Making Instructional Decisions

A big part of teaching excellence is tied to making instructional decisions that are effective.
Here is a listing of things all teachers should take into consideration. 

©Leslie Owen Wilson 

There are certain basic assumptions people make about the rudimentary skills of all teachers. Many of these expectations have to do with instructional decision-making skills concerning what content and processes to teach, and how to best organize and deliver content in the most effective ways possible.

In that vein, the following listings are meant to be both a guide for novice and preservice teachers, as well as a reflective tool for those teachers well into their careers. They are also helpful for college professors to consider as they construct courses, especially if they are new to teaching.

Major considerations in orchestrating and delivering instruction:

The methods you use should be based on these primary considerations:

  • Your end vision of you learner (What do you want them to be able to do, know and understand, and at what level of mastery? As you consider these questions, be specific!)
  • The nature of the content and concepts you are responsible for teaching,
  • Your teaching style (What you feel comfortable doing or attempting.) and
  • Your knowledge of your students (Their learning styles, instructional preferences, how they best retain information, and their educational, social and cultural backgrounds.)

Secondary considerations might be:

  • Domain (Which area(s) does the content or process fall into to – cognitive, affective, psychomotor [kinesthetic, tactile, haptic]
  • Level of learning (Are your learners at the novice, intermediate, or mastery level?)
  • Size of the audience or class
  • Time allotments (length of the period, semester, term, or school year)
  • Importance of the information or skill in the context of the course or semester (This decision should dictate your time allotment and the progression – is the material a must, need, or nice to know?)
  • Sequence within the curriculum (Is it a beginning skill on which other skills or content depends or builds on later, or is it something that can stand alone?)
  • Availability of materials/resources, and/or fiscal support for activities
Choosing the best methods of instructional delivery:

Good teaching is not simply imitating methods you were exposed to as a learner. It is about making informed choices about methods of instruction that are best suited to:

  • your style of teaching;
  • your subject – both its content and process; and
  • your learners and their instructional needs.

Exploring the intersection between these three needs is a continual process. At this level of exploration and performance teaching becomes both an art and a science. The science part is based on available research that examines how students learn best, and what teaching models and methods are best suited to your content. The artful part is based on finding your professional voice and a style of teaching that is both comfortable for you but also one that challenges you to continually improve and reflectively evaluate your performances as a teacher.

Finding a balance on which teaching methodologies work best for you is a personal choice and should be a continual process of trial and error as all of the considerations listed above intersect within your classroom.

puzzle2orangeWhich models should I choose?

There is a large body of research on the effectiveness of certain models of teaching, and also on which models might work best for which types of content or processes or even with certain types of learners. Skilled teachers actively experiment with different methods of delivery, and they also do their homework and study the research on which methods are most effective.

Here are your choices for instructional delivery:

Teacher-centered teaching methods

Lecture

  • one instructor/audience
  • efficient, especially for large groups
  • effective for lower-level learning only, and only if students listen and rehearse or apply information
  • students are placed in a passive mode
  • may provide foundational information preceding other methods

Questioning

  • “Socratic” discovery method leads students to progress to correct answer
  • may be combined with lecture or other methods
  • monitors learning, actively involves students
  • is useful as a supplementary method, but rarely used as an only method
  • can cause student anxiety as they may feel put on the spot
  • can be time consuming

Demonstration

  • useful for psychomotor skills or processes
  • addresses higher-order cognitive skills
  • usually preceded by lecture and followed by practice
  • AV and media can facilitate demonstrations to groups or classes with large numbers
Interactive teaching methods

Class discussion

  • whole group participates
  • teacher leads, coaches
  • effective for upper level cognitive domain
  • class size must be small
  • may cause student anxiety
  • can be time-consuming

Smaller discussion groups

  • used for larger groups
  • reduces anxiety
  • groups may be structured for homogeneity or diversity
  • useful for cognitive and affective domains
Individualized teaching methods

Programmed instruction

  • small, sequential steps using structured materials
  • information—questions—feedback—further information
  • useful only for lower levels of knowledge
  • very structured
  • immediate feedback
  • self-timed

Modularized instruction/independent study

  • independent use of resources (texts, audio-visual)
  • practice and feedback at end of each module
  • allows for individual speeds of learning
  • time-consuming to produce, but reduces teacher time later
  • requires students to be highly motivated and able to work independently
  • may be used at all cognitive and affective levels

Computerized instruction

  • ranges from automated programmed instruction to sophisticated simulations, games, interactive programs
  • immediate feedback, infinite repetitions, allows independent work
  • may cause anxiety in technophobes
  • may be expensive, time consuming to find or produce
  • may not be available to meet specific needs
Experiential teaching methods

Note: experiential teaching methods are necessary for the development of affective and psychomotor skills

Field/clinical

  • provides real-life experience
  • less controllable
  • student completes tasks while being observed and/or reports back and receives feedback late
  • evaluations more difficult, may be more subjective
  • requires much planning

Laboratory

  • hands-on practice
  • more controlled by teacher
  • useful for upper level cognitive, affective, psychomotor
  • necessary when field is impossible for practical or safety reasons
  • evaluation may be difficult
  • requires much advance planning

Role-playing

  • useful for interpersonal skills or upper cognitive levels
  • allows practice in lower-threat environment
  • may be difficult to simulate real situations
  • difficult to evaluate

Simulations/games

  • facilitates practice in all domains
  • requires well-structured materials
  • immediate feedback; highly interactive

Drill and practice

  • repetitions of tasks to build automatic response
  • useful for psychomotor and lower cognitive domains
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