Guiding Principles in the Selection and Use of Teaching Strategies

Here are some guiding principles in the selection and use of appropriate teaching strategies:

1. Learning is an active process.

Nobody can learn for us in the same way that nobody can eat for us, nor live for us, nor die for us. We eat for ourselves, live our own life and die our own death. Only I can learn for myself. As a learner, I must, therefore, be actively engaged in the learning process. lf it is my brother who solves my assignment in algebra then it is my brother, not me, who will master the skill of solving problems in algebra. If it is my mother who works on my project on crochet work, it is my mother, not me, who hones her crocheting skill. This means that we have to actively engage the learners in learning activities if we want them to learn what we intend to teach. We have to give our students opportunities to participate in classroom activities. We have to give varied activities to our students for “hands-on-minds-on” learning. Re-searchers found out that the most effective approaches — resulting in 75 percent and 90 percent retention rates, respectively — are learning by doing (such as through the inquiry method) and learning by teaching others. (Danielson, 2002).

This quote serves as an apt summary of the first principle:

What I hear, I forget.
What I see, I remember.
What I do, I understand.

2. The more senses that are involved in learning, the more and the better the learning.

What is seen and heard are learned more than what are just seen or just heard. The graph below shows the contribution of the five senses to learning. The Contribution of the Senses to Learning (Source: Philip T. Torres, Learning Excellence, Training System Associates, Inc., 1994 p 9.) One research finding confirms: “Humans are intensely visual animals. The eyes contain nearly 70 percent of the body’s receptors and send millions of signals along the optic nerves. to the visual processing centers of the brain…We take in more information visually than through any of the other senses” (Wolfe, 2001) This implies the use of a teaching methodology that makes use of more visual aids than mere audio aids. A combination of audio and visual aids (thus the term A-V aid which means audio-visual), however, is far more effective. Most effective, of course, is the use of a combination of three or more senses, thus the term “multi-sensory aids.”

3. A non-threatening atmosphere enhances learning.

A non-threatening and conducive classroom atmosphere is not only a function of the physical condition of the classroom but more a function of the psychological climate that prevails in the classroom. The physical classroom condition includes proper lighting, ventilation, order, tidiness, painting of the room. The psychological climate is an offshoot of our personality as a teacher, our rapport between us and our students/pupils, the relationship between and among us teachers and among our students.

The psychological climate may be more potent in its influence on teaching-learning, than the physical climate. If we really care for the learning of our pupils I students, we cannot ignore the creation of a psychological atmosphere that is supportive of learning.

How can we contribute to the creation of a positive classroom atmosphere? The first step is to cultivate a culture of respect in our schools. To respect is to give every learner, every teacher, every .colleague the benefit of the doubt. To respect a student or a colleague means to be convinced of his/her basic goodness and therefore, to have trust on him/her. To respect is to believe in every person’s worth and in every person’s capacity.

When we believe in our students’ capacity, our students will most likely succeed and when they succeed they learn that they are capable of success, and are willing in turn to take on additional challenges. In short, success breeds success.

When we make our students/pupils feel they belong to a community of learners with a shared goal or purpose, i.e., for everyone to reach his/her potential, we make them feel at ease and at home. “Building comfort into learning is essential if we expect students to respond positively and constructively to their education”, says Harvey F. Silver. (2000) In this context, a competitive classroom spirit is certainly damaging in our attempt to produce a favorable classroom atmosphere. While competition when used judiciously, may motivate students, it is believed to bring more harm than good. For greater learning, we should encourage more collaboration and co-operation and less competition. If ever there will be competition it is our students’ competing against themselves.

Another way by which we can establish a healthy class atmosphere for learning is to give allowance for mistakes. Part and parcel of learning are unintended mistakes. Pine and Horne (1994) state:

The learning process requires the challenge of new and different experiences, the trying of the unknown, grid, therefore, necessarily must involve the making of mistakes. in order for people to learn, they need the opportunity to explore new situations and ideas without being penalized or punished for mistakes that are integral to the activity of learning. 

4. Emotion has the power to increase retention and learning.

We tend to remember and learn more those that strike our hearts, in fact, the more emotionally involved our students become in our lesson the greater the impact. The more intense the arousal, the stronger the imprint. Then let us not feel afraid to bring in emotion into our classrooms. Let us add an emotional touch to learning. Without the emotional dimension, our subject matter will remain cold and lifeless. Wolfe states that “our own experience validates that we remember for a longer time events that elicit emotion in us.” (Wolfe, 2001) His pedagogical advice is for us, to recognize the power of emotion to increase retention and plan instruction accordingly.

5. Learning is meaningful when it is connected to students’ everyday life.

Abstract concepts are made understandable when we give sufficient examples relating to the students’ experiences. The meaningfulness and relevance of what we teach is considerably reduced by our practice of teaching simply for testing. We teach today, ask them to copy and memorize what we taught them. The following day, we test them on how much they have retained from what we taught yesterday, period! We repeat the process day in and day out—deposit information into their heads which are likened to empty receptacles then withdraw the same in a test. At the end of the term, we withdraw everything in the final examinations and so when students go back for the next term their minds are empty again. This is the so-called banking system of education.

Or our manner of teaching can be simply reduced to what I call the “answering pedagogy.” After we have taught the process of photosynthesis, we may start our class the next day with a review of photosynthesis and so ask: “The process by which the leaves manufacture’ food in the presence of light is ___________.” The part of the plant that manufacturers the food is the___________. etc., etc. And we expect pupils to give the correct answer from memory. The pupil who gives the correct answer is the good pupil. The pupil who is not able to automatically give the correct answer is no good. Pushed by reflective thought, we ask: “And so what if pupil knows the correct answer to be photosynthesis? What if he knows that the leaf is the site of the food manufacture?” These questions simply point to the need for us to add meaning to what our pupils/students learn. They see meaning in what they learn when we, teachers, show the connectedness of our lessons to their everyday concern, to their daily life.

6. Good teaching goes beyond recall of information.

Good thinking concerns itself with higher-order-thinking skills to develop creative and critical thinking. Most teachings are confined to the recall of information and comprehension. Ideally, our teaching should reach the levels of application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation to hone our students’ thinking skills.

7. An integrated teaching approach is far more effective than teaching isolated bits of information.

Corpuz and Salandanan (2003) claim that an instructional approach is integrated when it considers the multiple intelligences (MI) and varied learning styles (LS) of students.

There are as many learning styles as there are pupils/students in our classrooms. To impose our learning style may jeopardize learning. Prescribing our own learning style as though it is the best style of learning is presumptuous.

We were made to think then that human intelligence comprised only of linguistic and mathematical /logical intelligences. But with Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences theory we are introduced to seven more (there seems to be a seventh coming) intelligences, namely (1) spatial, (2) musical, (3) bodily-kinesthetic, (4) interpersonal, (5) interpersonal and (6) naturalist, (7) existentialist intelligence. For effective teaching it is imperative on our part to possess a repertoire of teaching and testing strategies and techniques to reach a full range of students with varied learning styles and multiple intelligences. 

An integrated approach incorporates successful, research-based and brain-based instructional strategies.

The following are some research findings cited by Patricia Wolfe in her book Brain Matters: Translating Research Into Action (2001). Some research findings about the brain (Wolfe, 2001):

  • Without rehearsal or constant attention, information remains in working memory for only about 15 to 20 seconds. This implies the need for memory aids.
  • Learning is a process of building neural networks. This network is formed through concrete experience, representational or symbolic learning, and abstract learning. The three levels of learning are concrete, symbolic, and abstract. To illustrate:

…you see a small, furry, four-legged animal and your father tells you it is an animal called dog. This experience will be stored in your brain in an actual physiological connection between neurons. In your experience of dogs in your neighborhood, you will realize that dogs .come in many shapes, sizes and colors. All this information will be incorporated into your dog network. You are out for a walk. You see a small, furry four-legged animal and you say it is a dog. Your father laughs and tells you that that animal is not a dog, it’s a cat. Your brain now has to begin forming a network containing information about cats. Then your parents bring you to. the zoo. You are exposed to a large number of creatures you have not seen before. Your parents tell you that they are all animals. Your brain takes all this information and begins to fit all into the previously established animal network. With experiences of animals your animal network will become stronger (concrete level).

Now that you are older and your parents no longer take you to the zoo or buy you picture hooks, yon have your way of expanding the neural network of animals. Later you see pictures of animals in a book that your mother reads to you. You quickly match the name of the animal to its picture. Your repeated exposure to the pictures in the animal book can make the more exotic animals much more meaningful than if you had never visited the zoo. (symbolic level)

Now that you are older and your parents no longer take you to the zoo or buy you picture books, what is your way of expanding the neural network of animals? It’s probable that you can now discuss animals you’ve never seen, whether real or imaginary. (abstract level) (Wolfes, 2001)

This finding implies that teaching strategies that make the students experience the concrete through field trips, use of realias (real things), or through the actual experience in solving authentic problems in the community are effective. From the concrete level of learning we go higher to the symbolic and to the abstract levels. If we at once begin with the symbolic or abstract we face the risk of disappointment and failure.

  • Our brains have difficulty comprehending very large numbers because we have nothing in our experience to “hook” them to. As mentioned in the preceding paragraph, it is always best to engage our students in the learning experience. Here is an example:

    To help students understand that sound travels faster through solid than gas, one fifth grade teacher has several students `become’ molecules by first distributing themselves far apart as in gas, and then close together, as in solid. One student represents a sound and touches the-first molecule and says ‘Beep.’ This molecule then touches the next, and so on, until the sound has traveled through all the molecules. (Wolfe, 2001)

  • The eyes contain nearly 70 percent of the body’s sensory receptors and send millions of signals every second along the optic nerves to the visual processing of the brain, The capacity of the long-term memory for pictures seems almost unlimited. Several studies show how well the mind processes and remembers visual information. The expressions ‘I never forget a face’, ‘I see what you mean’, ‘I can picture but I can’t recall the name’ attest to this finding.
  • There is little doubt that when information is embedded in music or rhyme, its recall is easier than when it is in prose. If you are asked to write the Pambansang Awit, I bet, you have to sing the song in order to remember the lyrics.

An integrated approach is also interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary.

For example, if you teach science, you interrelate and connect the topic care for the environment with the kinds of pollution and global climatic changes. This is interdisciplinary. (The book, Principles and Strategies of Teaching 2, written by Corpuz, et al illustrates the use of the integrated approach with lessons.) Or if your content in science is used to teach grammar and values, this is multidisciplinary.

8. There is no such thing as best teaching method. The best method is the one that works, the one that yields results.

There are factors to consider in the choice of a teaching method. These factors are (1) the instructional objective, (2) the nature of the subject matter, (3) the learners, (4) the teacher and (5) school policies.

When our lesson is focused on the mastery of a skill like writ-ing a paragraph we will need a strategy different from that which we employ when we intend to teach an appreciation lesson.

When subject matter is quite difficult, it is necessary that we employ the deductive method. We might end up more inefficient and ineffective when we proceed inductively. I saw one teacher who, in her attempt to be more interactive, taught inductively. She was quite disappointed for she did not succeed in drawing the generalizations from her pupils. She ended up drawing the generalizations herself after using much time and exerting much effort to ask good questions. She could have not wasted so much time and effort had she fitted her strategy to the ability or readiness of her pupils.

The learners’ level of readiness is a factor we cannot ignore. That’s why educators talk about assessing the entry knowledge and skills of our pupils/students to determine their level of readiness. This is exactly what we do when we give a placement test (many call it a diagnostic test, but it is not really) at the beginning of our lesson to find out how we can group our pupils/students according to entry knowledge and skills. We group ultimately for purposes of differentiated instruction. Or in the light of Gardner’s multiple intelligences theory, a strategy for the kinesthetically intelligent may not necessarily fit that of the linguistically intelligent nor the logically intelligent nor the spatially intelligent students.

Other than multiple intelligences, the learning style of every learner is another thing to bear in mind. At this point, you may think, we need to be a superman or superwoman to do all these. We cannot be superman nor superwoman for this exists only in movies. However, we can do what we can where we are. For after all this is all that is expected of us. A repertoire of proven effective teaching strategies will be of great help.

The teacher is another factor to look into in the choice of strategy. Beginning teachers do not feel very confident in the use of the inductive method. Even if it generates more active participation on the part of the learners if we feel we are still groping for our subject matter and uncertain in its effective implementation, it is wiser on our part not to employ it.

How do school policies come in the choice of a method? Educational field trips are hands-on strategy proven for its effectiveness for all the years. But if school policy does not allow it for one reason or another, then let us not insist on its use.