"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Teaching Styles

Previously, on this blog, in "Understanding Learning Styles", it was noted that the lack of research in the area of learning preferences made tailoring education to match individual students a risky, tedious and expensive proposition.  Teaching, however, is simply the other side of the coin of education, with learning on the other side. Like learning, there are styles of teaching. 

AFTA Maryland Chapter President Lynne A. Ciocon tutoring a student at High Bridge Elementary School  in Bowie, Maryland (Prince George's County)
There are differences, however. While learning styles differ from each other in terms of preferences, visual, aural, verbal, physical, logical, social and solitary, teaching styles are more about how much a teacher does. Paul B. Thornton uses the "three Ds" to describe teaching styles: Delegate, Discuss and Direct, in his recent article "Three Teaching Styles". The following are his definitions:
  • The directing style promotes learning through listening and following directions. With this style, the teacher tells the students what to do, how to do it, and when it needs to be done. The teacher imparts information to the students via lectures, assigned readings, audio/visual presentations, demonstrations, role playing, and other means. Students gain information primarily by listening, taking notes, doing role plays, and practicing what they are told to do. The only feedback the teacher looks for is “Do you understand the instructions?”
  • The discussing style promotes learning through interaction. In this style, practiced by Socrates, the teacher encourages critical thinking and lively discussion by asking students to respond to challenging questions. The teacher is a facilitator guiding the discussion to a logical conclusion. Students learn to have opinions and to back them up with facts and data.
  • The delegating style promotes learning through empowerment. With this style, the teacher assigns tasks that students work on independently, either individually or in groups.
Thornton basically does not say that one style is better than the other. In fact, he writes, "There is no one best teaching style. Effective teachers use a variety of styles, and they know how and when to choose the most appropriate one for the specific situation." Of course, this is only an opinion. It does sound reasonable. It is definitely much better than those who even display great zeal promoting one and demonstrating utter disgust with the other styles. Since this involves what the teacher does, it is a lot easier to design experiments that examine which teaching style is more effective. One example of a study is published in the journal The Psychiatrist. The article, "Lectures versus case discussions: randomised trial of undergraduate psychiatry teaching", published in 2012, has the following results:
Students in case-based discussion groups scored significantly higher than students in the lecture groups in the extent to which they enjoyed the teaching session (P = 0.006); the extent to which they understood the principles of management of real-life patient problems (P = 0.044); and their interest in looking up further information (P = 0.003). There was no significant difference in exam performance (P = 0.9).
Above table copied from
Lectures versus case discussions: randomised trial of undergraduate psychiatry teaching
The results indicate that teaching styles do affect how much a student gets engaged. It clearly raises the level of enjoyment and interest. However, in terms of learning outcomes measured by exam scores, there is really no difference. Enjoyment and learning do not necessarily correlate with each other. Through the years I have been teaching, I have come across students who are very happy with my course, but do not necessarily ace my exams and I likewise have had students who did very well in chemistry but were not thrilled by the subject at all. Of course, as the authors of the above article in The Psychiatrist conclude, if enjoying the course does not necessarily lead to lower scores in exam, why not make the effort to make the course more engaging?

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