Examples of pedagogical skills include:
- Alternating your tone of voice.
- Asking students questions to find out their prior knowledge.
- Rewards for effort.
- Changing up the classroom layout.
- Setting high expectations.
- Spaced repetition.
What is Pedagogy?
Pedagogy is ‘the art of teaching’. It is a term that describes all the strategies we use to teach effectively.
Imagine someone who has absolutely no teaching skills. They might stand in front of the class and speak in a really monotonous voice. They won’t pay any attention to the students’ reactions. They won’t think about what skill level the students are at. They’ll just get up there with no preparation and talk.
By contrast, skilled teachers will use pedagogical skills such as the ones below:
Examples of Pedagogical Skills
1. Pausing for Effect
Skilled teachers know how to use their voices.
They ensure they speak slowly and clearly enough that students can hear them. They will emphasize key words in sentences and alternate tone to engage listeners.
Often, a pause in speech is a great teaching strategy.
Consider a teacher whose class starts chatting while the teacher is giving instructions. Have you ever seen a teacher just stop mid sentence and … wait? Students might keep chatting for 5 – 10 seconds before silence starts to fall around the group. Here, the teacher has used the ‘pause for effect’ method to bring the class back to a settled, attentive state.
2. Scaffolding Tasks
Scaffolding is a term created by Jerome Bruner. Traditionally, we would think of a scaffold as the temporary structure that holds a building in place while it is being constructed. Once the building is ready to stand on its own, the scaffolding can be removed.
What’s this got to do with education?
In education, we provide support while a student is learning a topic. We’ll sit behind them and give them prompts, suggestions and advice to ensure they get through a task. We might give them a ‘cheat sheet’ that provides the steps required for completing the task.
Then, once a student has demonstrated some competency, the teacher withdraws the support and encourages the student to do it alone.
We’ll also often call this method the ‘I Do, We Do, You Do’ method of teaching.
3. Providing Rewards and Punishments
Rewards and punishments are used to encourage students to stay focused on their task and remember correct answers. A reward is offered as an incentive for completing a task. A punishment is offered as a disincentive for certain behaviors.
This strategy can be very effective for toilet training, for example. A parent will give a child a chocolate or toy when the child has made the decision to go to the toilet when they feel they need to go.
However, the strategy is also criticized as promoting extrinsic motivation at the expense of intrinsic motivation. Using this method, students don’t do tasks because they want to – they do it for the reward. They also want to get the ‘correct’ answer that the teacher wants them to provide, rather than using critical and divergent thinking to ‘think for themselves’.
Students often struggle with too much information at once. If you give a student a list of 10 to 15 instructions to follow, they might get to step 4 or 5 before … forgetting the rest!
When a student has been given too much information to remember, we call it ‘cognitive overload’.
To overcome cognitive overload, we use a strategy called ‘chunking’.
Chunking involves presenting a student with a small, manageable amount of information. Then, you help the student achieve mastery over that information before getting them to move on to the next ‘chunk’ of information.
5. Classroom Layout
The way you set up your classroom matters.
A classroom layout that is in rows will promote individual learning. Students will all be facing the teacher, suggestion a teacher-centered approach.
A group desks setup will have students facing one another in small groups. This is more common for children in the younger years. With this layout, you’d expect students to be communicating with one another and sharing resources. This may be great for a social learning task, but not so great for a standardized test. The teacher needs to pause and have a think about what sort of learning they’d like to see, then set up the classroom according to their preferences.
Yes, effective assessment is a skill to be learned! One of my preferred ways of assessing students is to use the ‘constructive alignment’ approach by John Biggs.
This approach ensures you align your teaching with assessment. You have to explicitly tell students: “This will be in the exam!”
Constructive alignment encourages students to pay close attention, because they’ll know that they’re going to be assessed on this information later on.
Another excellent assessment strategy is to provide a ‘formative’ and ‘summative’ assessment.
Formative assessments are assessments mid-way through instruction. They help you gather a student’s progress. You can change your teaching to focus on the student’s weaknesses so that they’ll do even better in the final (summative) assessment task.
7. Scanning the Classroom
This is a really important skill for teachers. A teacher must always have good oversight over their whole class. They should constantly scan their eyes around the room to see whether students are looking like they need support. It can also help with classroom management by identifying behavior problems and nipping them in the bud.
I also like to walk around the classroom so I can get closer to the students and see what they are all up to.
I find that when students know I’m actively scanning, they’re also much more likely to engage with their work and focus.
Good teachers know how and when to provide prompts to students. A prompt is a little nudge of assistance that gets students thinking deeper about a topic.
For example, a student may be struggling with a reading task. They will be looking at the words and having a nightmare of a time trying to comprehend what they’re reading. The teacher might say: “Have a look at the picture on the other page. Might that help you comprehend the story better?”
Here, the teacher has provided a prompt that might help the student get past a point where they’re struggling at their work.
Moving between tasks and lessons is hard.
Task transition is a period of time when students often get unsettled, silly, and distracted. If you do the transition poorly, you lose the attention of the students and waste a lot of time trying to reel them back in.
Skilled teachers think long and hard about how they are going to achieve a smooth transition.
They may, for example, play a game to get the transition to occur in absolute silence. Or, the teacher might get students to transition in smaller groups to control the transition more efficiently. You may have heard a teacher say “Anyone who’s name starts with an A can now get up and collect their books.” This is designed to give the teacher greater control over the transition between activities.
10. Asking Open Ended Questioning
Many new teachers (and parents!) learn very quickly not to use closed ended questions. These are questions that could be answered with a “Yes” or “No”.
We tend to find that if a student can answer with just a “Yes” or “No” will only use a Yes or No to answer it.
But … with a Yes or No answer … students don’t need to explain themselves! They don’t need to break points down, critique them, formulate thoughts into words, or express nuanced positions on issues.
So, we try to ask questions that require full sentence answers.
For example, change:
- “Did the main character in the book learn his lesson?”
To a better open-ended question:
- “What lesson did the main character in the book learn?”
11. Setting High Expectations
A skilled teacher knows that they need to set very high expectations for their students.
This means expecting every student tries their very best each and every day.
It does not necessarily mean that you expect a student to get top grades in every exam. It just means the student should try their hardest and push their own limits at every opportunity.
High expectations is more about attitude than grades. A teacher with low expectations tends to have a class of students who are chatty, lazy, and careless.
By contrast, a teacher with high expectations will have a class of engaged, busy and focused students – because that’s the atmosphere the teacher has set.
12. Differentiating Instruction
Differentiation is the ability to give each student a personalized lesson so that it best meets the needs of that individual. Many teachers just teach every student the exact same thing. This is still probably the most common form of teaching.
But a skilled teacher differentiates.
- Get students into three groups and give them different tasks depending on their skill level.
- Give a student who is a visual learner a video to watch, while giving a student who is a kinaesthetic learn a physical task. The students may meet the same curriculum outcomes, but in different ways depending on their learning styles.
- Ensure a lesson is taught using all the learning modalities to make sure students have multiple ways to learn the same topic.
13. Spacing Repetition
Teachers need to repeat things – a lot.
Homework is often the time when students practice through repetition. Students will be given a list of 20, 40, 100, etc. quiz questions, math questions, etc. to work through. These tasks are all about practicing a skill through repetition.
However, a good teacher spaces repetition cleverly.
Good spaced repetition involves repeating new information regularly.
As students become more comfortable and competent with information, teachers won’t repeat it quite as much – students have learned that topic!
But, re-introducing a concept a week, month, or even several months later is useful because or minds start to forget things.
So, spaced repetition is about constantly reviewing past content that you’ve previously learned to reinforce information into long-term memory.
Difference between Pedagogy and Curriculum
Even many teachers can’t really tell the difference between pedagogy and curriculum.
The difference is this:
- Pedagogy is HOW we teach. It involves all the strategies listed above.
- Curriculum is WHAT we teach. It is all the subjects we teach, like math, science, English, history, geography, and son on.
Many people think teaching isn’t anything special. They have seen teachers their whole lives when at school. They think “Oh, I could do that!”
…Then you give it a go yourself…
And you realize that teaching is a real art. You need to develop strong pedagogical skills that can only be built over time. The small, subtle skills like knowing when to pause, where to stand, and what facial expressions to use are really, really important.
Teachers of course have different pedagogical strategies. Some might be skilled at a more conservative type of pedagogical approach (like behaviorism) while others might use 21st Century educational approaches (like humanism).
Pedagogical skills are linked to both helping students learn better, and ensuring students are well behaved. But remember, it’s all linked: students need to be well behaved in order to learn more effectively!
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education.