Important Teaching Concepts

The single most important aspect to keep in mind while teaching, is to have high expectations for your students. Recently during an Oprah Winfrey program about the state of education in the United States (link available on links page), “high expectations” was a recurring theme. Guests on the program included Bill & Melinda Gates, Former NBA Star Kevin Johnson, and others who are dedicated to improving the education process. EVERY guest on the program mentioned “high expectations” as a key element to successfully educating students. High expectations are stressed in teacher preparation programs and is a concept that has been proven clinically.

Pygmalion in the Classroom

The teachers were excited. A group of their students had received extraordinary scores on a test that predicted intellectual achievement during the coming year. Just as the teachers had expected, these children attained outstanding academic gains that year.

Now for the rest of the story: The Teachers had been duped. The students identified as gifted had been selected at random. However, eight months later, these randomly selected children did show significantly greater gains in total IQ than did another group of children, the control group.

In their highly influential 1969 publication, Pygmalion in the Classroom, researchers Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson discussed this experiment and the power of teacher expectations in shaping student achievement. They popularized the term self-fulfilling prophecy and revealed that students may learn as much—or as little—as teachers expect.

Sadker, M.P., & Sadker, D.M. (2005). Teachers, schools, and society. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Ask Higher Level Questions

In 1956, Benjamin Bloom headed a group of educational psychologists who developed a classification of levels of intellectual behavior important in learning. Bloom identified six levels within the cognitive domain, from the simple recall or recognition of facts, at the lowest level, through increasingly more complex and abstract mental levels, to the highest order which is classified as evaluation.

Bloom found that over 95% of the test questions students encountered required them to think only at the lowest possible level of his taxonomy (hierarchy) that required rote memory to be answered successfully. A better approach involves posing higher level questions that involve a more sophisticated thinking process.

This is an important concept in teaching and all teachers should take into account Bloom’s Taxonomy when posing questions and developing tests. The table below outlines the 6 levels in Bloom’s Taxonomy. The question cues column is very helpful in comprehending the taxonomy.

Bloom’s Taxonomy

Skills Demonstrated
Question Cues
  • observation and recall of information
  • knowledge of dates, events, places
  • knowledge of major ideas
  • mastery of subject matter
list, define, tell, describe, identify, show, label, collect, examine, tabulate, quote, name, who, when, where
  • understanding information
  • grasp meaning
  • translate knowledge into new context
  • interpret facts, compare, contrast
  • order, group, infer causes
  • predict consequences
summarize, describe, interpret, contrast, predict, associate, distinguish, estimate, differentiate, discuss, extend
  • use information
  • use methods, concepts, theories in new situations
  • solve problems using required skills or knowledge
apply, demonstrate, calculate, complete, illustrate, show, solve, examine, modify, relate, change, classify, experiment, discover
  • seeing patterns
  • organization of parts
  • recognition of hidden meanings
  • identification of components
analyze, separate, order, explain, connect, classify, arrange, divide, compare, select, explain, infer
  • use old ideas to create new ones
  • generalize from given facts
  • relate knowledge from several areas
  • predict, draw conclusions
combine, integrate, modify, rearrange, substitute, plan, create, design, invent, what if, compose, formulate, prepare, generalize, rewrite
  • compare and discriminate between ideas
  • assess value of theories, presentations
  • make choices based on reasoned argument
  • verify value of evidence
  • recognize subjectivity
assess, decide, rank, grade, test, measure, recommend, convince, select, judge, explain, discriminate, support, conclude, compare, summarize

Vary Your Lessons to Address a Variety of Learning Styles

Not every student learns in the same way. Think of how you learn best. Do you prefer to read the material or listen to the material read to you or maybe you learn best by visualizing or doing hands-on exercises? This concept involves varying your lessons so that it address the different learning styles of your students.

Basic learning styles:

  • Visual Learners – about half the student population learns best by seeing information.
  • Kinesthetic Learners – these are “hands-on” learners who learn best by doing. This method is also known as tactile or haptic (greek for “moving and doing”).
  • Auditory Learners – these students learn best by hearing. They remember the details in lectures and may have strong language skills.

Example—Geometry Lesson:
Besides your lecture (auditory learners), you could use an overhead projector (visual learners) to draw the various geometric shapes and then pass around 3-D models for the students to touch and feel to (kinesthetic learners).

Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences

Howard Gardner, a Professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, developed a theory of multiple intelligences. His theory has had a profound impact on thinking and practice in the education community.

In the heyday of the psychometric and behaviorist eras, it was generally believed that intelligence was a single entity that was inherited; and that human beings - initially a blank slate - could be trained to learn anything, provided that it was presented in an appropriate way. Nowadays an increasing number of researchers believe precisely the opposite; that there exists a multitude of intelligences, quite independent of each other; that each intelligence has its own strengths and constraints; that the mind is far from unencumbered at birth; and that it is unexpectedly difficult to teach things that go against early 'naive' theories of that challenge the natural lines of force within an intelligence and its matching domains.

Howard Gardner, 1993.

Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences

Intelligence Area
The Student
Is Str
ong In:
The Student
Likes To:
The Student
Learns Best Through:
Possible Careers
math, reasoning, logic, problem-solving, patterns solve problems, questions, works with numbers, experiments working with patterns/relationships, classifying, categorizing, working with the abstract Scientist Mathematician
reading, writing, telling stories, memorizing dates, thinking in words read, write, talk, memorize, work at solving puzzles reading/hearing/seeing words, speaking, writing, discussing, debating Journalist
athletics, dancing, acting, crafts, using tools move around, touch/talk, use body language touching, moving, processing knowledge through bodily sensations Athlete
singing, picking up sounds, remembering melodies, rhythms sing, hum, play instruments, listen to music rhythm, melody, singing, listening to music and melodies Musician
reading maps/charts, drawing, mazes, solving puzzles, imaging, visualization design, draw, build, create, look at pictures, daydream, working with pictures/colors, visualizing, drawing Engineer
understanding people, leading, organizing, communicating, resolving conflicts, selling make friends, talk to people, join groups sharing, comparing, relating, interviewing, cooperating Psychologists
understanding self, recognizing strengths/weaknesses, setting goals work alone, reflect, pursue interests working alone,
doing self-paced projects,
reflecting, having “space”
understanding nature, identifying flora/fauna, making distinctions be involved in nature, being out in nature, make distinctions working with nature, exploring things,
learning about plants

To apply Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences in your classroom, you would create lessons that address and call on the different intelligences that your students exhibit.

Example—Colonial America Presentation:
Students are divided into small groups that have a variety of learning styles. The linguistic learners might be responsible for writing the presentation while the spatial learners might create a poster or a slide presentation and the bodily-kinesthetic learner might make the oral presentation.

The Learning Pyramid

The Learning Pyramid illustrates the effectiveness of different methods of presenting material. The methods at the top of the pyramid are less effective than the methods towards the bottom. Notice that lecturing is the least effective of the seven methods that were rated.

Learning Pyramid
(Average Learning Retention Rates)

Information from the National Training Laboratories. Graphic by John Mazza.