Malkin Dare, a lifelong teacher and education reformer, is the founder of the Society for Quality Education in Ontario. She is a big voice for sane education in Canada and throughout the world.
Dare summarized her educational philosophy in an article titled “Ten Keys to Success: Fundamental Principles of Teaching.” That article is condensed here to the main points. Please, parents and teachers, read this material and discuss it.
1. Almost all students can learn: Obviously, there are a few students who, because of a severe disability, are prevented from learning certain things. For the most part, however, students with conditions that affect their learning should be viewed as requiring teaching methods that enable them to overcome their difficulties, and the same high standards and bright future should be held out to them.
2. Almost anything can be learned: There are few, if any, people to whom all learning comes easily. Yet, given expert teaching and plenty of patience, almost everyone can achieve an adequate level of performance in almost any field—from ballet to physics to teaching prowess to drawing. Good teaching and high expectations can produce seeming miracles.
3. There are almost no circumstances under which students can’t learn: Students who are experiencing physical or emotional discomfort can still learn; in fact, instruction can even help to take the students’ minds off their problems for a while. It is an evasion of responsibility to assume that students can’t learn if they are hungry or tired or upset about their parents’ divorce. At Kobi Nazrul school in the slums of London, where the children are overwhelmingly poor and almost all are immigrants, the students score well above the national average and only three per cent of pupils are registered as having special needs.
4. Basic skills should be taught before higher-order skills: Basic skills, like sounding out unknown words or multiplying numbers, are the building blocks of learning. They must be in place before students can progress to higher-order skills, such as critical thinking and problem-solving. This is so obvious that it seems unnecessary even to mention.
5. Factual knowledge is important: The tendency these days is to de-emphasize the teaching of factual knowledge on the grounds that it is enough for students to be able to look up information (as opposed to knowing it). But skills are virtually useless in the absence of knowledge. Many educators worry that facts are soon outdated, but most basic knowledge, for example the elements of the periodic table or the date of the French Revolution, is unchanging.
6. Hard work must be encouraged: In North America, it is common to attribute success to innate ability, while in Asia success is generally thought to be the result of hard work. The difference has far-reaching consequences. North American students who think that they have low ability may give up before they start. In contrast, Asian students are often motivated to work very hard because they believe they can always do better if they work harder.
7. Lessons should be clear and precise: Teachers must know their subject thoroughly if they are to teach it effectively. A good command of the subject matter is necessary for a number of reasons, including the ability to explain the new concept clearly and concisely, to choose the most effective modes of presentation, to answer students’ questions accurately, to devise the best methods of application and practice, and so on.
8. New concepts should be practiced until they have been completely mastered: The number of bits of information that the human mind can handle in the brief span of working (short-term) memory is very limited—five to nine items at most. The limitations of working memory mean that teachers must be careful not to overburden their students’ capacity lest the presentation of too many demanding tasks simultaneously overwhelm them.
9. New concepts should be taught in sequence: The best way to teach complicated topics is to break the learning down into small pieces and teach them step by step in a logical sequence. After each new concept has been practiced and learned to the point of automaticity, the student is ready for the next one.
10. High student achievement is not dependent on lavish spending: Learning essentials are physical comfort, paper and pencil, freedom from distraction, reasonably homogeneous classrooms, manageable students, access to a library, and good teaching. Everything else is a luxury. Hundreds of comparative studies have found that student achievement is unrelated to inputs such as overall spending, class sizes, teachers’ salaries, and computer purchases.
THE ESSENTIALS: Only one new item must be taught at a time. The new item must be explained with great precision and clarity, and the teacher must check to make sure that the learner understands the new concept. The student’s mistakes must be corrected immediately. Short, separated-in-time practice sessions are most effective. The new learning must be revisited from time to time, ideally in application to and consolidation with other learning. The student must be praised and encouraged.
Malkin Dare crusades for phonics and school choice (see video above). She campaigns against Reform Math, Constructivism, Discovery, Whole Language, and all the other trendy but ineffective methods. For more insights from Malkin Dare, see her blogs.
NOTE: material above is excerpted verbatim from Malkin Dare's article. Ellipses are not indicated, by permission of Malkin Dare. Title: Ten Strategies for Successful Teaching