Teaching style may be shaped by teacher training, but we each develop our own unique style of teaching over time. We have to learn how to channel our personal teaching style to meet student needs in the classroom. Let's explore how to use our teaching style to enhance instruction.
Know Your Teaching Style
During teacher training courses, we all at some point get a lesson on teaching style. You may have even had to complete a quiz to help you identify your teaching style. Perhaps the assessment showed that you have an expert (or formal) style of running a classroom, where you maintain your status as an expert by displaying your knowledge. Or maybe it determined that your style is more informal - that you use hands-on learning and often adjust your teaching to meet the needs of your students.
Here's the reality: Teaching style isn't so simple that it can be easily categorized. Instructors often sit between or straddle two different categories of teaching style. And it can't be completely taught. You develop your own personal style - a combination of your teaching skills and your personality - and that teaching style evolves as you grow as a teacher. Not only that, but your style will reflect, to some degree, the students sitting in your classroom. So, it can change not just from year to year, but from class to class. In that lies a powerful means to enhance your classroom instruction.
Melding Teaching Style With Student Learning
Take a moment and pretend you're a student in your classroom. What personalities are around you? There may be some quiet types who would prefer the teacher talk all class period so they don't have to. And there may be some energetic students who want to move around the room constantly. Often, there's a wide variety of personalities in any given classroom, and you'll need your teaching style, as well as classroom management skills, to provide a successful learning experience.
It's also important to reflect on your own personality. Are you like the quiet students in the back of the classroom, or are you the loud, boisterous person leading the discussion? Though a teaching style inventory is not the final determination of how you teach, it can be beneficial to take one. An inventory will help you see what your natural inclinations for teaching style may be when left to your own devices in the classroom.
Now, the key is to bring these two things together - build a bridge between your natural teaching style and the personalities of students in your classroom. Think of it like this: Teaching is a performance. You are an actor trying to captivate your audience to learn.
I know wonderful teachers who are experts in their field, but they don't always use expert teaching style in their lectures. Instead, they are great performers. For example, they may tell jokes, narrate stories, use hand gestures, use different voices, and tell funny jokes. They may even dress as a pirate and tell stories of how pirates impacted the economic development of Charleston, South Carolina. Instead of dictating to students, they are performing to engage their students. They find creative ways to merge their teaching style with their students' needs.
Adjusting Teaching Style to Meet Student Needs
Good educators monitor the classroom and adjust accordingly. You may have to modify your teaching style to meet the needs of your students.
As teachers, we can often tell when something works well in the classroom. However, it can be more difficult to recognize when something is NOT working well. Don't be afraid to ask others for their opinions. Asking your students is a good place to start. For example, in the middle of a unit, survey your students to find out if they feel the unit is effective and what it needs to be more effective. You could also do a simple exit ticket to ask students what concepts they had trouble with and suggestions for working through those troubles.
If it's anonymous, students will often be brutally honest with you. I've had students say, 'Can you lecture on this?' or, 'Can we do a group activity to practice?' It may go completely against your natural teaching style, but you have to put students' needs at the center of the classroom and change your style as needed. By taking students' opinions and suggestions into consideration, the curriculum is often much more engaging, and students learn more and feel more successful.
Personally, I am an informal teacher. For the most part, I hate lectures - both giving them and listening to them. I have strategically avoided lecture altogether for a period of years of my teaching career. During those years, I was probably the worst teacher because I ignored the needs of my students. When I started listening to my students, I learned that some of them need lectures for various reasons. Some have trouble reading and comprehending the material in the textbook, and others are auditory learners.
But I don't just stand up in front of the class and lecture all day. Rather, I use informal assessments and student learning surveys to gauge how and when I should use lecture. Sometimes, it's just a five-minute 'power lecture' to help bridge the learning gap, and other times I speak for long periods of time to go deep into detail about a topic. Changing up my style may not be my favorite part of being a teacher, but it's not about me. It's about enhancing my instruction so that students can get the best education possible.