The Young Teacher’s Guide to Long Lessons

Lessons with duration of 60 minutes or more in a high school create a new set of conditions for the teacher and the students in his/her class.

It is important to understand the issues and to devise ways to overcome these issues and make use of the advantages that the longer lesson period gives the teacher.

These issues discussed below come out of my own experience in the class room when my school changed from six 40 minute periods per day to four 70 minutes per day. It also reflects the experience of the staff of my department.

The issues are in no particular order of significance but I thought it was important to raise them.

1. It’s hard work for teachers and students. It is impossible for most students and teachers to concentrate effectively on one topic for long periods such as one hour. There must be short breaks or changes in what you are doing to sustain the interest and concentration of both students and teachers.

2. Your available teaching time must become “SACRED”. Don’t let anyone have it without a fight – even the administration. Longer periods mean less numbers of periods. Therefore, one lost period becomes a significant percentage of your teaching time in any teaching week.

3. You must have a homework/study strategy for students. Since you will see the class less often, you will need to suggest when they do homework and when they do study, e.g. do the homework tonight to keep the learning fresh and reinforce quickly or do it the night before the next lesson to have it fresh in the students’ minds.

4. Lack of continuity. This occurs when students are absent simply because they lose such a large percentage of their learning time making it difficult to catch up on the missed work. Additionally, for students who are present in class, there may be as many as four days between successive lessons.

5. Work ethic is difficult to develop. Points 2 to 4 above support this point.

6. Strategy for absent student. It is important to ensure that absent students do not get left behind. What I did was to keep in my diary a detailed account of what I achieved in each lesson. I made sure I kept any handouts for absent students. I wrote the names of all absent students on any handout ready to give to the absentees in their next lesson. With the longer period, I was able to spend a little time with them to bring them up to date.

7. Strategy for absent teachers. With the longer lessons, a teacher’s absence had a greater impact on the class. Therefore, it is important to plan an effective lesson to cover that absence.

8. Detailed planning and full use of time is essential. It is easy to “waste” time. Plan some extra, short activities for any unexpected spare time that comes in a lesson, e.g. quiz or problem solving activity.

9. Group planning will be essential. If you are part of a team of teachers allocated to the same year level and/or subject, Team Teaching could ease the burden of long lessons and add variety to help maintain student interest and concentration. Students enjoy a change of teacher from time to time.

10. I always seemed to be rushing to cover the course when long lessons were first introduced. This is why you must plan minutely how to use every minute of the long period. What I did was to plan to complete the work program for the term or semester at least a week ahead of any planned assessment.

11. You need to divide your lessons into short segments to survive. Each segment allows you and your students a respite and a chance to “recharge your and their batteries”. Have a basic structure for each lesson. Your students should be aware of this structure. Publish it on your board each lesson.

12. Teach skills first and foremost. Good basics enhance a student’s chance of being successful in all areas of your course, especially in the more challenging areas of problem solving and critical thinking.

13. Student Mentors. Encourage older students to form study groups of four or five to work together out of school. In class, use your talented students to explain ideas to the class as a whole or to individual students. This is good for their personal development. Students often learn much from their class mates as they tend to “speak the same language”.

14. There is time to teach students skills that need extensive time to develop, e.g. develop a logical decision-making process, experimental procedures in Science, developing an argument in History.

15. You can teach a whole topic in one lesson and use subsequent lessons to consolidate. You can give an overview initially, showing where the topic is leading.

16. Students must become more accountable for their learning, homework, study and examination technique. Teach these skills in class in short bursts over time. Revisit these skills as often as you can to reinforce and develop.

17. Learn to work smart – use every available tool or idea you can, e.g. multiple intelligences, listening skills, variety of teaching strategies.

18. Help students learn to think, write and speak using the language and the terminology of your subject disciplines. Give short, subject vocabulary tests/quizzes to enhance these skills and to add another segment to your long lessons.

Tips for Teaching Young Children

How do we teach in a way that hooks into a child’s natural desire to learn?

Children are naturally curious. They explore, experiment, touch, ask questions, and are motivated to learn. To them it’s all play, and they don’t need adults praising them for their efforts.

Wondering how you can help children succeed? Consider the following characteristics of how they learn to help you teach in ways that improve their ability to make sense of new concepts.

1. Young children learn when subject areas are integrated

Offer children thematic units rich with content and they will be interested and motivated, especially if you can bring real things to touch and explore that relate to the theme.

Basic literacy and math concepts can be taught and reviewed as the theme content is shared. A “winter” theme offers many opportunities to teach the letter W, to count and record the number of mittens on snowmen constructed in an art lesson, or to create patterns for paper scarfs.

A child learning about the life cycle of a butterfly may act it out with creative movement and poetry, paint the process with a large paper and paint, illustrate and label the stages in science and literacy lessons and listen to related stories and songs. Avoid pursuing a theme if the children have lost interest. Ask yourself if you are presenting enough “real objects”. New themes get everyone motivated and enthusiastic.

2. Children learn in lots of different ways

Visual learners watch closely when you demonstrate an activity and like to draw and play with shapes and puzzles. Auditory learners understand ideas and concepts because they remember information they have heard, follow spoken directions well and remember songs easily.

Although all children learn through touch, some learn best combining touch and movement (tactile/kinetic learners). Some children like structure while others learn more easily in an unstructured environment.

If you want busy, happy and on task children, give them a variety of lessons that meet the needs of different learning styles.

3. Children often do not have the vocabulary to express themselves

Inexperienced teachers sometimes misinterpret a child’s unwillingness to participate as stubbornness or bad behavior when in reality, the child may lack the skills to explain himself. Use reflective listening to help children communicate why they are upset.

Sometimes children work well in groups, learning to share and develop ideas. At other times they just need to be alone with ample time to figure things out for themselves.

Do not expect perfection. Relax and have fun with your students!

4. Children progress when concepts are taught in a structured, step-by-step way

When concepts are presented in a structured step-by-step process with each step building on previous knowledge, children learn with less effort.

For example, expecting a young child to understand the concept of a food chain without previous experiences with, and vocabulary about, chains and links is assuming too much.

5. Children’s abilities to observe and process information develop at varying rates

Some four-year old children have superb small motor coordination and draw and cut beautifully, but have delayed speech patterns. Other children may be verbally eloquent but be physically uncoordinated or be at a scribbling stage in drawing.

Just as children develop physically at different rates, they also progress academically, socially, emotionally, and artistically at varying speeds. Effective teaching happens when teachers remember that learning is developmental.

Offer open-ended activities to meet the developmental stages of all students. An open-ended activity involves children at a wide range of developmental levels. Children are less frustrated working at their own level and they do not have to compare their results to a set of identical worksheets.

6. Children learn best when given things, objects, and stuff to explore

When teaching young children, always use concrete materials, as children need sensory experiences when learning new ideas and concepts.

Take advantage of the many educational learning materials available to teach geometry, number sense, pattern skills, symmetry, classification and other math concepts.

Use science materials like magnets, light paddles, scales, weights, and collections of birds’ nests, as well as book character toys and puppets to enhance literacy.

7. Children need instruction, practice and time to learn new skills and concepts

A child doesn’t learn to ride a bike by only looking at the bike and exploring its properties, he/she also needs time to practice and guided instruction.

Practicing concepts and skills does not need to be dull and repetitive. Do not automatically think “worksheet” when you think of skills practice. There are lots of ways to practice skills using puzzles, games, diagrams, art and more.

8. Children won’t learn if they are over tired, hungry, upset or worried

Be flexible and understanding with young children. Check to see if kids are hungry. It’s easier to let a child eat part of her lunch early, than attempt to make a hungry child concentrate on a task.

Sometimes a child needs to be left alone and creating a small retreat space in the classroom can help students who are too overwhelmed by home or other circumstances to cope with their peers or teacher.

9. Motivated children pay attention

Young children are generally motivated to learn about everything. Unless they have often been made fun of when investigating or presenting their knowledge, they have a strong desire to find out and share information.

Reinforce thinking processes rather than praising the child. Saying “That’s an interesting way you sorted your blocks. Tell me what you were thinking” rather than, “Samuel is so smart” will focus the children’s attention on exploring the blocks. Making too much fuss of any one child can result in a competitive atmosphere.

10. Children learn by teaching others

When children have an opportunity to communicate their new knowledge to adults or other children it helps solidify concepts. Some children need extra time to find the correct words to explain what they are thinking so patience is necessary.

To help children share their knowledge, use descriptive words as they play or work and they will copy your vocabulary.

11. Children Need to be Active

If children have been sitting still too long, they will let you know it’s time to move. Even the best, well planned, interesting lessons fail if the children need a break.

Take plenty of movement breaks, go for walks around the school, march around the classroom or jump up and down! You will have more alert and focused students.

Summary

As children experience your love and acceptance and realize that you are willing to help them, they relax and learn. Keep a sense of enthusiasm, wonder and curiosity about the world around you, and your students will imitate your behavior. Your classroom may be one of the few places where their opinions and ideas are valued.