Article Teaching Principles

This article explains the basic principles of teaching. These principles apply to all subject areas, not just literacy.

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BE PREPARED

Get the lesson organised before lesson time. (Know what you’re going to teach, how you’re going to teach it, and what exactly  you want your students to learn from this lesson.) Prepare any necessary teaching aids. Eliminate all but the most urgent distractions.

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TEACH ONE THING AT A TIME

This is why my courses teach parents and tutors to teach reading and spelling separately – even though, ideally, these two skills should be taught together. It takes a very gifted and experienced teacher to teach two major skills at once.

One step at a time is the way to go. Leaping from one topic or skill to another just bewilders the students. Students need to feel that they’re building up a coherent body of knowledge, where the different parts relate to each other..

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BREAK THE WORK UP INTO BITE-SIZED PIECES

People cannot give something their full concentration for more than a few minutes at a time. And it’s even harder to concentrate if you’re having trouble doing the task being taught.

Have the student: say the flashcard sounds they’ve already learnt, do a few revision words, and read the words in one or two lessons for 10-15  minutes.

Your students will make much more progress by focussing on a well organised mini-lesson (or two or three of these mini-lessons a day), than they will by trying to learn too much at once. The brain needs time to ‘build in’ what it’s just been learning.

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BUILD NEW KNOWLEDGE ON WHAT IS ALREADY KNOWN

New information is very hard to learn if you know nothing at all about the subject. This is relevant in literacy teaching because you can say to your students, “You often say this sound …. Can you hear sound … in these words?” By repeating words they already know, students can begin to distinguish this sound they’ve been saying for years, but not hearing! They’ll be intrigued, and feel clever (They already know some of this stuff!), instead of feeling like idiots for not knowing the sound.

And when they’ve learnt that sound and letter to at least 80% accuracy (4 correct answers out of 5), then they’re ready to learn more.

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TEACH USING TWO OR THREE LEARNING STYLES

Plan lessons so the students can be taught using at least two of the learning styles mentioned below. When students have trouble learning something, re-teach that fact using their strongest learning style.

The three learning styles are: visual (seeing); auditory (hearing and/or speaking or singing); and kinesthetic  (doing – can include speaking and singing, small movements or large movements). To work out someone’s favourite learning style, see what sort of material they remember most easily.

People who remember pictures, diagrams, graphs, videos and demonstrations of how to do something, are visual learners. If these students are having trouble learning a sound, they will find it useful to see two or three pictures illustrating things beginning with that sound.

Those who easily remember songs, music and poems just from hearing them a few times, are auditory learners. If these students are having trouble learning a sound, they find it easier to learn the sounds by learning a Silly Sentence that illustrates that sound (Note: A Silly Sentence illustrates the sound, not the letter) e.g. Naughty Nancy nicked Nana’s knickers!

When people need to do something themselves, in order to really learn it, then they are kinesthetic (hands-on) learners. When these students have trouble learning a sound, they like to make the shape of the letter with their hands, or form something into the right shape, or trace with a colourful texta over a faint line showing the letter while they make the sound, or make something that begins with that sound.

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REQUIRE A RESPONSE

All your students should have to do something in order to show you they’ve learnt what you’ve just taught them. So, when you teach something, see that your students give one (or more) accurate responses before going on e.g. get them to repeat a sound after you, or accurately sound out letters for blending, or blend some sounds into a word, or explain a rule in their own words, or say the sound for a flashcard..

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PRACTICE TO ‘AUTOMATIC’ LEVEL

This is where a lot of good courses fall down. Remember, the 3 most important things to remember in real estate are: location, location, location. Well, when you and your student are training a brain, the 3 most important things to remember are: automation, automation, automation!

When we learn something for the first time, a fine ‘wire’ is made in our brains tracing what I already know to this new information. For example, if I’m trying to learn to link a sound with the letter that represents it, I hear the teacher say the sound, I say the sound (what I already know) and I see the letter flashcard (the new information).

If the teacher says the sound several times and I repeat it each time, and I see the letter flashcard – I am much more likely to remember that sound/letter combination the next day, because each repetition has reinforce that initial wire in my brain, so it’s deeper and more permanent.

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DO NOT ‘OVER HELP’

Do not rush to do something for students, if you know they can do it for themselves e.g. once students have a sound/sign combination in long-term memory, if they forget – don’t immediately tell them what it is. 

Instead, remind them of something related to how they learned that sound (perhaps a picture), and give them a minute to try and remember.

Then, if they still can’t remember, tell them the answer. And if they forget it again later in that lesson, just give them the answer – everyone has blind spots! And add that item to the revision list!

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DON’T WASTE PEOPLE’S TIME

Teach what’s relevant to today’s lesson and do a little revision – especially of problem sound/letter combinations. Many courses teach a song, dance, poetry and activities, etc. for each letter. Instead of doing this, I recommend you only do what is essential.

Use of flashcards is good for nearly everyone, because flashcards are a very speedy way to do revision, and they are visual and require a verbal response!

But if your student doesn’t need additional revision in order to remember a sound/letter combination, don’t add to his or her workload by requiring that he or she learns a song or dance, etc.

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BE ENCOURAGING

If students sound out the sounds /k/ /a/ /t/ correctly, but can’t blend those sounds back into a word, then you should say, ‘Good sounding out! /k/ /a/ /t/ Cat’, and get the students to go on to the next word. There is always something positive you can say. Students need to learn the basics in the areas they are weak, but they don’t need to be beaten over the head with their deficiencies – they usually know what they are even better than you do!

Move forward at the speed your students can cope with. Give them sufficient practice to get a minimum of 80% of their answers correct. If they give a wrong answer, put a dot next to that word and let them revise it every few days – until they can get it right several times in a row.

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TEACH RULES OR PATTERNS

Some people treat the word rule like a taboo word, but don’t be put off!  Humans are pattern-seeking missiles – we like to understand WHY. And that’s what rules are for. They help become aware of the usual way of doing something.

Patterns or rules help us understand what’s happening, and help us remember why something is done a certain way. They help us make sense of what we’re learning, help us articulate what’s happening, help us remember what’s supposed to happen, and help us know what to do next.

So,  when you teach, explain any patterns or rules to your students, let them see several illustrations of that rule or pattern in use, then let them practice applying it.