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 relates 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 more prominent, pupils’ backgrounds 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 a teacher’s personality, we will give this some consideration.

1) Learning Through Argument (Modern Socratic Method)

A 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. 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 think about the idea actively, 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 work. In history, a student might be asked how they know something—what source they’re relying on for their information. All courtesy of an ancient philosopher who seemed to understand what makes a good teacher, many years ago! By simply asking questions and encouraging children to show their reasoning, they learn more.

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 the best. Then, it consists of 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 creatively or innovatively. 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 correct answer on their own.

Social studies are an excellent 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 connect 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 to 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 the 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 a historical figure’s daily life. 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 research; businesses look for confident self-starters, comfortable working independently 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 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 doing so, you can reverse the supposed trend of education becoming more technology-centred and bring teachers and class together.