Introduction (Psychology and Mental Health)
Teaching methods are techniques to induce students to do what they need to do to learn a specific content, skill, or thinking strategy. Two underlying features of this definition—responsibility for learning and the quest for one best method—deserve further consideration.
Regarding responsibility, there is little doubt that, if learners did what they needed to do, teachers would be unnecessary. However, few learners are sufficiently self-motivated or capable of diagnosing what they need. Enter teachers: It is they who can—and must—structure a task so that students are willing to do what they do not yet understand, diagnose errors or misconceptions, provide feedback on how to improve, and encourage or motivate as needed.
Current thinking on the responsibilities of teachers can probably be traced to the book by philosopher and educator John Dewey, How We Think (1933), in which Dewey specifically equated the teaching-learning process with selling-buying. Teaching activities that do not culminate in student achievement are every bit as unsuccessful as merchant activities that do not result in a sale. The analogy is not perfect, however, because merchants succeed by selling to only a portion of their customers; teachers are held accountable for each student. Virtually all models of instruction since Dewey make learning a shared or reciprocal responsibility between teacher and student.
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Types of Teaching Methods (Psychology and Mental Health)
Teaching methods can be classified in a number of ways, none of which is entirely satisfactory because of considerable overlap of purposes and procedures. For example, although lectures can be straight presentation of information with little or no active involvement by an audience, since the 1970’s teachers have increasingly woven opportunities for active participation into lectures, even in very large classes. As another example, mastery learning, which requires students to demonstrate competence individually, is often successfully combined with cooperative teams.
Recognizing that overlaps exist, one can divide methods into categories according to whether they are primarily information-providing, inquiry-oriented, active or performance-based, cooperative, mastery-based, or creativity-inducing.
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Information-Providing Methods (Psychology and Mental Health)
Prime exemplars of information-providing methods are lectures and demonstrations in which authoritative information is presented or a skill or a process modeled. Strengths of the lecture are not only that much information, including data too recent to be published, can be presented in a relatively short period of time but also that an expert’s ways of thinking about the topic can be displayed. Also on display is the lecturer’s excitement about the topic, as well as implicit or explicit concern for ethical issues. While many facts can be embedded in a lecture, they will be remembered better by other methods; thus, the lecture is better used to convey how an expert reflects on the chain of logic used to draw inferences about the data or events that constitute the topic.
Demonstrations have many of the same features as lectures—indeed, a lecture could be considered a demonstration of reasoning—but they display skills and performances in modalities beyond the verbal. These include physical skills, artistic performances, and scientific experiments in which experts can model effective, efficient, and aesthetic techniques.
Lectures and demonstrations are often combined to great effect, and they have the advantage of being locally recordable for later viewing or transmission to distant or very large audiences. Conversely, professionally developed videos of actual or simulated research or events—such as...
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Inquiry-Oriented Methods (Psychology and Mental Health)
In general, the word “inquiry” implies some systematic examination of a topic in search of information or discovery of the truth. Hence, inquiry and discovery are often used as synonyms for techniques that require students not only to solve problems but also to pose them, not only to conduct investigations but also to plan them, not only to draw inferences from data but also to elucidate the chain of logic they are using. These are higher levels of thinking, requiring such cognitive processes as planning, critical analysis, organization, and synthesis, as well as such metacognitive processes as self-reflection on “what I know and how I know it.”
Case studies—real or simulated—in which illnesses are diagnosed, problems are identified, and alternative solutions or treatments are compared and evaluated are excellent illustrations of inquiry methods. So is the search for historical antecedents or consequences of a scientific finding, sociopolitical event, or ethical-moral debate. Inquiry is integral to progress in science and the social sciences and, if education is preparation for such fields, students need to have such discovery experiences to understand these fields.
Weaknesses of inquiry/discovery learning include the extended time required, the fact that breadth of coverage of a field is sacrificed in favor of in-depth study of only a few topics, and that every student must be involved in all...
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Active or Performance-Based Methods (Psychology and Mental Health)
Active methods are those in which students are continually participating in the lesson, sometimes “hands-on,” or overtly, when they are performing, always “minds-on,” or covertly, because they may be called on to contribute at any moment. Such methods are usually contrasted with passive learning, in which students just listen for extended periods of time or wait until it is their turn to perform. Examples of passive methods—which active methods were invented to supplement—include long lectures or demonstrations; classroom recitations in which, for example, one student translates a sentence from one language to another or performs a song, while other students wait their turn in sequence; and procedures in which only volunteers participate.
Active methods have long been used to supplement lectures and demonstrations, as well as to monitor learning in performance-based fields such as music or sports. In these fields, information may be provided via brief lectures or demonstrations, following which students practice with feedback and coaching. For academic subjects, lectures or demonstrations could likewise be broken into ten- to twenty-minute segments, followed by such techniques as learning by teaching, in which the teacher demonstrates, say, three concepts and each member of a three-person team teaches one of those concepts to the other two persons (perhaps also inventing their own examples);...
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Cooperative Methods (Psychology and Mental Health)
Cooperative methods should also be included in the repertoire of active methods, but what makes them a unique category is that they were explicitly designed to teach collaborative skills as well as traditional academic objectives. They do this through what David and Roger Johnson, pioneers in cooperative teaching methods, in 1975 called cooperative goal structures. In contrast to individualistic or competitive approaches, cooperative goals require individuals to coordinate their efforts to achieve an instructional objective, so that individuals succeed only when all succeed. This is accomplished by two features that both define cooperative teams and distinguish them from the kinds of groups most people have experienced: individual accountability and positive interdependence.
Individual accountability means that, despite having a group assignment or product to complete, all students will be assessed, first, on what each was responsible for doing and, second, on his or her comprehension of the whole task. Positive interdependence means, first, that each student will have a unique role that complements the others’ roles, and, second, that each student has an incentive for assuring that all students succeed in fulfilling their roles and comprehending the material.
Using different role assignments, a math or science teacher might identify a leader, a researcher, and a presenter as roles for three-person teams (with...
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Mastery-Based Methods (Psychology and Mental Health)
Both a philosophy and a collection of methods, mastery learning seeks to ensure that each student achieves at least the minimum standard of knowledge or performance for each required objective. Such competencies can be defined formally, as when students will eventually be accountable for professional certifications as lawyers, physicians, and psychologists, or, less formally, as in demonstrating mastery of multiplication tables, rules of grammar, or reading comprehension. In any case, the concern of mastery methods is to teach and monitor the progress of each student’s competence in a criterion-referenced fashion—that is, in relation to established standards for the instructional objectives.
To implement mastery learning, one must divide the curriculum into critical and enrichment objectives. The former are basic concepts or skills that must be attained by all to prepare for more advanced study in the course or discipline. These critical objectives need to be divided into manageable units, perhaps two to four weeks in length, and learned to a high level (75 percent correct or higher) on conventional tests. Demonstrating mastery, whether by test or performance, is only the initial acquisition of new material and, as such, the material will surely be forgotten. Unlike poorly learned basics, however, material and skills initially mastered can be relearned quickly when needed in subsequent lessons, providing...
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Creativity-Inducing Methods (Psychology and Mental Health)
While any teaching method has potential for encouraging creativity, it is easy to become dominated by the established logic and ways of thinking in a field. Edward deBono, a longtime advocate of creativity training, calls such approaches vertical thinking to emphasize their sensible, top-to-bottom structure. While logic is necessary to solve problems and organize thinking, it is often insufficient to generate a wide variety of alternative, uncommon, and even bizarre ideas that can later be evaluated logically. He called this approach lateral thinking.
Similar to William Gordon’s synectics, lateral thinking has specific techniques for forcing familiar concepts to seem strange so that knowledge—or assumptions—may be reconsidered. For example, one may consider what life would be like if people were born old and became younger every year (deBono’s reversibility method) or what it feels like to be the bull in a bullfight (personal analogy in synectics). While these ideas may not lead to new theories, they may help spice up essays on developmental psychology or dysfunctional families, respectively, if used as warm-up exercises. Like brainstorming, the rules include suspending judgment during the idea-generating phase. Finding fault with an idea shuts out further thinking in that direction, while praising an idea reinforces similar thinking. Evaluation comes later, when the goal shifts from generating ideas to...
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Sources for Further Study (Psychology and Mental Health)
Block, James H., Helen E. Efthim, and Robert B. Burns. Building Effective Mastery Learning in Schools. New York: Longman, 1989. Beginning with John Carroll’s redefinition of aptitude as “time needed to learn,” the authors describe the logical and empirical bases for mastery learning, along with suggestions for implementing mastery in various fields and levels of schooling.
Bonwell, Charles C., and James A. Eisen. Active Learning: Creating Excitement in the Classroom. Washington, D.C.: School of Education and Human Development, George Washington University, 1991. Aimed at teachers in higher education, this book clearly describes practical methods for involving students, even in large lecture classes.
Burden, Paul R., and David M. Byrd. Methods for Effective Teaching: Meeting the Needs of All Students. 5th ed. Boston: Pearson/Allyn & Bacon, 2009. Comprehensive textbook provides information on a wide variety of teaching strategies, which are designed to meet the learning needs of different students.
Johnson, David W., Roger T. Johnson, Edythe J. Holubec, and Patricia Roy. Circles of Learning: Cooperation in the Classroom. Alexandria, Va.: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 1984. This practical book makes the case for cooperative methods, as well as how to teach the collaborative skills and establish the procedures for maximizing their...
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