Three golden rules of teaching: Drawing from the data

Abhishek Bagchi

Do you remember the teacher(s) who influenced you most during your school/college days?

Do you still remember and respect them because they looked like your favourite film-stars or they were like members of the Avengers?

If the above answer is ‘no’ (thankfully), then what are the reasons that separate ordinary teachers from the extra-ordinary ones? Or simply put, what are the golden rules that teachers must follow to be able to stand out in a crowd?

In my 20 years of passionate involvement with education and with direct contact with more than 10,000 students and 1000 teachers, I have been fortunate to learn, through experience, about the best practices of teaching-learning. There can be hundreds of methodologies that can be discussed and I can share these with you. But after some effective brainstorming sessions, I have jotted down three Golden Rules of Teaching. Read the following to understand them well.

Know your students
Now, you must be wondering, what is so special about this? You teach students, and, in that process, you know them. You meet them daily, interact with them and thus know them. The apparent understanding of “I know my students” can be better expressed as “I think I know my students”, and it can be more dangerous than not knowing them at all. So, what do you understand by knowing the students? What are the ways to know them?

The biggest treasure that a school already possesses is the data of the students. The data available from the ‘master information sheet’ each student has submitted at the beginning of the session, psychometric data, the data from all assessments conducted in school in the current and previous academic sessions, the data from the CW/HW submission, the co-scholastic data, the attendance and conduct data, the data from the assignments and fieldtrips, etc. If all this is tracked and recorded properly, the amount of data potentially available for analysis can be huge. The next step of tracking and recording this data is analysis. The analysis may include identifying the sources of data, the data points that can be valuable for school, the parent/teacher/class teacher/coordinator/school-level report generation and many more. Each subject teacher walking inside the classroom must be equipped with enough information to know the student he/she is teaching. This information can create individual learner profiles that include the ability status of any learner.

In addition, with this data-driven approach, a teacher must know a student by establishing a personal connection with the individual. The connection creates a space of mutual trust and respect. This space enables the student to share information that the above measures will never reveal. This is an often neglected but extremely vital parameter for enhanced learning. It develops a healthy learning ecosystem within the organization.

Prepare for your lesson
This is one of the most neglected and inorganic procedures in teaching-learning. Now, some of you must be thinking, we make lesson plans, so what is this man talking about? Yes, you do make lesson plans but how much time do you spend in designing the lesson plan? There is no formula on the amount of time one needs to spend to design each lesson plan but to teach a lesson extraordinarily, you need to spend at least two hours provided the supporting data (read above) is ready with you. In the absence of the data, a lesson can never be an extraordinary one.

So, what are the chief elements of an exemplary lesson? Again, there is no such strict structure but making the class ready, strategies to engage learners of different profiles, differentiation involved, checking for understanding, scopes for scaffolding, inter-disciplinary links and reflections are no doubt essential ones.

How can one construct an extraordinary lesson? The structure alone cannot help you make the lesson great. You need to research the content of the topic, the probable teaching strategies for that lesson and the differentiation required. If I consider the knowledge of the topic as a pre-requisite for all teachers, the above-mentioned research and study can make the lesson exemplary.

I believe that some good teachers are born, and those who are not, can be made. But great teachers are never born, they are always made.

Ask the right question
“Have you all understood?”, “Is it ok?”, “Is it clear?”…. I’m sure these are the questions you have all encountered in your lives as a student and if you are a teacher, there is a high probability that you would have asked these questions or something similar while delivering your lesson.

Now, in teaching-learning this is probably the biggest unnoticed mistake that you can make. You may think that what you have delivered to your students is perfect and well understood. By asking the above questions, you are not really checking the understanding of the students, but rather, satisfying your own ego. So, if you really want to be a great teacher, stop asking these questions.

So, what then needs to be asked? What are the good questions? I always say that the question is good only if it is giving you a binary outcome or does not have any definite answer (mainly in case of literature). In our terminology, we call them closed and open-ended questions. Therefore, if you need to track understanding inside a class after delivering a non-literature lesson, you would need to ask some closed-ended questions that can track the misconceptions. The best form of closed-ended questions is multiple choice. But if you need to gauge the depth of understanding or guide the students towards the right answer, you must ask some open-ended questions.

This is just an overview of the three golden rules of teaching based on my observations and I am only just scratching the surface.

The author is Principal, RMPS International School, Ankleshwar Bharuch, Gujarat. He specializes in teacher training, educational technology, and educational management. He can be reached at [email protected].

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