What Makes a Good Teacher? 21st Century Pedagogy
Pedagogy (ped-a-go-dji) is an ancient Greek term that refers to the art of teaching. In particular, it refers to the methods by which a teacher imparts knowledge to their students. The Socratic method, i.e. the reciprocal asking and answering of questions, is perhaps the oldest set method of pedagogy; but understandably, things have changed since ancient times! Here we are going to consider what makes a good teacher?
As long as teachers have been teaching, the way they teach has changed. Class sizes are becoming larger, the backgrounds of pupils are becoming diverse both in terms of class and culture, and the world is becoming more complex. This necessitates that teachers develop wide-ranging lessons that appeal to everybody, while still staying within the bounds of the curriculum.
So how can we improve how we teach? And are there any lessons we can learn from older systems of teaching that have fallen by the wayside? Along with things such as, the importance of teacher’s personality, we are going to give this some consideration.
What makes a good teacher? A summary:
1) Learning Through Argument (Modern Socratic Method)
The Socratic method is a form of argumentation and teaching that encourages the learner to think for themselves. As the name suggests, the Socratic method was pioneered by Socrates himself to teach his students Plato and Xenophon. If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for a modern classroom!
The idea is simple. In order to interrogate an idea, two or more people discuss it, each asking questions of the other. How does that work? How do we know that? But what about the alternatives? By encouraging both parties to actively think about the idea, you cooperatively learn more about it.
Incorporating this into lessons is easy. In maths, students are already encouraged to show how they know something by showing their working. In history, a student might be asked how they know something—what source they’re relying on for their information. By simply asking questions and encouraging children to show their reasoning, they learn more. All courtesy of an ancient philosopher who seemed to understand what makes a good teacher, many years ago!
2) Problem Solving
Look at any job offer in today’s economy and you’ll likely see the term ‘problem solving’. While some employers use the term as a catch-all, problem solving is a very real thing. It involves assessing a situation, creatively coming up with solutions, and figuring out which is the best. Then, it involves applying the solution and gauging the results.
Unfortunately, problem solving isn’t very high up on the curriculum. Teaching standards mean that we have to teach to test rather than in a creative or innovative manner. This leaves students unprepared both for the world of work, and for further education, which is much more student-led.
Incorporating this into lessons is easy. Take maths, for example. You can encourage pupils to try and figure out how to solve a problem before telling them—with no repercussions, of course, if they arrive at the wrong answer. Lifting the pressure of being ‘wrong’ will let them get creative, and who knows, they might arrive at the right answer on their own.
Social studies are a great opportunity for problem solving exercises. How would students answer the pressing problems modern society faces?
3) Crossover Learning
While teaching has moved beyond learning by rote, there is still more to be done to link what happens in the classroom to the world outside. Children have to link their education to the real world. The best way to achieve this is to encourage their learning in less formal, less strict settings, such as museums or extracurricular clubs.
The best thing is that this kind of crossover, between ‘real life’ and the classroom, works both ways. Not only do pupils see more value in what they learn, in that they can apply it in everyday situations, but they can learn from those everyday situations and bring that knowledge to the classroom. A simple example might be a pupil answering a question with knowledge they’ve gained from an outside source.
A highly effective way of encouraging this learning is to propose questions for them to consider outside class. Before a school trip to a museum, for example, you could ask students to think about how the past shapes their everyday lives; or, how they imagine the everyday life of a historical figure was like. In short, get them thinking!
4) Student-Led Research
One of the problems with strict modern curricula is that they don’t prepare secondary students for further education or the world of work. Universities demand that students do their own research; businesses look for confident self-starters, comfortable working either on their own or in a team. Learning nothing but what their teacher tells them doesn’t prepare a student for that.
But with technology, anything is possible. Laptops and tablets enable students to research on-the-go, or in class, at any time. Encouraging them to research questions on their own prepares them both for university, and for work:
- They identify questions they need to ask, and figure out how best to word them
- They rely on their common sense to identify what constitutes a good source, and what constitutes a poor source
- They learn how to research effectively with technology
The best thing is that allowing student-led research gives you as the teacher some downtime. That extra hour each week could be invaluable!
5) Encourage Reflection
It’s unfortunately common for students to perform to a decent standard in each class, but not retain the knowledge they’ve gained. It’s as if the weekends and holidays wipe their minds clean!
An effective way of avoiding that is to encourage reflection. At the end of class, go over what you’ve learned, and have the students consider how their newfound knowledge might apply in the real world.
This tip, and the others here, all share one thing in common. Each of them breaks down the boundary between teacher and students and encourages dialogue and thoughtfulness, rather than a strict, ‘Do this because I said so!’,learning-by-rote approach. In so doing you can reverse the supposed trend of education becoming more technology-centred, and bring teacher and class together.