As any good teacher knows, all students do not learn in the same way. In addition, it is common for a class of students to be at a variety of levels in any particular subject. Teachers need to use different teaching methods in order to reach all students effectively. A variety of teaching strategies, a knowledge of student levels, and an implementation of which strategies are best for particular students can help teachers to know which teaching methods will be most effective for their class.
The first step to choosing a teaching method is to assess the students. This assessment can be formal or informal. Formal assessments include standardized tests, tests from the textbook or curriculum being used, or teacher-created tests. These assessments can give you an idea of the previous instruction that the students have received as well as their academic level. The students in your class may have undergone various teaching methods and quality of instruction in previous years.
Informal instruction is, as the name suggests, much less formal. Good teachers know their students. If you have been teaching a particular group of students for some time, you probably already know quite a bit about their interests, ability levels, and learning styles. If the group of students is new to you, you can make a point of asking them, individually or in a group, about their interests and academic strengths. Depending on the age of the children, they may also be able to write about this, or answer some form of questionnaire about their hobbies, interests, previous instruction, strengths, and weaknesses. Students generally enjoy talking about themselves and having their teacher get to know them well, as it makes them feel special, as well as directing you in choosing your teaching methods.
Once you have assessed your students, you need to plan for different teaching methods. Direct instruction is the most common form of instruction. This is the lecturing method of teaching. Many teachers use this teaching method almost exclusively, as it is considered the simplest, and you can cover large amounts of material in a short period of time. However, this is not the most effective teaching method to reach all students, especially younger ones, who often need a more engaging, hands-on strategy in order to learn effectively. In addition, it is hard for teachers to tailor instruction to students at different levels.
Inquiry-based learning is a teaching method which is rapidly gaining popularity in the United States. Based on the scientific method, this teaching method can be used for virtually all subjects. Using inquiry-based learning takes a lot of time, energy, and planning, but it is often very effective. Students practice problem solving and critical thinking skills to arrive at a conclusion. This teaching method is extremely student-centered and student-directed, and can be modified for students at any level, reaching them where they are. Teachers will generally need to start by modeling the process to the students.
Cooperative learning is another teaching method that is considered highly effective when done correctly. With cooperative learning, students are put in small groups to work together. They are usually not grouped by ability, but put in a group with children at a variety of levels. The students are then given tasks to accomplish together. Teachers may need to monitor these groups carefully, to make sure they are staying on task and that all students are participating. This form of instruction also lends itself well to differentiation, because the teacher can assign specific tasks to children at different ability levels.
One more common teaching method is to teach information processing strategies. While it is often advisable to have students really understand the teaching methods and not just memorize facts, there are some cases when facts need to be memorized. Facts and concepts may also need to be grouped or organized in order to facilitate better understanding. Teachers can use various teaching methods to help students with memorization, or they can use graphic organizers, mind maps, story webs, or other ways to represent information visually.
There are many, many more teaching methods, but these are the most common. If the teacher finds the best teaching method for a particular group of students, the students are likely to learn more quickly and be more engaged. In addition, using a variety of teaching methods will keep children from being bored, and help them encounter the information in new and exciting ways.