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3 surprising teaching strategies (and how they work)

3 surprising teaching strategies (and how they work)

4 min read
  • The science of learning

Not a day seems to go by without different teaching strategies being trialed in the classroom. Over the past few months, we have been asked about three in particular. So, we thought we would take a look at some of the research, along with some of the challenges, of using them…

1. Using hand gestures

Often, we unconsciously use our hands to explain something. But some research suggests that using hand gestures whilst teaching can help improve students’ memory. In this study, the researchers found that students with ADHD were more responsive, focused longer and were more successful in completing the tasks when the teacher used hand gestures.

But why is this? Well, one explanation is that it allows students to make mental links, which helps them process the information better. 

Another reason why this method could work is because hand gestures incorporate a form of dual coding. This technique consists in blending both words and visual aids when learning. Therefore, by using hand gestures whilst teaching, students could have two different ways of retaining the information. This can be helpful, as research suggests that dual coding is effective in learning as students who learnt using both words and pictures remembered 50% more than those who revised using words or pictures alone. 

However, there may be some issues when using this technique. For example, using hand gestures too much could distract students, meaning that they pay less attention to the information presented. It would also stand to reason that the gestures should be related to the concept (i.e. to demonstrate the point being discussed), as opposed to just to demonstrate enthusiasm for the topic.

2. Peer teaching

Another strategy you can often see in lessons is peer teaching, sometimes also referred to as the Protégé Effect. This technique relies on the idea that, when they are expecting to teach it to their peers, students learn that material more effectively – even when they don’t actually teach it.

In a previous study, researchers found that when students thought that they would teach the material to their peers, they performed 12% better on a test than those who were actually expecting a test. One explanation for this is that students put more effort into learning the subject when they think someone else will rely on them and therefore pay more attention in class.

However, you may encounter some issues when using this method. Firstly, some students may feel hesitant or resistant to teach, which would make this method less effective. Secondly, some students may not take their peer seriously as “teachers”, which could cause more distractions in the classroom. Thirdly and finally, it is worth noting that this technique may be less effective for novice students, as it is easier potentially for misconceptions about the content to be taught and spread, in which case, teachers would need to keep a keen eye out to help nip this in the bud.

Help your staff understand and apply the latest and most important Cognitive Science research.

3. Moving the classroom outside

Although many teachers are wary of using this technique, some research suggests that teaching outdoors enhances students’ learning experience and allows them to become more motivated. In this study, students who had their science lesson outside showed significantly greater motivational behaviour compared to those who had a traditional classroom lesson. In particular, improvements in motivation were shown to be most prevalent amongst students who had lower levels of self-regulation. 

Although stress can be helpful as it increases students’ motivation and cognitive abilities, too much stress can have a negative impact on a student’s well-being. In a recent study, researchers investigated what impact learning in a forest one day a week would have on the students’ stress levels. They found that learning outdoors caused a decrease in the production of the stress hormone, cortisol. 

It is hard to know if the improvements detailed above were (partially) due to a novelty effect, in which case it would be reasonable to expect this benefit to decrease as exposure increased. There are also a number of practical implications. For example, it can make it harder to access resources. Students can also be exposed to more distractions and will therefore pay less attention in the lesson. Therefore, it’s best to keep these implications in mind before committing to taking a lesson outside.

To find out more about teaching outside, read this blog…

Final thoughts

There are always new and surprising teaching strategies. We have to tread cautiously along the thin line of being open to trial-and-error as we hone our practice with being cautious about fads. Weighing up potential learning loss vs learning gains seems to be at the heart of this. Research seems to be able to help guide a light on this.

However, research shouldn’t be taken in isolation, and each strategy poses it own unique challenges. Marrying research evidence with your own lived experience is probably the best route to take to decide if new or surprising teaching techniques will actually aid your practice and help your students.

About the editor

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch is a Chartered Psychologist and a leading expert on illuminating Cognitive Science research in education. As Director at InnerDrive, his work focuses on translating complex psychological research in a way that is accessible and helpful. He has delivered thousands of workshops for educators and students, helping improve how they think, learn and perform. Bradley is also a prolific writer: he co-authored four books including Teaching & Learning Illuminated and The Science of Learning, as well as regularly featuring in publications such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

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