Teaching Win or Teaching Fail? #1

What does good teaching look like?

If you asked me that question when I was a first-year teacher, I’d say the students would be sitting quietly and attentively. Ask me again today, and I’ll say the opposite.

I did plenty of classroom observations as a pre-service teacher, but I focused on the superficial details like student behavior and materials management. Once I began teaching, I was longing to go back and watch those same lessons again to pick up the pedagogy that had eluded me the first time.

And so, what I hope will become a series here, I present: Teaching Win or Teaching Fail?

How it works

I’ll post a clip of classroom teaching, an instructional video, or the like. In the comments section, our job is to hash out whether the clip is a teaching win or a teaching fail. I hope the wide range of opinions and perspectives will help us all become better teachers. And now, without further ado…

Teaching Win or Teaching Fail?

(Feed reader users should click through to see the video)

Everyone is welcome to participate, it doesn’t matter what subject area or grade level you teach. Hell, it doesn’t even matter IF you teach! The more viewpoints the better!

Teaching win or teaching fail? Please support your decision with explanations and evidence! And if you wish, let us know what you teach.  Let the wild rumpus start!

10 responses to “Teaching Win or Teaching Fail? #1

  1. To me, the gestures are a win. There are always some students who will be able to recall the gestures and use them as a mnemonic. I once had an obnoxious student in my conceptual-level physics class (OK, more than once, but I am thinking of someone in particular). One day as I was punctuating a lecture (yes, a lecture) with gestures, she started making gestures in mockery of me. Well, as a teacher I try to take advantage of any way in which a student becomes engaged in the class, so I remarked on her gestures, explaining how gestures could be a good way to remember what I had talked about in class. I encouraged the whole class to gesture (some students refuse, reluctant to look “uncool”) and exaggerated my motions even more. That obnoxious student aced the test on that topic, getting the highest score in the class.

    (I teach physics at the conceptual level and at the AP level in a comprehensive suburban high school in Pennsylvania)

  2. This is called Powerteaching. I’ve seen it before. I recognize the Class..Yes call and response.
    For more info:

    It’s hard for me to make specific judgments on stuff like this. I know Sam Shah and Jesse (Math be Brave) have blogged about this recently. It’s really hard to separate the teaching from the teacher. Without context it’s pretty tough to evaluate quality.

    Example: The lesson seems to be memorizing and I think that would be the obvious jumping off point. The problem is we don’t see where it’s going or what came before. If this is the end point, well I’d have a lot to say. If she’s just front loading some stuff so they can go on to bigger and better things, then there’s no issue.

    That being said, you know I love watching teacher videos so post what you find.

  3. Here’s my first impression:
    + I think the gestures are appropriate and engaging memory aids for the audience (here’s an interesting article on the effective use of gestures: http://goldin-meadow-lab.uchicago.edu/PDF/2005/Singer_GM2005.pdf).
    + While I can’t tell what students are saying when they turn and talk to their partners, I love the strategy and it looks like students are using the time appropriately.
    ? I suspect there are additional opportunities for students to take more ownership over their learning and to contribute more actively to the process– rather than saying “I heard someone say…” the teacher could ask students to share what they discussed with their partners.
    ? Like Jason said, I would need more context to know if this is just a review of previous material before moving on to something else, or if this relatively low-level memorization is really all that was asked of students.

    Happy to be talked out of these opinions though!

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  5. This seems to be a science lesson without doing much science—it’s just a lot of regurgitation of names of parts. When discussing plants, why not actually look at and work with plants? Or at least a smart board image of a plant. I don’t even see any plants in the classroom.

    In elementary school, where students often get science only once a week or so, I think it is critical that whatever time they spend on science, they actually spend doing science.

  6. My first gut reaction was FAIL FAIL FAIL for exactly the reasons John gives. I didn’t even notice the lack of plants in the room. And I find the “Class! Class!” “Yes! Yes!” technique creepy, but then again, I don’t teach elementary school.

    I hadn’t even considered the helpfulness of the gestures, as discussed by thevirtualimage and Grace. I thought it was just a cute way to keep all the kids on task. thevirtualimage, could you describe the exaggerated gestures you did with that physics class? And thanks for the article, Grace!

    And, like Grace said, the students are talking to each other. Sometimes you don’t know how much you don’t know until you try to explain it to someone else. However, the talking is just repeating back. There is no higher level questioning by the teacher. No “Why do you think…? Discuss with your partner”-type questions.

    As Jason points out, clips like these are hard to evaluate. Maybe previously, the kids grew plants in class, drew pictures of their plants in their science journals as they reached each of the different stages, and labeled the different parts. That would be a plus, but we don’t know. While not knowing is a problem for an authentic evaluation, I see it as a useful one for our purposes because it allows for different interpretations. Just make an assumption and fire away!

    The teacher did say the lesson was a review. But review for what? Were the kids going to have an exam where they have to list the stages of the plant? I would rather see them reference their lab notebooks for review, which are important tools, rather than focus on memorization.

    I could see how, on the surface, some people might think the lesson is awesome because the kids are all active and on task. But there are weak spots, too.

    Thanks folks for being brave enough to share your thoughts! I hope other people will continue to weigh in!

  7. Quite possibly some are being critical of the lesson without refreshing themselves on the stages of cognitive development. I’ve been digging for my cognitive psych text but have not yet found it. But what I did find, so far, is a scholarly paper that references that kids just a bit younger than this class (6 – 7 yr olds) have notable difficulty in putting steps in the correct temporal sequence. So it just might be that this teacher is right on … as far as developmentally appropriate learning.


  8. Tim: Thanks! This is why I love discussions like these. There is so much more to learn collectively. If you find anything else, let us know!

  9. The class does appear engaged. It would be helpful to first understand the context, like the standard this lesson is supposed to cover and what stage of the lesson this is (as mentioned by others), so I’ll hold off on my initial criticism.

    My actual criticism is… what are the students supposed to be understanding? A process? Why? Throughout this whole sequence, there’s very little connection to a bigger picture, if there is one. There’s only a couple mentions of “why” or “because” (around 3:30-3:45), and even those, she’s filling in for the students. This review is basically a re-lecture with some best practices inserted. It seems a student can rehash this whole process purely through rote, without having learned what any of it means. But I guess there’s a chance that’s the actual standard, so my criticism may be misdirected. 😛

    Based on several assumptions and not being at all familiar with this developmental age (basically, a big “if”), I say “fail”.

  10. Recall isn’t developmentally appropriate for anyone. Science is about discovery, my 3 year old daughter walks around in the woods with me and she fiddles with things and asks questions and I say “lets find out” or “what do you think?” I ask her questions and she makes up crazy answers. Her limited ability to hypothesize and we find out.


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