I have included this lesson plan because it demonstrates the effectiveness of a student-centred teaching approach at engaging students and helping them to learn difficult concepts. It also demonstrates a useful way to encourage the participation of students from non-English speaking backgrounds (NESB) in group work.
This artefact links with the following teaching standards:
2.1.3 Demonstrate knowledge of students’ different approaches to learning;
2.1.5 Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of specific strategies for teaching: Non-English Speaking Background (NESB) students; and
4.1.4 Use student group structures as appropriate to address teaching and learning goals (NSW Institute of Teachers, 2005).
On my last practicum, I taught a Year 11 Chemistry class at a comprehensive girls public high school. The students, many of whom were very open about their plans to drop the subject at the end of the year, were somewhat unmotivated and feeling overwhelmed with the topic that was being studied. In previous lessons, I had been teaching them some particularly problematic concepts (NSW Board of Studies, 2002) and had noticed that they were finding them difficult. So I decided to give them some more detailed practice using a different approach called “whiteboarding” (Noschese, 2010). In this activity, the students were divided into mixed-ability groups and each group was given a whiteboard and a set of markers. The students would choose from a list of practice problems and use the whiteboard and markers to work through each problem as a group, talking through solutions and continually making refinements to their work until they were satisfied.
I wanted to use this particular teaching approach because I knew that it would offer “greater opportunities for students to learn than would be possible in whole-class teaching” (Killen, 2006, p. 160). In doing so, I learned two key things. Firstly, giving students control over their learning can be a very powerful way to turn them from passive recipients into active learners (Killen, 2006), as long as they are willing to make the most of the opportunity. As I circulated around the classroom, I had a strong sense that the students were genuinely engaged in the task as they were eagerly approaching the problems and energetically discussing their answers amongst themselves. When I asked the students to explain their working, they could summarise their work in such a way that I could see that they had a greater understanding of the concepts. I could also see that allowing them to work at their own pace – practising further if they wanted the extra help or moving onto more challenging problems when they were ready – really gave them much greater confidence in themselves and their abilities. This really helped to illustrate for me that the role of the teacher ought to be as the “guide on the side” rather than the “sage on the stage” in order for students to get the most benefit.
Secondly, I learned that it is vital for the teacher to make the classroom as inclusive as possible. I found that this activity was really beneficial for the NESB students in my class. Whereas they had previously been very shy and reserved when participating in whole-class discussion, these particular students were noticeably more confident when relating to a small group of their peers. I felt that this experience taught me a great deal about how important and achievable it is for the teacher to encourage the participation of students from different language backgrounds.
The lesson described in this artefact was a valuable opportunity for me to see firsthand the ways in which a student-centred teaching approach can enhance students’ learning. I developed a greater understanding of what the role of a teacher should be in the classroom in order to help students learn most effectively.