Big Teaching Blunders

Teaching Blunders

Not smelling the milk before putting it into your coffee is the biggest teaching blunders you will make in the staffroom. But there are many teaching blunders in the classroom that lead to equally catastrophic results. Teachers are good at learning from mistakes. Aren't we?

Which teaching blunders do you make most often?

We all make teaching blunders. Blunders form an integral part of the learning continuum. Making teaching blunders occasionally, providing someone doesn't get maimed or imprisoned, is fine.

Teaching Blunders provides fodder for personal learning.

I thought I would share some on my blunders in the hope that you will share yours. I need a laugh too!

This list is in order of blunderability. 10 being less disastrous than 1. Number 1 is a stinker.

In reality, I am sure we all still make some of these teaching blunders but try not to make a habit of doing so. If these blunders work for you in your classroom... well good for you! You could make a list called Teaching Successes.

Teaching Blunders.

10. Ask for hands up to answer a question.

I am not sure of the reasoning behind this. You know what happens, don't you? The students who don't want to answer avoid eye contact.

You are never sure

  • whether they don't know the answer,
  • don't want to show off by knowing the answer or
  • don't want to volunteer the answer because they are going to look like the "teacher's pet".

Some students won't even bother to think about a response because someone will always provide an answer anyway. And what does the response, "I don't know!" actually mean? Have you failed as a teacher or have your students just missed your pearls of wisdom?

And what if no hands go up? Is no-one listening?

There is another way to handle this. But that becomes Blunder #9.

Teaching Blunders

9. Cold Calling.

Forget the hands up blunder. Just cold call any student in the class! Good idea? Nope.

That becomes a blunder as well.

"Billy, what is the meaning of that text?" Billy just has a coronary inclusion!

There will be some students who will jump at the chance to show off in front of the class. There will be others who will forget their name if asked to speak without preparation.

Cold calling without preparation really negates any chance to think through a considered response. Thinking on your feet is most certainly a skill worth learning so I don't suggest you never use the cold calling teaching strategy.

If you cold call students without playing thinking music, the students intimidated by this strategy will stop listening and start praying that they won't be asked. Once you have selected your prey, most of the other students who weren't asked, stop listening.

Try this teaching strategy as an option.

  1. Think - Pair - Share.
    1. Give the students a short time to come up with an individual solution/answer. Some may require paper.
    2. Pair up to further refine the solution.
    3. Share the response with the class which may generate discussion.

Teaching Blunders

8. Overuse Sheets.

Please don't misinterpret this. I do use sheet in my lessons. But a worksheet is a tool. A worksheet does not make a good teacher any more than a hammer makes a good builder. The effectiveness of worksheets is determined by how they are used.

I hate it when a teacher hands out sheets and sits back at their desk. Seriously! That has to be the greatest teaching blunder of all.

This could be my Teaching Blunder No. 1 if it wasn't for the fact that there are some good worksheets out there are many teachers who use the sheet to centre their learning activities.

Overusing sheets leads my to Teaching Blunder No. 7

Teaching Blunders

7. Become Boring.

This is the teaching version of the CSIRO diet. You know the one where you work through 4 truckloads of vegetable soup.

Not only does doing the same thing become boring for the teacher, it sends students comatose!

Never overuse the same teaching strategy.

Break out!

Teaching from the front of the room produces results and I use this strategy as a fail-safe. It is my preferred option and I perform like a conductor of a symphonic orchestra. But before I carry out the 56th rendition of "I've got the Music In Me!" I have to give myself an upper cut. I love it but I am not sure my students always do. So I knock some sense into myself and use another teaching strategy.

Try such strategies like discussions, activities, multimedia presentations, peer-tutoring, individual assignments and group work.

Which leads nicely into the next teaching blunder.

Group work is teaching strategy fraught with peril. There are a few benefits but there are a gazillion dangers.

Few students understand the theory of cooperative learning. Some of the lazier students will rest on the laurels of the more capable students. Teachers have to take a LEADERSHIP role in making sure group work ... works.

Gosh! Some teachers even give all students the same marks for their results. Don't parents love that? Especially is they helped little Mary build the model of parliament house showing the members of the Senate for the project and Billy gets the same marks as Mary's mum ... I mean Mary.

Group work is often the vehicle for disruptive students to become more disruptive.

Group work is an adult way of solving problems. It can be a cooperative strategy for colleagues and peers to arrive at a consensus. Some workplaces rely exclusively on this strategy to move forward.

In the classroom, you need some very well established ground rules to make group work an effective teaching strategy. Read more in the group work in the classroom activity.

I love groupwork as a teaching strategy. But it is not a strategy you can use without a lot of ground work

Teaching Blunders

5. Not knowing why you are teaching this.

Students respond to you if your teaching is authentic. That means you have to know why you are teaching what you are teaching.

Being in the curriculum is seldom an acceptable answer. If you don't know why, how can the students be expected to cognitively integrate the learning.

Have a clear idea where the skills being mastered, or the content being learned, fit into the grand scheme of things.

Ausubel provides the framework for effective teaching strategies by suggesting that organising learning is important. Essentially the teacher helps the student organize new  information by directing attention to prior knowledge and showing the sequence of coming activities.

Have you every thought of sharing your teacher planning with your class?

Teaching Blunders

4. Overtest.

There is certainly renewed pressure of testing of student ability. There are state tests, national tests, district tests not to mention the extensive bank of classroom tests.

The adage goes that , "You don't fatten a pig by weighing it."

My apologies to all farmers who enjoy weighing pigs..

The fact is, like worksheets, a test is a tool. You should use the test to interpret your future remedial and extension teaching strategies. That is increasingly difficult if you are teaching extensively to place marks in a mark book.

There are several more comprehensive methods to examine student performance that relying on tests.

Sure, marks are important to able to grade student achievement. But testing is a means to an end, not an end itself.

Teaching Blunders

3. Rate home assignments!

There is no more contentious issue than homework. It polarises opinions with no middle ground. Homework creates so much unnecessary tension in the home, education systems are now looking at developing state-wide policies.

But cleverer people than I will make that decision. My hand is up for banning structured homework.

My issue is that awarding of marks for work sent home.

You really think little Sally Jones, who can't take her finger out of her nose, built that electrical circuit to run the windmill to pump the water to feed the farm animals. I bet Mr Jones would be spewing blue vomit if Sally wasn't awarded 10/10 for his, or rather, her project.

Helicopter parents provide way too much project help, particularly when marks or awards are involved. If you want to test this theory, award a project 2/10 and see who the first complaint comes from; Sally or her parent.

To get a true indication of a student's ability, never award marks for work that had any time at home.


Teaching Blunders

2. No knowing the learning goals.

Ask yourself this single question. At the end of this lesson I want my students to ....

Forget the jargon. You can write that in your curriculum documents to show others. The clearer you are about your expectations the more likely the students will achieve them.

Make sure the MAIN thing is the main THING.

Remediate, extend, consolidate or whatever verb you want to apply. Just make

Teaching Blunders.

1. Not knowing your students.

Teachers must know students.

This doesn't necessarily mean on a personal level but you must know their learning needs.

Many teachers know their classroom needs (how many reams of paper, paint, chairs, curriculum) but few spend much time auditing the learning needs of individual students.

That is INDIVIDUAL students. It is definitely a case of not seeing the trees for the forest.

There is a vital need for you as a teacher to be fully aware of the learning needs of your students.

Can you name the students

  • who are good at reading,
  • need help with math algorithm,
  • are confident speaking in front of the class,
  • have difficulty spelling;
  • knows the difference between a noun and a verb?

Well you should be able to name them all?

I have to admit making a few of these teaching blunders at one time or another.

If you’ve slipped into any of those practices, try to drop them.

Are you game enough to share one of your teaching blunders?


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