Learning from effective teaching

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During my teaching practice I have observed many successful lessons. It was very useful for me as a trainee teacher to see methods of effective teaching in practice and try to use them in my own teaching. The first lesson I have observed at my first school. This physics lesson was taught to the top ability year 10 group. During this lesson pupils learned the definition of Moment, formula for calculating Moments and the Principle of Moments. The lesson started with demonstration which was not only introducing pupils to the notion of moments but was designed to capture their attention and interest.

The teacher put 25kg weight on the bench and asked pupils if they think that he would be able to lift it with one finger. Children were adamant that he wont be able to do it. He placed a plank over the pivot and using the Principle of Moments lifted the weight of the bench. After that he asked two pupils to come forward and once again asked the class if they think that one of the pupils would be able to move another of the ground with one finger. Now the class was divided. Some of the pupils were thinking that it would be possible; the others were still not convinced.

Once again, the demonstration proved that it is possible to move large weights applying very little force. After the demonstration the teacher explained the class how to calculate the Moment of a Force, gave the formula and an example of calculating the Moment of a Force. Following that he explained the Principle of Moments, once again giving the class the formula and an example of using this principle. After that pupils were given problems to solve using Principle of Moments. At the end of the lesson, after the pupils had a chance to solve the problems on their own, the teacher showed the solution on the board.

By the end of the lesson it was clear that the pupils understood the Principle of Moments, were able to use it and would not forget what it was about because of the very successful and interesting demonstration. In my opinion this lesson was particularly effective because pupils have learned a good deal, they were interested in physics and they even changed their opinion about how the physical world works. Being a top set children were intelligent and interested in science to begin with and it was important that the teacher showed them something new and exciting.

This experiment gave the teacher and the class a chance to discuss and develop ideas. I believe it is important to make lessons interesting, to put children into situation where they thinking about physics behind an experiment and trying to work out how it works. Discipline was not a problem with this particular class, children wanted to learn and were quite enthusiastic, they generally paid attention to the teacher and followed his instructions. Nevertheless the lesson was clearly prepared and special technique was used to maintained pupils interest throughout the lesson.

I think it is very important to try to make lessons more interesting especially when working with higher ability groups of children. It is important to feed their minds with new ideas and show them something that they have not thought of before. I have used similar technique when teaching the same class a lesson on pressure in liquids. I have made a simple demonstration using a clear soft drink bottle filled with water. By applying pressure to any part of the bottle it was possible to ‘sink a diver’ (a pen top and a piece of a blue tack).

I have left the bottle on a side bench for children to try it out and try to explain how it works. The pupils found it quite interesting, they wanted to know the ‘secret’ behind this experiment and wanted to know more about pressure in liquids. The second lesson, which I have observed in my second school, was of contrasting kind. This physics lesson was taught to a mixed ability year 7 group. The strong point of the lesson was a very good classroom management skills of the teacher. The topic of the lesson was electric circuits.

This lesson also had started with a demonstration. On this occasion the aim of the demonstration was to explain the pupils the practical they were going to do themselves. Children were asked to move forward and to sit around the front desk. The teacher made it clear from the start that he expecting everybody to pay attention. He reminded the pupils facts they have learned last lesson and asked questions relating to the material learned before. Pupils were answering questions on what is electric circuit, which materials are good conductors and which are good insulators.

After that the teacher constructed electric circuit and asked pupils why the filament lamp did not light up? Some of the children noticed that the circuit was not completed. The teacher made a point of repeating again that the circuit has to be completed for the current to go through it and for the lamp to light up. After completing the circuit the lamp still did not work. This part of the demonstration was not pre planned but the teacher used it as a teaching point showing the pupils how to find out what is wrong and how to fix problems with the circuit (change the lamp, change the wires etc).

After that the teacher explained the pupils what is the aim of their investigation and what are they expected to do. The pupils were organised into groups of four. They did it quickly, they obviously have done it before. The teacher put on the board a list of the equipment needed for the investigation and gave clear instruction to the pupils – first to copy the diagram from the book and then to connect the circuit. Once again the teacher insisted on the pupils copying the diagram in silence, or they would not be allowed to do the practical.

Pupils who were not paying attention and did not follow instructions were not allowed to continue the investigation. This worked as a punishment as well. Children like doing experiments and should understand that they would not be allowed to do them if they did not behave appropriately. After pupils started the experiment the teacher went around checking that the circuits connected correctly and the pupils understood what they expected to do. The noise level was too high and the teacher was not satisfied with pupils’ reaction to his reprimands.

He stopped the practical and instructed all pupils to dismantle their circuits and put the equipment away. After that pupils sat in the same groups of four and copied diagrams and explanations from their books. This way they not only have done what the teacher planned for them – to read and to copy from the book, but have learned that they will not be allowed to do the practical if they did not behave appropriately. This lesson was clearly very well prepared, the equipment and the books were ready for the class to use.

Although the demonstration did not work exactly as was planned, the teacher quickly changed his lesson plan and used this unprepared situation to the advantage of the pupils. In my opinion it is important to be able to react immediately to the situation in the classroom whether it is an experiment that did not go as planned or problems with discipline and behaviour of pupils. The first point I have learned during this lesson was to be prepared to amend your lesson plan and be able to explain not only why experiment works but why it does not work as well.

The second point is to be ready to change the activity completely if you see that behaviour of the pupils would not allow them to learn from the practical. It is important to maintain a good order in any lesson but particularly so in a science lesson where children are doing experiments with potentially dangerous equipment. The discipline is more likely to be a problem in mixed or lower ability group where some of the children might find it difficult to concentrate for a long time. Demonstrations and experiments give an opportunity to change an activity within the lesson but they demand a very efficient organization.

I found it very helpful for my own teaching to observe these (and other) examples of effective teaching. I have tried in my teaching practice use the strategies I have observed. No everything was easy to repeat but even if my own teaching was not quite effective as of experienced teachers at least I knew that it is possible to achieve constant attention of the pupils, to keep them interested, to allow them to develop their own ideas and at the same time to be in control of the class.

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