Improving Math and Science Education Through Simple Teaching Tips

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As a tutor and instructional aide, I witness many teaching styles in the course of a single day and countless others throughout my career. In these experiences I have picked up on what is effective and what is, shall we say, not beneficial to the student. I hope these tips may help you become an improved instructor!

Leading Questions

Sometimes when we help a student, we can do too much work for them. We may like to complete a full example for them so they have a template. While this is good as an introduction, it is best to ask them leading questions before further examples are done in order to help guide them to their solution. For example, if they are supposed to show that triangles are similar and they are given certain information, don't just tell them how to do it. Ask them, "What does it mean if triangles are similar? What has to be true?" Oftentimes we will find that the student does not understand the underlying concept and was just hoping for you to walk them through the problem, showing them each step. But now with us leading them through the work by asking them about the ideas we have them take over and we get to step back and see how they apply the information.

Vocabulary

As we use those leading questions we need to make sure we are applying terminology consistently. We may know what we are talking about when we say "things" or "thats" or other ambiguous pronouns but that does not help the student. Make sure to use that key vocab as often as possible, and even use the leading questions to help they pull out the information about the vocabulary. By repetition of the wording used in the lessons students can build up meaningful relations between the concepts as they move forward.

Show Emotion, Make Eye Contact

Nothing distances a student more than a cold person. They don't want to be around someone they find to be distant and detached. Put a little effort in connecting with the student by expressing some emotions, both facially and verbally. Verbally joust with them occasionally and make sure you look them in the eye when you are talking to them. It keeps them engage and feeling like you care about them. Of course, it is a fine line between making a connection and getting creepy, so read the body language of the student. If they are not smiling or are rigid after you are trying to me friendly, then back off and try something else. If anything, by showing a wide range of positive emotions you are encouraging the student to feel that learning is a good thing.

Be Open to Learning

One of the worst feelings as a teacher is when a student asks a question that you cannot answer. This can be a difficult moment for instructors because we can see it as a failure. However, that does not mean we have to take it as one. Tell the student that you don't know but that you are going to look into it. By being honest with them you are showing your willingness to learn with the student, furthering the connection we are trying to make. On top of that, you improve as a teacher by learning something brand new or build upon something you know.

Posture

Sometimes students react better to a teacher depending on where they are placed near them. Some students prefer the teacher to be standing while others like them sitting. Others like the teacher in front of them or next to them. Typically in a classroom the options are limited, but in a one-to-one scenario you will have choices. Most students prefer the teacher next to them, but sitting. While standing, they feel like someone is staring down at them. By sitting next to them you are entering the student's level and it makes it easier to communicate and also to lead them along in the lesson.

Vocals and Patience

Sometimes when we are trying to get a concept across and we are not getting through to the student we tend to speak louder. But think about how the student feels when he/she hears that. You want them to not feel belittled by what could be interpreted as frustration on your part. Rather than speak louder, try slower instead and rephrasing your thought. Sometimes ideas get confused in translation so give a rewording a try.

Let Them Try ABM

This is a huge tip, and one that will ultimately demonstrate the student's ability to learn and your ability to teach. ABM simply means, "All by myself." Let the students do some of the work after you have guided them though an example or two. Have them use the vocabulary as they work along. By having them show you what they know you get a better feel for their understanding than if you held their hand the whole time. Let them know that they can make mistakes in this step, because they will have you to correct them if they do goof up. Just make sure to use those leading questions as they get back on track. ABM will ensure comprehension and extension can be reached and it gives the instructor a basis for student improvement as difficulties are noted.

© 2015 Leonard Kelley

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