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The Skillful Teacher Essay

Introduction There has been a great deal of change taking place in the field of education over the past few years. It seems that every time we turn around a new approach is being heralded as the best in terms of teaching and helping students to excel. Most of these works come and go, as they more often than not, involve fads of sorts. With books like “The Skillful Teacher” by Stephen D. Brookfield and “Teaching Tips” by McKeachie there is hope that we can find the teacher that we always wanted to be within us.

In Brookfield’s book we see a personal approach to teaching students and an approach that not only takes the students into account, but also the teacher. In McKeachie’s book we find many helpful tips that we can take into the classroom, no matter what the age of the student. In the following paper I will share with you some of the things that I have learned from these books and how I can utilize them in the classroom. Experiencing Teaching.

Brookfield essentially asks the reader, the teacher, to look at teaching, to examine what they love about teaching, perhaps why they got into teaching, and use that knowledge as a foundation for the process. Brookfield offers suggestions, but seems to primarily rely on the intelligence and passion of the reader for the development of their own unique vision as it involves teaching. Learning is not a predictable and stable reality. There are rhythms to learning and students, as well as teachers, will often find themselves at a point where they are essentially stagnating as they have reached a level of burn out to some degree.

Brookfield does not ignore these realities but presents the reader with ways in which to provide new motivation for learning, new motivation that helps students, and teachers, out of established patterns. Brookfield’s method of a textbook in a narrative form is a novel idea for future teachers who can gain more from a “story” than a theory book. I found the section on “muddling through” to be enlightening. As teachers we never know what is going to happen in a classroom on any given day so the best we can do sometimes is muddle through and hope that we make the right decisions.

As a teacher I find myself doing this sometimes but I thought it was because I haven’t been teaching very long. I had no idea that there were actually teacher’s out there that have the same. Brookfield states that “this is going to be an opinionated, some would say polemical, book” (p. 3). I believe at this point in our career, when we are either teaching or getting ready to teach the opinions of those who have experience are more helpful to us than the theory that we learn. Real live experiences tend to stick in our mind better than a theory or formula that we might be able to incorporate into the classroom.

Brookfield points out how important it is to gain the trust of the students. The teacher is, after all, the teacher, not the student. The teacher’s position, in this respect, can be very fragile if the students do not trust the teacher to do their job well, but also maintain an intelligence that is above the students to some degree. If a student does not trust that the teacher knows what they are doing, they will not listen to what the teacher presents.

The example that Brookfield used (p.4, 5) regarding how to get students to open up and actually take part in a discussion is a breaking point for all teachers. This information will be helpful to me in “ALL” future classes. As an instructor at the college level, the only way that I know if my students understand the material that I have given them is an open discussion of the material. Unfortunately at times the silence is deafening. While I understand that Brookfield’s work primarily addresses adult students, college students many of the things that he mentioned can apply to students of any age.

Again, this is an important aspect of teaching and learning for a student who feels motivated to become involved in discussions will feel that they are part of the process, that they are part of the teaching process. And, along the way they, as well as the other students, learn more than they thought they would. As Brookfield points out, too often students are not approached as though they were adults, a reality that Brookfield sees as very damaging to the teacher and learning process.

Bearing this aspect in mind we see this first chapter as intriguing and very enlightening for college students do not need to be forced to learn, as though they were children. Students need to be approached as adults, from a teacher who is an adult and who is passionate about the entire learning process. Brookfield admits that emotional problems, emotional outbursts will occur while teaching. He does not avoid these realities, but addresses them and provides many helpful perspectives a teacher can take in dealing with such. Feedback

Since some students really do have a hard time with open discussion in the classroom the one minute paper is a tool that can be utilized to find out if the teacher is actually getting pertinent information across to the students. We all know that students shake their heads in agreement so they can get out of class, but we never know if they actually understand what we are talking about. This is a tool that I plan on implementing in my classroom in the future, several times within the semester just to make sure that everyone is able to understand the information that I am trying to relay. I believe that the “muddiest point” (Brookfield, p.

38) will also be a significant point within this one minute paper. While I know that we should not try to control what the students write, because it inhibits their critical thinking, they might actually need some structure as to what they should put into their paper. In my experience, when asked to do a paper of any type, students always want to know what is expected of them so I might just throw things out for them that they might include in this one minute paper such as: “What was the most confusing thing that we covered today”; “Do you think anything that we discussed today will be important to you in your future?

If so, what and why? ”; “Tell me what I could have done today to help you learn the information better”. Since I teach an oral communication this will be a new experience for both the student and me, but I feel that I can glean good feedback by utilizing this method. Participation/Nonparticipation In McKeachie’s “Teaching Tips” (p. 45) the section on nonparticipants was something that I could relate to because it is so difficult sometimes to get some of the students to participate in any type of discussion.

You never know if they have actually read the material assigned or if they just don’t like to talk in class to a bunch of strangers. I really don’t like to think that my students are bored but when students have a textbook for another class out reading it while you are lecturing, you have to wonder if you are that boring or if something else is just more important at the moment. In the “discussion monopolizer” section (McKeachie, p. 48) it stated that “if you have worked on nonparticipation effectively, the discussion monopolizer is less likely to be a problem”.

Unfortunately there seems to always be that one student who wants to be the center of attention and they wish to talk (a lot) even if what they say has no relevance to the subject at hand. There have been times in my classes when I ask questions and continually have the same person answering the questions that I actually say; “Now someone besides (blank) give me an answer”. Sometimes teachers have to do this, not in an effort to embarrass the student but more so to give other students an opportunity to speak. The section in McKeachie’s “Teaching Tips” (p 45) about nonparticipants was extremely important to me.

Because “most students are used to being passive” it is very difficult to get them to participate in an oral communications class. There is always so much apprehension from students that is difficult to get some of them to participate in anything that the class does. I spend a huge amount of time coming up with ways to get the students to participate in a manner that relieves their apprehension and anxiety. Some students right out of high school just don’t have the experience in public speaking or people meeting skills that they need to get involved.

Another instructor in my department gave me the idea to pair students up or put them in small groups of four or five and give them an opportunity to do different exercises to get everyone involved without having to be the center of attention for the whole class. Having rant sessions seems too pull these students out of their comfort zone of silence, because there is generally something that everyone has bottled up inside that they’re just waiting to get off their chest. Brookfield (p 141) talks about grading for participation by establishing clear criteria for effective participation.

He states that this should be done in the syllabus but I do not think that it has to be that specific in the syllabus. There are different ways to have participation such as in groups. I like to break my class up into small groups of 4 or 5 on a regular basis to have them discuss issues and solve problems. Sometimes it’s just easier for shy people to talk in a much smaller group. I guess that what I’m doing here also ties into the scaffolding discussion and the circle of voices (Brookfield, p 143). Lecturing Planning lectures and developing power points are an important part of teaching.

In order for students to be able to learn they should not rely solely on the power points for their notes. Note taking is a valuable skill that students need to learn and keep throughout their college careers. Teachers should put key words on the power points and sometimes fun things that will get their attention. When planning a lecture an instructor should try to make sure that they use words that everyone understands and use everyday examples in them. I always make sure that I’m asking the students questions as we go along to make sure they understand, even if it’s just “What do you think” or “Can you think of any examples of this?

“. It seems that teachers too often merely teach. They merely recite the information the student should know, expecting that the students are listening and taking notes. They do not stop to listen to whether or not the students are actually responding to anything that is being taught. And, conversely, what happens is that the teacher has no real response to teaching. As such, Brookfield illustrates how teachers can become aware of what they are doing, and approaching the entire endeavor of teaching from a responsive position.

Brookfield offers suggestions to the reader for encouraging students to listen, for creating new ways to lecture that can get the students’ attention. Lecturing has often been a difficult part of teaching, as Brookfield indicates, due to the fact that learning habits instill in the student the belief that a lecture will be boring and will offer no sense of creative thought. As far as lecturing creatively, I read Chapter 6 (Lecturing Creatively) with great interest because I want to make sure that I am doing things in my classroom that work out best for my students.

Brookfield stated that we need to be clear about why we lecture (p 99). Having been in classes where the lectures absolutely put you to sleep, I want to avoid this in my classes. I tell my students to look over the chapter(s) that we will be covering in class the next session, with the motive being open discussions. McKeachie (p 56) tells us to make sure we present up-to-date information, to summarize the material, adapt the material to the students, help the student read more effectively and to focus on key concepts or ideas.

When lecturing, teachers should try to break the material down into language that the students understand and make it as concise as possible. Talking to the students and then asking questions to get them to try to discuss things seems to be a better way to try and get the information across to students. I always try to give them several examples of anything that I am trying to teach them (any new concepts). This opens the door for more discussion, especially as the semester continues and the students get more comfortable with the instructor and their classmates.

Testing and Assessments McKeachie (p 73, 74) discusses methods of assessment. He talks about being open to trying something different and I think that this will be beneficial to the students. History tells us that if a student fills their head with information that they will be asked to regurgitate on a test and it is not interesting to them, they will not retain this information any longer than necessary. Unfortunately some departments require that you administer tests in order to dole out a grade. In my case there are specific guidelines that are given, that we as instructors are supposed to teach and test on to meet certain criteria.

Sometimes the information in a basic text book can be confusing if there is not any discussion that goes along with it. Giving students an opportunity to ask questions about what will be covered on the test and encouraging them to think about it for several days before the test so that they can get any questions answered is a method I use to get see what information the students know and do not know. I think that one of the most common methods for checking for understanding is tests or quizzes that we give our students. I like McKeachie’s (p 300) approach of having students paraphrase things for you.

This is a method that I utilize quite. I don’t want to test my students to death because some students have test apprehension and I don’t want to stress them out by thinking, “Oh, no. Another test! ” McKeachie also talked about not just knowing how to learn, but also wanting to learn and I believe that this is a major setback for some students. Unfortunately some students are in college because their parents told them they were going. You always see some students who appear to be very intelligent but just really don’t want to be in the classroom. Class Discussions.

I think that Brookfield’s chapter on discussion (Chapter 7) had some good ideas. It can be very difficult to get students to participate in discussion, especially undergraduate students. There are always some students in a class that just really don’t have any desire to participate in any form of discussion. I’m not sure if this is because they are afraid that they might say the wrong thing or that it might generate a question that they aren’t able to answer. Brookfield (p117) said that if a teacher makes part of the grade “participation” that the students think that they have to be involved in discussion to meet this obligation.

I don’t know if that is what all teachers expect. I don’t think that any student should be put on the spot with having to come up with some type of discussion if they don’t feel led to. We, as instructors, never truly know why someone doesn’t talk much in class. It might just be their nature that they don’t talk much. Brookfield stated (p 134) that “some students are so shy and introverted that nothing short of therapeutic intervention will embolden them to speak”. They might be the type that listens all through the class to digest the information and then wants to talk about it at the next class session.

Brookfield (p 134, 135) talks about students being worried about “looking stupid”. Teachers should be aware that this might be the reason that some students don’t speak up as readily. Brookfield said that instructors should announce in the class that there are no stupid questions. This should be one of the first things that students are told every semester and it should be repeated several times throughout the semester. Brookfield (p 135) recommends putting together a panel of former students for a discussion with current students to help put them at ease and I believe this something that I can incorporate into my classes.

Group Learning Teachers do not use the group learning system as much as they should. I tend to believe that students learn better from each other than they do the instructor most of the time. O’Donnell (McKeachie, 192) stated it right when she said that “peer learning has the advantages of interaction with a peer” and this is extremely important for young people. It sometimes builds their confidence in the information that they know. Some of the students who are less vocal might actually open up to a peer and share what they know. As far as peer tutoring I think this is something that should be encouraged in classes.

I believe that if we were to set up groups with the students who do well and those that don’t do so well (as far as tests are concerned) to have them study together that it would improve the grades because I think that the peers can sometimes get the idea across to students on a level they understand. Writing McKeachie (p 214) discussed the various types of low stakes writing and that the most obvious thing to do is ask students to write about is things they are comfortable with, casual things, just exploring a topic and to encourage the students not to struggle with this too much.

Low stakes writing should help build confidence in students regarding their writing. This method of writing can be used in class or out of class. Out of class this writing could be a journal. I plan to use this method of low stakes writing in my classes by having them keep a journal, probably of humorous things that happen to them, because it will go along with one of the aspect of communication where I teach about short term and long term memory. High-stakes writing requires more on the part of the student, as well as the teacher.

High stakes writing requires that the writing has to be good which involves research on the part of the writer. McKeachie (p 217) points out that most readers of his book are not trained as teachers of writers. I can relate to this because I teach oral communication but there are times when I require students to write research papers so I need to become more comfortable with this type of writing. As a student myself, I have experience in writing research papers where the instructor wanted me to do exactly what McKeachie said (217) “regurgitate material from textbooks or lecture”.

I believe that for high stakes writing topic selection will be the key to how good the writing actually is. I like the idea of multiple papers and drafts because I believe that the only way for you to learn to write better is to get constructive criticism. Having the opportunity to turn a paper in early for constructive criticism in order to rewrite it makes for a better final paper. With today’s technology our writing suffers greatly because we depend on our software to find all the mistakes, whether spelling or grammar.

Unfortunately the software might not always recognize that a word is not the correct word and it definitely doesn’t always find grammatical errors. The old standby method of printing things off and reading them line by line and then paragraph by paragraph is still the best way to proofread. Technology Brookfield’s “Teaching Online” (p 191) was interesting but I am not a huge fan of online classes. I prefer the human interaction that you get in the classroom. I think that Brookfield (p 195) was correct when he said that it is an advantage to take an online class before you teach one.

Before instructors put together an online course they should keep the three core assumptions that are mentioned in mind: good teaching is whatever helps the student learn, good teaching is critically reflective and how students experience their learning. If the students don’t learn anything from an online class then it is not worth it to take the class. If there is no interaction between students and instructors, just how much is it helping the student? A good online course should require a specific number of posts expected each week in order to create good discussion.

The instructor may have to guide the discussions so that everyone participates. Brookfield talks about organizing the online course work and I think that this is very important. The instructor must put just as much work into organizing and keeping up with what the students are doing in an online class as they do in the classroom. How far technology is going to take us in education? Sometimes not being in the classroom is not always the best way to learn. In other classes we have talked about the millennium student who wants to stay in their dorm room or apartment and do all their classes on line.

This can be a benefit to both instructor and student or it can be a detriment to both. The teacher doesn’t need to lose the people skills that they have developed after time in the classroom. In times of inclement weather though this can definitely be an attribute since colleges don’t have make-up days and generally the department expects you to get through a certain amount of information. Learning Facilitating active learning in a large class is something that instructors should take seriously. The idea of forming small groups and the think-pair-share method (McKeachie p 269) is a good thing to utilize in large groups.

If we put the students into smaller groups where they can discuss the material they will get more out of it. It is virtually impossible for the instructor to get the point across to every student in a large class, but students tend to learn better from their peers, probably because they are not as afraid to ask questions in small groups as opposed to in front of the entire class. Having a goal as a student is very important to our career as a student. As instructors we need to help the students realize that they will benefit from each of the classes that they are taking in some way and at some point in their life.

As an oral communications instructor I not only teach them how to communicate in the business world but also teach them how to communicate with friends, family and their significant others. Building their self confidence in the classroom will only help them in the long run in the “real world”. Conclusion Brookfield’s book is a very diverse book that approaches topics not adequately addressed by other books. It is a work that touches on some of the most basic aspects of teaching. It does not focus on the political realities of teaching, nor does it set out to illustrate how all other methods of teaching are wrong.

It is a thoughtful book that treats the students and the teachers as individuals, not merely part of an institution. Of course, the opinions and perspectives presented are only those of this particular writer. In light of this the student should use the information presented as a tutorial to assist them in development of their own perspectives concerning Brookfield’s book. McKeachie’s “Teaching Tips” is a valuable guide book that no teacher should be without. All teachers should have a copy of this book before they ever teach their first class.

While some students sell their books at the end of each semester, this is one book that should be kept for references, no matter what age student is being taught. This book covers many (if not all) things that will be encountered in the classroom. REFERENCES Brookfield, S. D. (2006). The Skillful Teacher on Technique, Trust and Responsiveness in the Classroom (2nd ed. ). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. McKeachie, W. J. & Svinicki, M. (2011). McKeachie’s Teaching Tips (13th ed. ). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.


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