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Thoughts on life by Teri McCarthy

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Cliff’s Notes: Practical Tips on Teaching

Posted by admin in August 24th, 2009
Published in teaching

The small wiry Chinese university president pulled me to the side and whispered, “Hou Chi, Dr. Cliff look really, really stupid, but in fact, he really, really smart. When he open mouth much wisdom come out. Surprising.”

Don’t worry, I told Cliff about the conversation and he cracked up laughing. The fact of the matter is, Cliff knew he was the Columbo (Peter Falk’s TV detective) of education. He always caught people off guard. He always stunned them with pure genius from a much unexpected source. I sat anonymously among crowds that snickered as he approached the pulpit or lectern and watched those same crowds come to their feet cheering and applauding when he had finished. I have seen hardened teenagers with folded arms and chins stuck out melt under the anointing as he spoke; I’ve seen them wipe tears from their eyes and bow their knees. He moved people with his authenticity and his powerhouse knowledge. He was awesome.

Dr. Cliff Schimmels was a professor of education at Wheaton College for over 17 years. He was also a football coach there. He wrote over 30 books, won the Mark Twain International Award for fiction three times, spoke often on James Dobson’s radio show (in fact Dobson used to say when HE was having trouble with HIS kids, he’d call Cliff for advice). Cliff’s dissertation at the University of Oklahoma is considered still one of the most outstanding in the school of education’s history. It was on the ancient Romans and their approaches to education. Cliff was a class act (sorry) clothed in a down-home-boy disguise. He was a genius. He was a philosopher, a preacher, a professor, a teacher, a writer, a husband, a father, a grandfather, a mentor, and one of the most outstanding followers of Christ I have ever know. There will never be another Dr. Cliff Schimmels. He was literally one of a kind. And it was a privilege to have known him. Cliff died on May 9, 2001.

Cliff liked keeping things pure and simple. No need to complicate stuff. He wrote a handbook for teachers and adapted it for IICS profs heading overseas to teach in distant classrooms. I want to highlight what I consider his top teaching tips. This is the last of the teachers’ series. Hope it encouraged teachers, hope it helped, hope it reinforced, and hope it was fun. Blessings to all you brave and heroic teachers out there. You are loved and you are not alone. Peace.

Before Class Begins:
1. Choose your clothing wisely. Do not be a distraction to your students. Don’t overdress so they think you are vain, but don’t look unprofessional either. Try not to be a distraction by your clothing or hairstyle. Think about your former teachers. Certainly you remember at least one whose appearance was so odd it mesmerized you and you couldn’t hear a thing he said.

2. Plan from your teaching objective. And you better have an objective! Never walk into a classroom to teach without a lesson plan. Write down your goals and objectives for that class and make certain they are in line with your overall class syllabus. Use this as a compass and you will stay on course.

3. Learn your students’ names. The most effective tool for effective teaching in the classroom is learning each of your students’ names. Make a seating chart, call roll every day, make nametags, take digital pictures of each student and mark them with their names; it doesn’t matter how you do it—but you need to do it.

4. Arrange the furniture in a way that is conducive to your objective. If you want to have discussion groups, you’ll need to make sure the desks can be moved. Find ways to make the classroom a great place for learning. If you want to use chairs and nothing else, do it! Take command of that classroom, but know why you are moving the furniture, prepare students for the change and make sure your purpose matches your objective.

5. Put up bulletin boards or posters that relate to your topic/theme. Let those things reinforce your subject matter; display movie posters for English classes; or use pictures of your favorite historical figures if you are teaching history. When students are learning subject matter, truly a picture paints a thousand words.

6. Write your objective on the board. Every day assure your students that you know where you are taking them. They look to you as their guide. Write it on the board, for your sake and for theirs. For example, “Today’s lesson objective is to write paragraphs that describe.”

7. Post your rules! If you don’t want chewing gum in your class, post it. If you do not allow drinks, smoking, spitting (teachers in China you know what I’m talkin’ about); if you want cell phones turned off or you don’t want languages other than English spoken in your classroom, make a poster that lists your rules and put that in your classroom. This is part of letting students know your expectations.

8. Put a daily quotation on the board. Sometimes you can explain it, but you don’t always have to. Sometimes you can just let them ponder it. Your students will come to love this quote of the day the way many Americans enjoy Letterman’s Top Ten Countdown. Use the quotes for a purpose if you like. Use quotes that support or enhance your lesson and don’t be afraid to let those quotes reflect your worldview. If it’s a Bible verse, you don’t have to put Book and Chapter, just cite: an ancient proverb…

9. Do your own assignment. Make sure it is doable. (Do they have the resources to research a twenty page paper?). Make sure it really reinforces your lecture or the principle you are covering. Don’t blindly assign things and not know what the purpose is behind the exercise. Do not give students busywork.

Class Begins
1. Greet students at the door every time class starts. Relate to your students as individuals. Acknowledge their existence and their significance. Greet them when they come in (which means you have to be there early). Ask how their day is going or ask about family members. Take an interest in each one. No matter the age of your students, this is vitally important and illustrates to them that you care and that they matter.

2. Start on time—when the bell rings. You are modeling behavior you want them to duplicate. Start right on schedule. Show them you know their time is valuable to you and they will be more likely to respond in kind.

3. On the first day of class, don’t assume your students know each other. Have them introduce themselves. Often when we are strangers in a strange land we assume that everyone else around us is somehow acquainted. That is not the case. On the first day of class, if possible, put them in groups and have them interview each other (or someone they don’t know). You can also have them introduce themselves and tell three things about themselves: e.g., their favorite food, their favorite novel and their favorite subject in school. Start building a community within that classroom and they will respond better to you and to each other.

4. Use a starter. Some educators call this the “introduction.” It’s a brief activity or event at the beginning of the lesson that engages students’ attention and focuses their thoughts on class. It is the tool you use to get their attention and set the tone. It has two objectives:
A. To help students make the mental, emotional and physical transition from where they are to where they need to be to get involved in your class.
B. To introduce the lesson for the day and stimulate some kind of interest in what your topic and objective are.

Examples: A relevant story, open-ended questions, a quote relevant to the lesson, a relay of a recent news item in the paper or on TV, a brain teaser or a riddle.

During Class
1. Move around some. Don’t get in the habit of standing behind the lectern or desk—even if that is the standard practice at your school. CAUTION: guard against pacing and don’t jingle change in your pockets.

2. If you write on the blackboard, don’t stand in the way. Sometimes teaching well is just a matter of common sense and practical thinking. Keep in mind that your students are human beings. You as the teacher must try to anticipate what they need, like the ability to see what you have on the board. If you write on the chalkboard, move out of the way and allow them plenty of time to see what you’ve written. Don’t stand in front of the projector when you are showing PowerPoint slides.

3. Have a “purpose-driven chalkboard” (or PowerPoint). Students tend to believe that anything written on that chalkboard or that shows up in a PP presentation is important. Use that to your advantage. Give them plenty of time to write it all down before you erase it or go to the next slide. Usually you will give a written exam from whatever you have written on the board, so keep track of your notes. Use these tools wisely because most students believe that what you write on your chalkboard is more important than what you say.

4. Anticipate confrontation and conflict and prepare well for it – it happens when dealing with human beings.

5. Enforce your rules. You don’t have to be a dictator about it; just point to the rules you’ve posted and give the student a nod. Gently remind them of your expectations.

6. Let your students plan your lesson – be in tune with their needs and, as much as possible, their wants. This may mean you change some course objectives and let go of some of your pet projects if they do not meet the needs of your students.

7. Answer the SIX Big Questions: who, what, when, where, why, and how. Teaching is communicating and good communication requires you answer as many of the Big Questions as possible. Think about these questions as you prepare your lesson plan, lecture and/or class activities.
• Why is this material important?
• Who are the movers and shakers behind this principle/idea or event?
• What are the lessons we can draw from this? What are the applications we can make?
• When do we use it? When did it happen? When did it change?
• Where is it most used? Where did it occur? Where did it originate?
• How does it impact lives?
Clearly explain new concepts, new principles when introducing new ideas. This requires the instructor to answer as many of the Big 6 as possible.

8. Teach in intervals. You can use simple intervals like beginning, middle, and end. Studies show that most adults have an attention span of about fifteen minutes, kids’ are even shorter, so break your lesson plan up into several activities, e.g., lecture, group discussion, student presentations and review—that’s about an hour’s worth of material.

9. Do you feel like you’re talking to a wall? Check to see if they heard you. Ask specific questions to specific students. “What is the first principle in starting your own business Karl?” And if they come from a culture that is not accustomed to answering questions, teach them how to ask and answer questions. Ease them into the process by having them write questions on slips of paper at first. Give them the tools they need to succeed in your class.

10. Show them the idea. Don’t just tell them. Think about your class ahead of time. Think about all the terms you will use both in your objective and in the carrying out of that objective. Then plan techniques that will help your students see the idea. Remember: A picture paints a thousand words. Use case studies and lots of illustrations and examples. Use the concrete to help explain the abstract. For example, in a science lecture about the pros and cons of cloning don’t just say cloning has drawbacks, show them: I think cloning is wrong because of its drawbacks. Whatever the weaknesses are of the donor they will be passed on to the clone. If you clone an entire army of Arnold Schwarzeneggers then all your enemy has to do is find his Achilles’ heel and destroy your entire army. Diversity is good—in sheep, cattle and in human beings. An illustration they can relate to and grasp helps them understand the underlying abstract theories behind the principle.

11. Teach listening. Know the difference between hearing and listening; help your students understand the difference as well. Hearing is the physical reception of the voice whereas listening is the mental processing of the received message. Make sure your students know how to listen and not just hear.

12. Search for the missing concept. Find out what your students are not grasping and reconstruct your approach. Have more than one way to present an idea and don’t become frustrated that they do not understand it on the first try.

13. Use groups when it is appropriate. This is known in education as Collaborative Learning. Studies have shown that Jean Piaget (1896-1980) was right. Some people do learn better in community. Groups provide an environment that can richly enhance the learning process. Small groups in the classroom can create safe environments for students to take chances, express new ideas, and provide a more realistic social context for learning.

14. Show them the big picture. “You’ll need this someday because…” or “This is important to know when…” This overview provides motivation and clarity and helps students want to learn because they can link this lesson to real life.

15. Let them think. Create a strategy that gives them the opportunity to use their thinking skills when dealing with your subject matter. Use simulations and writing assignments. Use questions and brainstorming. Come up with exercises that will build their creative thinking and problem solving skills. Example: You are teaching an ethics class. So Sally what would you do if your husband was dying and you needed medicine you couldn’t afford. Would you steal to save a human life? Get them thinking about the principle you’re teaching.

16. Develop questioning skills. Learn to teach with the Socratic Method of questions and dialogue. Prepare your students to use it. When you ask the questions their answers help them synthesize the concepts and summarize the materials.

17. Respect their vulnerability. The process of learning itself is an humbling experience. Don’t embarrass your students in front of the entire class. Build trust so that they can learn more effectively. Let them know they are in a safe place to learn, to develop and yes— even to make mistakes.

18. Give reading assignments and make sure YOU read them! Know what you are assigning. Be familiar with the text and the materials. If you are caught off guard, it can make students feel you are either unprepared or not knowledgeable. Worse, it may make them feel you don’t care, they don’t matter and the material isn’t important.

19. Share what you personally are reading. Let students in on what you like to read and what you are currently reading. It doesn’t matter what you are teaching, whether business, agriculture or English. Allowing students to see your appreciation for reading not only gives them some insight into you, but may give them a greater interest for reading as well.

20. Use writing to help them remember. Plan assigned writing exercises that will force them to repeat and recall what was taught in class. Use writing as a tool for reflection on a principle or concept you introduced in the lesson.

21. Teach test taking. For example, some of your students may have never been given open-ended or essay questions in their entire academic careers. Don’t spring it on them, but prepare them for it. Explain to them what you are looking for in each type of test question.

22. Speak with confidence. Never let them see you sweat. This confidence needs to come from your thorough preparation; it shouldn’t be just an act. Sometimes it is inappropriate for the teacher to say, “I don’t know.” If asked a question that you don’t know the answer to, respond in this way: “Great question. I want to give that question a full and meaningful answer. Let’s not take time out today, but let’s address it first thing tomorrow in depth.” Then go home and study like crazy to find the answer. This is very important for young teachers especially. Not all students appreciate this type of transparency and will see your lack of knowledge as a weakness. You can lose your credibility for the entire school year.

23. Build dreams. Do you remember a favorite teacher who inspired you to do something? Who told you that you would make a great leader, or were a talented artist? Model that behavior. Help students see their potential. Be specific. For example, “Juan Carlos, that presentation today was excellent. Have you ever thought about becoming a teacher?”

24. Learn to hear the applause. When a student gives you a genuine compliment, receive it and let it soak in. When students perform well, grasp a concept, learn new approaches to the subject matter that is all applause and it is a positive reflection on your teaching. Take time to enjoy it.

25. Leave time for closure. Closure is important. Review the class content for that day: ask someone to summarize; link it to previous lessons and show the important role it plays in their overall learning “Without a proper marketing scheme, you cannot sell a product.” Do a three-minute “write down” by asking the students to write down:
1. One concept they learned.
2. One concept they did not understand.
3. One thing about the lesson they already knew.
Then use those points to help in planning your next lesson.

After Class
1. Tell your students good-by as they leave. These students are important because they are your students. They are the leaders of tomorrow who have listened and learned from you. Encourage, smile, and remind them of assignments, and activities. Let them know you like them and that you are glad they are in your class. One Romanian university student told her American professor, “You are the first professor in my life that has ever called me by name.”

2. Don’t take things personally. Students are at a difficult stage and they often struggle with family problems, relationships, romance issues, and a host of other anxieties. They can be moody. It’s not about you so don’t take it personally.

3. Clean your own classroom and take out the trash. Keep your classroom clean and decent. It will speak volumes to your students and colleagues. Your classroom is a holy place—the sanctuary where you love your students, and you desire, whether openly expressed or not, to help them. Model for the students the respect for the classroom you have and they will develop that respect as well. Your love for the students is shown by your personal willingness to do the menial task of cleaning the room.

4. Read their papers and grade their work. Get their graded assignments back to them in a timely fashion. You asked them to turn in assignments by a deadline, now you return them in the same way. Reading and responding to what they have taken time to write illustrates to them not only the importance of the assignment, but their own importance as well. When you return the assignments at the time you promised, you show respect for your students.

5. Test for your objectives. Don’t throw your students a curve ball. A good rule of thumb to follow: if more than 70 percent of the class got the test question wrong, then chances are it was a bad question. Throw it out. Take it out of the test score. A side benefit of this is it lets students see you are fair and just—perhaps some of them have never seen this in an instructor.

6. When appropriate and possible, involve their parents. A recent study by Purdue University on the relationship between students’ success and their parents’ involvement showed that parents who meet with teachers can promote better attendance to classes by the student and even better performance. Perhaps it has something to do with accountability.

7. Watch them do their thing! Show up for concerts where they are performing, go to sporting events, plays, see their artwork at local exhibits. Participate in your students’ lives. Be their biggest fan.

8. Don’t talk about students with other students or even with colleagues. Don’t discuss their issues at school. Honor them and they will honor you.

Dr. Cliff Schimmels

Dr. Cliff Schimmels

3 users Responded In This Post

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204. Texas cuzzin Linda said,
August 25th, 2009 at 9:18 am

A wealth of knowledge for all – especially teachers. This blog should be read by every teacher every day to remind, encourage, guide.

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205. ndhorton said,
August 25th, 2009 at 9:41 am

This is pure gold, particularly for the novitiate. As someone in the process of making a switch from industry to the academy, I’m looking for anything to help me scale the exponential learning curve in front of me. Thanks for throwing me a rope! 🙂

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