefore be discussed with reference to the Melcombe Primary School Year 5 Maths lesson video (Evans & Atteshlis, 2008) and Maths Lesson Plan (appendix A).

The basis of all effective teaching is efficient communication as most aspects of the teacher’s role depend upon skills in communicating competently (Cole & Chan, 1987). Communicating efficiently is an important aspect of effective teaching (Cole & Chan, 1987).  The teacher in the video (Evans & Atteshlis, 2008) demonstrated this by emphasising important and relevant aspects of the grid method and presented coherent and meaningful messages. The sequence of her dialogue allowed students to interpret the intended meaning correctly. It was evident that the teacher focussed on efficient communication skills (Cole & Chan, 1987). Competent teaching involves developing “qualities and skills that enhance efficient communication” (Cole & Chan, 1987, pp.26). The teacher in the video (Evans & Atteshlis, 2008) had personal qualities and attitudes that enhanced positive relationships with the students. She demonstrated patience and listened carefully to student responses. She spoke to students in language they could understand. Precise directions were given during demonstration, and guided practice activities. Non-verbal communication such as physical movement, hand gestures and facial expression were effectively used when managing the classroom (Cole & Chan, 1987).  Effective teachers are, “competent at formulating, encoding, transmitting and interpreting messages” (Cole & Chan, 1987, pp.41). This was evident in the video (Evans & Atteshlis, 2008) where the teacher skilfully presented the lesson and listened to her students actively.  The teacher anticipated class reactions and presented the subject matter suited to the abilities of the students with sensitive and empathic attitude (Cole & Chan, 1987). Highly developed communication skills and personal qualities are essential characteristics of successful teachers (Cole & Chan, 1987).

Careful planning and preparation allow for efficient organisation and presentation of lessons (Cole & Chan, 1987). The foundations of effective teaching are thoughtful, systematic planning of goals that are productive to learning experiences (Killen, 2007). According to Killen (2007), lessons cannot be successful if teachers do not thoroughly plan and integrate lessons into the medium and long-term plans as the syllabus or curriculum objectives suggest.  In preparing the lesson plan (appendix A), the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) objectives were taken into account. Carefully prepared lessons help the teacher take into account individual student needs and differences in abilities (Killen, 2007). It was evident that the teacher in the video (Evans & Atteshlis, 2008) took individual student needs and differences in abilities into account when planning. Not only did the teacher divide the class into ability groups but also planned for multiplication problems of varying difficulties. Killen (2007) states, that imaginative planning ensures lessons are motivating, interesting and relevant to students. The lesson plan (appendix A), demonstrates this imaginative planning with a video (Atkinson & Driscoll, 1995) at the start of the lesson, aimed to engage and motivate the students into focussing on the lesson ahead. The use of iPad application Grid Mult (SUMS, n.d.), is another example of imaginative planning as it is motivating, interesting and relevant to students. In Mathematics, effective teaching requires teachers to plan for explicit teaching procedures where the aim is to master knowledge or learn a skill which can be taught in a step-by-step manner (Rosenshine & Stevens, 1986). The video (Evans & Atteshlis, 2008) and lesson plan (appendix A) show explicit teaching procedures that are effective to teaching as identified by Rosenshine and Stevens (1986). Planning questions to engage students at many cognitive levels based on the revised Blooms taxonomy is another characteristic essential to effective teaching. Planning questions in advance based on Blooms taxonomy, give students an opportunity to think creatively and imaginatively (South Australia Department of Education, 1987). The characteristics of effective teaching are therefore, thoughtful, imaginative and systematic planning where teachers take into consideration curriculum goals and objectives. They have effective procedures in planning and preparation and plan questions at various cognitive levels.

The ability to ask questions in all phases of the lesson is a vital teaching skill, and is the key to effective teaching (Fetherston, 2007). The teacher needs to ask key questions so that students are able to formulate an answer in order to demonstrate the objectives of the lesson (Fetherston, 2007). These questions provide the teacher with good feedback about the effectiveness of the lesson (Fetherston, 2007). For instance, in the video (Evans & Atteshlis, 2008), after guided-practice activities, the teacher asked questions relating to lining up of digits, placing tens and units in columns, the trick about zero and partitioning of numbers. All of these questions were related to the objectives, thus providing the teacher with feedback about the lesson effectiveness. Enabling questions led students into thinking about a topic from previous lessons so that there was a smooth flow from the previous lesson (Fetherston, 2007). At the start of the lesson in the video (Evans & Atteshlis, 2008), not only were key questions asked, but students also discussed amongst themselves, the laws used when multiplying and dividing. This was the basis to move on to the main body of the lesson. According to Fetherston (2007), planning of questions should have a combination of high and low order questions. The created lesson plan (appendix A) begins with high and low order questions not only to introduce students to the topic but also to stimulate and challenge the more advanced students in high quality talk (Fetherston, 2007). Learning is enhanced when a teacher uses ‘good questions where students learn by answering and where the teacher, learns from student’s answers (Sullivan, 1997). These types of questions make students and teachers aware if understanding of a topic is not complete (Sullivan, 1997). Student achievement is at a better level when the frequency of the questions asked by teachers is high (Cole & Chan, 1987). Not only does this stimulate communication, but it also focusses student attention, evaluates their knowledge and understanding, stimulates particular kinds of thinking and controls student social behaviour (Cole & Chan, 1987). Effective teaching is the ability to ask questions not only to stimulate and challenge the students but also to ensure that genuine learning occurs (Fetherston, 2007).
Effective teaching involves the teacher using various instructional modes such as practice drills and direct instruction that incorporates technology, so that student interest and abilities are accommodated (Marsh, 2004). Identifying different types of instructional modes not only helps the teacher to focus upon whom the lesson is for but also helps in identifying what the role of the teacher and learner are (Whitton et al., 2010). A wide variety of instructional modes are essential for effective teaching where the emphasis on lesson activity should be teacher directed and student centred (Marsh, 2004). Practice drills, is a mode of instruction involving repetition. In mathematics, drills are necessary to master and perfect skills (Marsh, 2004). Drills can be enjoyable especially with technological aids. Mathematics is one of the many subjects where practice drills can be effectively used that students enjoy, provided they are short, varied, encouraging and students understand the reason for drills (Marsh, 2004). The lesson plan (appendix A) incorporates drills by making use of iPad application, Grid Mult (SUMS, n.d.) as it provides students with opportunities to practise the skills learnt in a fun way. Direct instruction is used in the lesson plan (appendix A) to promote step-by-step process of grid method multiplication. The purpose is to help students learn the content of the lesson in an efficient way. These have been incorporated into the lesson plan by explanation, demonstration, guided practice (worksheet, appendix B), feedback and practice using the iPad. Lecturing is another instructional mode where the teacher presents orally (Marsh, 2004). This method of instructional mode was effectively used in the video (Evans & Atteshlis, 2008) as it included use of technology such as interactive whiteboard and Power-Point presentation. The teacher had good lecture characteristics such as encouraging students to ask questions, limiting the time of the lecture, stating the key points at the start, and allowing sufficient breaks so that it did not lead to student boredom (Marsh, 2004). There are many instructional strategies described by various authors and it is an essential characteristic of effective teaching to accommodate student interests and abilities incorporating technology (Marsh, 2004).

In motivating students effectively, teachers regulate and deliver “information that is important to students (Cole & Chan, 1987, pp.10).  Motivational goals influence students in the quality of learning (Whitton et al., 2000). They engage in learning for different goals and purposes, therefore, teachers should become knowledgeable in methods of motivation to be effective (Whitton et al., 2010). Intrinsic motivation is when “learning comes entirely from performing a particular task” (Marsh, 2004). In the video (Evans & Atteshlis, 2008), the teacher intrinsically motivated students by not only making the lesson and activity interesting, but also enjoyable. It was evident that the green group were strongly motivated “to work on challenging tasks” on their own with confidence and showed a strong interest in mathematics (Marsh, 2004, pp. 36). Extrinsic motivation is when students are rewarded for a particular behaviour (Marsh, 2004). In the video (Evans & Atteshlis, 2008), the teacher showed evidence of this form of motivation by awarding points to students at the end of the lesson. There is conflicting research on tangible extrinsic rewards but it is likely that the teacher, in this video (Evans & Atteshlis, 2008), believes in the positive effects of extrinsic rewards such as the research of Cameron (2001), Hidi and Harackiewicz (2000). Following general principles for motivating students such as those suggested by Marsh (2000) will avoid brining about low levels of motivation. The lesson plan (appendix A) takes into consideration the list of principles for motivating students by creating interest with use of entertaining video (Atkinson & Driscoll, 1995) at the beginning of the lesson (Whitton et al., 2010), creating goals and objectives which are achievable, creating clear outcomes that students will be informed about and finally creating challenging and varied learning activities that maintains interest. Effective teachers are knowledgeable in methods of motivation and follow general principles in motivating students to provide and present information using constructivist approaches that will enable the student to learn.

A dominant teaching paradigm in Australia is using constructivist approaches to learning and using constructivist teaching strategies (Fetherston, 2007). One constructivist teaching strategy is to link new material to what the student already knows (Fetherston, 2007). In the video (Evans & Atteshlis, 2008), the teacher takes a constructivist approach by asking students questions on what they already know about multiplying and then linking this information to the lesson on grid multiplication. Utilising the advantages of group work such as collaborative and cooperative learning is another constructivist approach to learning, which is an essential characteristic of effective teaching (Fetherston, 2007). Both constructivist strategies are effectively utilised in the video (Evans & Atteshlis, 2008) and lesson plan (appendix A). Students are grouped and throughout the lesson, participate in discussion (chatterbox) where the teacher either deals with the group or scaffold’s individual learner understanding. Establishing these groups allows students to work effectively in the classroom (Fetherston, 2007). Clements and Battisa (1990) state, that when a teacher demands students to use set mathematical procedures, students are seriously curtailed in making sense of the activity. It further states, that students mimic the procedures by rote that makes little sense to them (Clements & Battisa, 1990). In the video (Evans & Atteshlis, 2008), the teacher, in prior lessons, taught the formal method of multiplication followed by grid multiplication of two-digits by one digit. The lesson plan (appendix A), follows on from this lesson to show how to multiply two-digits by two-digits Future lessons could be followed on from the created lesson plan, showing students how to multiply using other informal methods and then finally planning a lesson where students can discover their own method of working, reflecting on previous lessons. These various methods of multiplication can be shown to the students so they can learn to weave a connection for themselves (Palmer, 1998). They can be guided to choose a method that works best for them without demanding them to use a particular method (Clements & Battisa, 1990). Allowing students to construct their own knowledge, taking advantage of group work both cooperative and collaborative, and using teaching strategies that do not demand a particular method of working are just a few constructivist approaches that is the dominant teaching approach in Australia (Fetherston, 2007).

The characteristics of effective teaching are being able to communicate effectively so that coherent and meaningful messages are presented, combined with personal qualities that enhance communication. Imaginative planning and preparing of thoughtful lessons, considering ACARA objectives and taking into account individual students needs and differences are essential to effective teaching. It was emphasised that key to effective teaching is the ability to ask stimulating and challenging questions in order for genuine learning to occur. Drills and direct teaching are some instructional modes that may incorporate technology that are characteristics of effective teaching. The principles of motivation were discussed and finally, constructivist approaches and teaching strategies were discussed as the characteristics of effective teaching.

By Mr. Richard Kant




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