7 Powerful Habits for Effective Teaching

effective teaching

Habits are simple but powerful. You see it in your classroom every time your pupils come in or the fire alarm rings. Drills and rehearsals make things run smoothly. Good teachers build learning habits and effective teaching skills.

Automatic thinking speeds up routines and reduces the cognitive load, preserving two of the classroom’s most precious resources – your time and concentration.

Collected here are seven quick strategies for effective teaching. None require additional resources, new technology or a second pair of hands. They’re straightforward and relevant for any classroom or age range.

What Does Effective Teaching Mean?

Any strategy that improves student outcomes is an example of effective teaching. Typically, positive results are measured through summative assessment, which tests academic achievement. Attainment isn’t the only indicator of progress, however.

Pupil engagement, confidence and classroom culture are all helped by effective teaching. These intangible improvements are hard to measure objectively, but as an educator, you’ll recognise the difference. And they’ll all help children to progress.

For this guide, what effective teaching means is any method of teaching that supports learning. Each strategy is distilled to its basics, making it easier to implement and keep up.

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7 Effective Teaching Habits

Your classroom and teaching style are unique, so customise these methods ruthlessly. But each is backed up by academic research or experts, so some version should work for you. The Education Endowment Fund (EEF) has tested and found most of these techniques compelling.

1 – Think Aloud

Think aloud as you model a task. This habit goes beyond explaining the steps to the modelled procedure. You should narrate your thought process.

Students need to learn how to learn – a concept known as metacognition. The EEF ranks metacognition as the most effective teaching strategy for its considerable impact and low cost. Thinking aloud is an excellent place to start.

You could explain why you chose a specific word for your story or adopted a particular strategy to solve a mathematical problem. Procedural talk should be accompanied by commentary on your overall approach. State what you thought went well and how you handled setbacks, for example.

Verbalising the desired thought process has two benefits. It improves understanding of the modelled task and the process of learning. These two effects improve outcomes in the short and long term.

2 – Fast Feedback

Feedback gives learners information about their performance. It can focus on understanding, process or learning behaviours. Feedback typically highlights areas for improvement, but you should also label positives. Recognising effort and progress motivates learners.

Giving students regular feedback is essential. Learners must understand if they’re achieving the lesson’s objective and, if not, what they need to do differently. The effect is most potent when feedback is delivered during the lesson.

Early intervention prevents misconceptions from becoming embedded and helps children experience success faster and more often, helping motivation. Spoken feedback during the task is best as it’s quick and easy to personalise to the learner.

3 – Cold Call

Cold calling is asking students questions when they don’t expect it. Pose a question to the class and then call on anyone to answer. The choice can be (and should be most of the time) random, although the technique lets you subtly target specific children.

Cold call eliminates traditional ‘hands-up’ questioning where students can choose to answer. Typically, only confident learners will volunteer answers, which creates two pitfalls:

  • You only hear correct answers, creating the false impression your whole class ‘gets it’
  • Less-confident learners recognise they don’t have to engage

Over time, particular learners will become complacent and allow others to do the intellectual heavy lifting. Cold calling distributes learning more evenly and creates a culture where any child knows they can be called upon to answer. This gentle pressure helps to get every learner focused and thinking about the answers to your questions, even if they don’t end up sharing them.

Cold calling should also make your formative assessments more accurate. Choosing learners to answer randomly prevents more confident students from dominating the lesson, giving you more opportunities to identify those needing additional support or practice.

4 – Give Children Processing Time

Whenever you pose a question, pause before choosing someone to answer. Make it explicit that this is what you’re doing so children understand they have a moment to form their answers. Build this thinking time into one-to-one exchanges, too.

Everyone needs processing time when asked something. This is particularly true of younger learners, yet teachers leap to fill the silence whenever a child hesitates to answer.

Processing time improves answers. Learners can think more deeply and have opportunities to rehearse statements before sharing them with you and the class. It also helps take pressure off children who can’t instantly recall something, preserving their confidence and making it more likely they’ll engage with the lesson.

5 – Talk Less

Your students should talk more than you. It should encourage them to engage with your lesson and extend their thinking. Create opportunities for students to talk (at the right time and volume).

This habit is most useful when learners give underwhelming responses. It’s natural to jump in and correct or expand on answers, assuming the respondent and the whole class should hear the ‘correct’ version. Doing this kills the opportunity for self-correction. It also brings the focus back to you, letting other learners switch off.

If a child’s answer isn’t what you hoped, don’t correct or rephrase it on their behalf. Let the learner have another go. Open it to the class if they can’t build on their first answer. Like processing time, giving children opportunities to self-correct reinforces learning and raises the quality of responses. Other children will also be more engaged, knowing they might need to expand on someone else’s answer.

6 – Move Around

Feeling comfortable at the front of your classroom or behind your desk is natural. But the entire space is yours, so use it. Circulate around the room, teach from the back or hover over the shoulder of that one learner who’s clearly not listening.

what effective teaching means

Children will claim ownership over parts of the classroom if you let them. They’ll recognise your no-go areas as safe spaces to disengage without fear of being caught. Not seeing what students are doing also blocks opportunities for immediate feedback.

Arrange your classroom so every learner is accessible. Move around the room regularly and make it a point to scan everyone’s work multiple times during a lesson. You’ll be able to spot areas for improvement faster. Learners should also be consistently focused, knowing you might appear next to them at any moment.

7 – Check Understanding

Moving on before children have mastered something creates more work later. It also potentially derails your learning sequence. So, ask children summary questions to check understanding before a lesson ends. It’s also helpful when switching tasks during a lesson.

One of the best ways to check whole-class understanding is with whiteboard work. Ask your question (with processing time) and instruct every child to silently put their answer on a whiteboard to be revealed simultaneously. This approach should reveal learners who need more practice. Enough wrong answers also make it clear when you need to re-teach something.

Non-Traditional Training

Habits are helpful, but training is fundamental to teacher development. Non-traditional online HR courses are an overlooked option. They cover communication skills, time management and difficult conversations ­– all fundamental for effective teaching but rarely part of a school’s development programme. With online training, you can choose exactly which skills you want to improve and fit it around your schedule. The courses might not be exclusively for teachers, but they’ll still develop lasting improvements in your teaching skills.

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Jonathan Goby
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