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Posted on Sep 1, 2008

Mesmerizing Pedagogy

Caring Connections, Infectious Enthusiasm, and Tenacious Instruction

by Bill de Jager, SCSBC Director of Learning  ◊  

She begins.

And in moments a few brave voices tentatively respond to her request for all of us to answer in unison.

Undaunted, she continues.

In minutes, the room is punctuated with our booming answers.

But she insists on even more.

Soon we all are out of our chairs and up on our feet, chopping the air with our hands to shape a volcano while chanting “lava and ash, lava and ash, lava and ash.”

No one can hide. She walks among us, asks for our names, dares verbal repartee, and keeps us in giggles and guffaws with her self-deprecating humour.

She teaches. We have no option – we learn!

Welcome to the classroom world of Dr. Anita L. Archer, the featured presenter at the Northern BC Christian Teachers Pro-D Day at Houston, BC on Friday, April 18, 2008. She came with her curricular content, but mesmerized us with her pedagogy. For me, it affirmed SCSBC’s strategic plan to expand the role of the director of curriculum to include instruction.

The place of pedagogy in the classroom is as essential as curriculum, assessment, and classroom management. Our master teachers, our best teachers, intuitively understand the interrelatedness of these components, and incorporate all four in their classrooms. Their students look forward to and are eager to return to such engaging and dynamic classes.

So, what’s the current research teaching us about teaching? Dr. Archer robustly modeled that research for us.

Instruction to develop our students’ skills or strategies becomes effective when all three of these following steps are employed: I do it, we do it, and then you do it. First the teacher does it, then the teacher and the students do it together as many times as necessary, and then, and only then, do the students do it on their own as a check of understanding. 1 The middle step, the most important step in this learning technique, is usually done much too quickly or not at all in some of our classrooms.

When introducing a new concept or new vocabulary, Dr. Archer advised us that the research suggests the following steps: “introduce the word [or concept], provide a student-friendly explanation, illustrate with examples, check understanding with examples and non-examples, and then monitor and adjust the instruction and practice in the lessons.” 2

Another significant research finding indicated a strong correlation between increased responses by students andbetter learning 3. She urged us to elicit responses from students, removing the possibility that learning is a spectator sport where students watch teachers work!

Rather than hiding behind our desk, our lectern, our intellect or our Power Points, she modeled for us how to have closer proximity with our students, and how to gain and maintain their attention with a perky pace. She encouraged us to connect with them by greeting them, smiling, nodding and using their names in the lesson. And above all – top things off with bold splashes of humour, delight and enthusiasm! 4

Dr. Archer implied that good classroom management is part of good pedagogical practice. She included her comments about management within the art of teaching. Listen to her words: “It’s not what you say; it’s how you act.”, “What you expect = what you get.”, “Catch them being good.” “Avoid the void [of not having active, engaging instruction] . . . or they will fill it.” 5

According to Archer, “educators of excellence have a deep knowledge that they make a difference in academics and behaviour.” 6
 They have an infectious enthusiasm for their curriculum, a commitment to excellence, a focus on achievement, and (oh, how I love this one!) tenacious instruction. How well they teach connects to how well their students learn. They teach with passion and manage with compassion. 7

Remember when you were in school? Remember those engaging teachers? It’s wonderful what you remember about those teachers, isn’t it?

For me, one of the teachers that I’ll never forget was my Grade 6 teacher. It was the 1960/61 school year. That wonderful teacher not only allowed us to listen to the World Series on our home-made crystal radios, but helped us make them in class! With bits of copper wire, a tiny transistor, a wire antenna, an earphone, and a little pill bottle to house the radio, he introduced us to its utter simplicity and to a world of unending radio stations.

Imagine us all quietly sitting in our desks, each of us intently listening with our earphones as it came down to the 9th inning of the 7th game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and New York Yankees. Bill Mazeroski of the Pirates is at bat. Incredulously, he hits a home run, winning the game for the Pirates 10-9. Bedlam erupts in our classroom!

Our teacher was probably celebrating the loudest. What a game! What a teacher! And it was only the first month of the school year!

Who do you remember?

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  1. Taken from Dr. Archer’s handout: The Research, Art, and Heart of Teaching
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid.

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