Make your teaching more engaging and effective: Five science-backed strategies

Just like there are many ways to learn, there are a variety of ways to teach too. An appropriate mode of teaching achieves a desired learning objective while taking care of these basics: Establish a connection with students, deliver the concept in a way that matches the intellectual ability of students, incorporate ways that ignite curiosity of students and leaves students wanting for more. Sounds daunting! Probably even more so when you know that each student is different in his/her learning style and pace. 

There is a science to everything and teaching is no exception. Here are some science-backed concepts that you can incorporate into your teaching to make it more engaging and impactful:

 

  • Balance out the cognitive load

Our memory is limited in the amount of information it can process at any given time. Think about you trying to understand ‘Einstein’s theory of relativity’ from a technical article written in awfully small letters while you are traveling in a bus and the person sitting besides you is talking over the phone. Feeling overwhelmed? Well, that’s natural because there is an upper limit to the number of stimuli our brain can process at any given time. It is called cognitive load. Cognitive load can be:

  1. Intrinsic; ‘Relativity’ as a concept is inherently difficult to understand, compared to laws of motion. In simple terms, the more difficult a topic is, the higher is intrinsic cognitive load*.
  2. Germane: ‘Theory of relativity’ is hard to connect with real life experiences or something that we already know, compared to ‘laws of motion’. In other words, the harder it is to connect the topic to something that we already know, the more is the Germane cognitive load*.
  3. Extraneous: Reading small letters on a phone screen while traveling in a noisy bus is not the best external environment to understand a theory. So, more the number of external stimuli, higher the extraneous cognitive load*.

An understanding of these various cognitive loads can significantly help teachers to design their content in a way that students effectively understand without getting overwhelmed. Here are some quick tips that you can use in designing your course material:

  • Break difficult topics down into smaller chunks

  • Try and connect new topics with something that students already know or have experienced in real life

  • Keep your study material: be it your board work, notes, videos; clean and organized. Briefly, use points, keywords, and schematics to explain better.

  • Use visual cues

Whether you are teaching in a classroom or via a video, students are getting a significant amount of novel information. It becomes important that students are guided through these waves of information, so that the major points and takeaways are registered well in their brains. Incorporating visual cues can be an effective way to do so. Visual cues help direct the eyes of students to the important message. They can be arrows, pointers, underlined content, contrasting colors, diagrams, illustrations or a 3D model. When you incorporate visual cues in teaching, you help students retain better, understand better and recall better (ref): A reason why Padhio emphasizes all educators to incorporate visual cues in their content. (expand in another article)

Visual representations are also useful in teaching abstract mathematical concepts like algebra, trigonometry and calculus.

 

  • Use of audio cues

Similar to visual cues, audio cues have also been shown to aid in student learning and long term retention of a concept (ref). In teaching, different kinds of audio cues can be used: Background music, your voice modulations while emphasizing on a specific word/term, and short bursts of sounds, ones that you often hear while playing games. To understand how audio cues can be used while teaching a concept, consider this example: A video is explaining photosynthesis, and each part of the process of photosynthesis is associated with a unique sound, say, a “bloop” sound for absorbing sunlight, a “ding” sound for the transformation of carbon dioxide into glucose and so on. Learners will retain the concept better by associating each sound with each individual part of the process. Another example of use of audio cues for better learning is when students remember a specific word because the teacher pronounces it in a typical way in the class. The element of humor and unusual modulation of phonetics help students learn it better. While incorporating audio cues can be hard in classroom teaching, you can easily play with them when creating video content. 

 

  • Drive learning via activities

Most often than not, students just become passive absorbers of information than active participants in learning. Effective teaching must ensure that students are indeed actively involved in their learning. But how must one do that? One way to do so is to engage students in activities. Such activities can span from running experiments, collecting data, field trips, field work, class presentations, debates and discussions, to role playing. Research on each of these activities exists that support their effectiveness in learning. 

 

  • Engage with open ended questions

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning”, said Einstein and research shows that it is indeed true. Asking open ended questions to students can keep students engaged while developing their cognitive skills: thinking, social, and emotional. Open-ended questions have no right and wrong answers, but they challenge the students to think about something on their own. For example, you are starting a new chapter of English literature. You read the title out in the class and ask students what story line comes to their mind. This is an open ended question that makes students think, interpret, guess and express their opinion. Asking open ended questions can therefore improve the interaction quality as well as engagement of students significantly. Unlike classroom setting, adding open ended questions in an educational video might be more challenging, but can be done in various ways. For instance, you can ask an open ended question and take a pause in the video to give students time to think. Educators and creators can point out that this is one possibility, and end the video with a question to students, “Can you think of another possibility?” or “Can you think of another point of view?”. Such a prompt can encourage students to think about the content actively rather than engaging with it passively.

 

These were some scientific methods that you can draw inspiration from and include in your teaching tool kit while addressing students in a classroom or in a Padhio video.

 

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Written by:
Rohan Kandukuri
Edited by:
Parul Anup