Be responsive in your teaching

Written by: Adam Riches | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

We should address the misconceptions that often crop up during classroom teaching as soon as they arise. But how is it possible to teach responsively? Adam Riches advises

Now more than ever, the classroom is changing. GCSE exams are becoming progressively more challenging in terms of content and expectations, meaning that a more ambitious curriculum needs to be covered to ensure pupils are able to achieve their potential. As teachers, we are faced with the task of making sure that pupils are fully prepared for terminal assessments.

One thing we must be able to do is respond to the needs of our students in their learning. In a traditionally rigid lesson, being able to improvise tasks to cater for pupil misconceptions is difficult.

With topics and questions demanding more and more specific skills, we need to think about how we can respond more efficiently in the classroom as we are teaching in order to quickly address the misconceptions that may act as barriers to learning and, ultimately, success.

The golden question is: when is the best time to address misconceptions? In reality, the best thing to do is to address misconceptions as soon as they arise to avoid any lasting confusion. But how is it possible to teach responsively when we are all so busy in the day-to-day classroom? Here are a few things to consider...

Questioning

One of the most effective ways of responding to the needs of students is through questioning. It isn’t until you reflect on your questioning methods that you pick up on your questioning habits. Ensuring that you are checking understanding with your questioning means that you can adjust your teaching accordingly.

The timing of your questions is vital. If you are to respond to misconceptions, you need to have given some input initially to ascertain if any learning has taken place. Questions can then be used to test this knowledge. Using responses from students it is possible to then build on this knowledge and if necessary, any misconceptions can be addressed.

Being fluid and responsive during questioning means you can offer differentiated, effective input to students in your classroom. The big thing here is being able to bounce your questions and that means being able to think quickly on the spot. Questioning is one of the best ways of being responsive in terms of the learning in your classroom.

Feedback

Traditionally, feedback is something that is given outside the classroom when books are marked and in some (good) cases this feedback is responded to. Feedback is one of the most effective ways of responding to misconceptions directly; however, it has its drawbacks. The most obvious of which is time/input-to-effectiveness ratio.

There is no doubt in my mind that feedback needs to be instant. As part of being a responsive teacher, building feedback into a lesson means you are able to instantly address misconception and, in turn, pupils feel more confident in their attempts and more secure in their learning.

Instant feedback needs to be effective and tangible. Whole-class feedback by writing small, individualised questions in books while students are working is one approach that I find works well. It’s also good practice as it allows you to get book marking done during the lesson – good time management and effective, responsive teaching (see In-class marking and feedback, Adam Riches, SecEd, November 2017: http://bit.ly/2DtkzlE).

Quick feedback means that students have the support they need to tackle any issues they have as they are learning – and that’s the key.

Flexibility

Planning is a staple in the teaching world. How ever it is done, planning a lesson means that you have signposts that you follow to ensure success. Having the skill and ability to be flexible means that you are able to respond in real time to student needs. It’s all good and well planning a brilliant lesson, but if you pitch it wrong and lose half of the class to a misconception early on in the learning, it is important to have to confidence and strength to stop and address any misconceptions.

Being responsive and flexible within the parameters of the lesson means that you are able to achieve your planned outcomes, while ensuring the learning is effective and consolidated. Although it is vitally important to achieve your planned outcomes, getting there properly is just as important.

Any holes in student knowledge that have been created by rigid teaching can be identified with questioning and through feedback (see the last two points). Using questions and class circulation means that teachers are able to continually adjust the pace and content of their teaching to suit the learners.

Knowledge

Knowing your subject or the topic you are teaching is key in being a responsive classroom practitioner. Without the necessary knowledge on a topic, it is difficult to respond to student need. Having a strong subject knowledge-base means that you are able to effectively question and, most importantly, address misconceptions with different perspectives or interpretations. Simply repeating the same phrase over and over to a child will not help them learn. If you know your topic well, you will be able to explain it fully using different ideas or analogies, hence making learning more accessible.

Responding to a topic adds an extra level of intrigue and respect too. The ability to really engage with your own subject shows your students that you have flair and ability and that gives them confidence in you. In some recent research I conducted, students cited that one of the most engaging things for them in a lesson is the enthusiasm and knowledge of a teacher. Having knowledge is an imperative element of being a responsive teacher.

Positivity

Being able to judge whether a student has understood a topic doesn’t just take good pedagogical ability, there is a huge element of trust involved too. Communicating with students is just as important as teaching methods. Building a rapport with a student so they actively seek to address misconceptions means that you are able to respond significant more effectively. In addition, having a good rapport means that students are more open to accepting help when it comes to the addressing of misconceptions and thus moving learning on.

Positivity engages students – it leads to good relationships and it gives you the control of the tone of the lesson.

Conclusion

Being a responsive teacher is not about being hugely revolutionary. It is about having the tools and confidence to act as learning is taking place, as opposed to waiting until after the initial learning to address any misconceptions. It is smart practice and I am sure a lot of teachers already teach responsively.

So, moving forward, think about how responsive you are. Is your approach too rigid? Do you think you are addressing misconceptions effectively and quickly? What could you do to make the learning in your classroom more fluid? Being instantly responsive is the future. 

  • Adam Riches is a lead teacher in English, a Specialist Leader of Education and an ITT coordinator. Follow him on Twitter @TeachMrRiches. Read his previous articles for SecEd at http://bit.ly/2DhTAJu


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