Wrestling with Teacher-Directed Instruction

When I first began my life as a teacher many years ago, I believed I had to be the sage up front.  Only after years of practice and research did I realize that by driving the class in that manner, I was preventing my students from developing creativity and problem solving skills.  Effective teachers guide from the side.  Rather than answer questions, we ask more questions to help the students think critically about the task at hand.  A student-centered classroom is the best model for effectively preparing students for meaningful lives in a global society.  When the students drive the class, they learn how to ask purposeful questions, collaborate effectively, solve problems in new and unique ways, and think creatively about the task at hand.  These invaluable life skills are so much more important than any knowledge nugget I could impart to the students by directing the class with my teacher talk.

However, some lessons do need to include teacher talk as a way of introducing a new skill or modelling a particular strategy.  While it is important to limit how much and what we say as the teacher, it is vital that we explain and model new skills for the students so that everyone is on the same page and questions can be addressed all at once.  This is an aspect of education that I wrestle with often.  I don’t like providing students with information as boredom can quickly set in no matter how excited and animated I may be.  I know that some teacher-directed instruction is necessary, but I often find myself wondering if I’ve talked too much or if there is a more effective and meaningful way to convey my message.  Today included one of those inner wrestling matches.

In STEM class today, we began our new math unit on problem solving.  Since my co-teacher and I noticed how much the students seemed to struggle when tackling word problems throughout the first two units of the year, we thought that we better equip them with some key strategies that will help them better approach and solve word problems.  During today’s class, I introduced the new unit and explained the four-step problem solving process we will be using throughout the unit.  I wanted to be sure that all of the students fully understood the four steps and had a chance to ask clarifying questions.  As the students perused the worksheet I handed out to them, I went through the four steps, adding details and information to help them better grasp the concepts involved.  They asked some questions that allowed me to shed more light on certain parts of the problem solving process.  While most of the boys seemed engaged and followed along, three students were very fidgety and almost seemed bored or uninterested during the discussion.  This is always my fear when it comes to teacher-directed instruction.  I want to be able to engage all of my students and me talking at them doesn’t always foster engagement.  However, if I did not review the steps of the process and field questions together as a group, those “bored” students might have asked the same questions separately when working on the homework. Or worst yet, they might have misinterpreted the steps of the process and completed work incorrectly.  So while a few students didn’t seem to be fully invested in my instruction, they needed to hear it and most likely did despite what their body language said.

Now, here comes the but.  Could I have approached this explanation in a more engaging manner?  Was the worksheet enough to help give the visual learners cues they needed while my oral instructions met the needs of the auditory learners in my classroom?  Could I have asked more questions?  Could I have allowed the students to explore the steps on their own and see how they interpreted them before I provided more specific instruction on the process?  Might that have been more engaging to all of my students?  Perhaps.  I do like this idea.  I might try it next year when I complete this unit.  Empowering the students is a valuable tool in the classroom that can lead to strong relationships.  I could wrack my brain for new ideas and methods on how to guide a teacher-directed lesson for hours and still not have one perfect solution.   It’s a case-by-case issue.  Some approaches will work better than others regarding certain topics or lessons.  Taking the time to really think about how my teacher-directed instruction lessons are structured is key.  I need to be sure I explore all avenues before settling on the approach I use.  Only then can I know that I employed the best methods.  However, I still might question my approach then too.  Oh well, I guess that’s a good thing that I’m always looking for the next great approach to teacher-directed instruction.  Striving for greatness is what will lead to progress and change.


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