Teaching methods vary widely, and no one method is perfect for any type of class. Understanding how students think, interact with and learn material will help you keep a class interested in the material and carry out relevant activities toward learning. Maintaining a firm grasp of the course objectives in every exercise will help you get creative in your methods without losing sight of the overall goal.
Collaborative learning involves placing students in small groups and asking them to perform tasks aligned with the course objectives. This method is most effective when it allows students to practice and hone multiple skills at once. For example, in a business writing class, students prepare for communication in a business setting. Thus, breaking them into small groups and assigning a group business plan, series of memos or advertising letter will encourage students to brainstorm, deduce, make decisions based on multiple perspectives and ultimately delegate tasks to produce a final product. This method employs a much wider variety of hard and soft skills than an individual assignment in the classroom.
Active learning goes past the traditional model of lecturing and assigning students tasks to reflect mastery of the lectured material. Active learning means asking students to engage with the class material by talking, writing, reading aloud or acting out scenarios. In this model, students are never passively absorbing information and are instead constantly required to engage. For example, holding mock interviews that require students to dress in business attire, print resumes and sit for a series of behavioral interview questions requires them to step into the role of a job applicant. This method can be particularly useful in a classroom where students are quiet, disinterested in the subject or difficult to excite due to the time of day or the nature of the material.
Learner-Centered teaching means placing the student in the center of the learning. The teacher is less of a "boss" and more of a facilitator. In this model, a student has a certain amount of control over his own learning objectives. One way to facilitate learner-centered teaching is to ask the student to develop his own research topics, questions or theses. In this model, the student is allowed to explore and study whatever topic they choose and develop self-goals that represent what the student expects to gain from the project. The teacher, then, facilitates and guides the student toward helpful materials, resources and ideas but does not direct the learning. Allowing students to assess the success of their own projects honestly is another way to facilitate learner-centered teaching.
Mixing Things Up
There is no one best method for teaching a class, and often success comes from employing multiple methods. For example, breaking students into small groups, and then allowing each group to present their findings to the larger class discussion facilitates both collaborative and active learning. Further, staging a debate in which "teams" are required to defend their positions utilizes multiple teaching methods. A class will quickly become used to the same exercises and is in constant need of new stimulation, so using several methods and activities will help keep the material fresh and engaging.
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