Variables in the teaching-learning process

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INTRODUCTION

Thus a variable may be a quantity, for example, length, that can be measured and can take different values. A variable may be a characteristic, as in interest, which can be assessed and varies from person to person. A variable may also be a concept, for example, marriage, which varies from culture to culture.
In the teaching-learning process, the variables range from the content to be transacted to the attitude of the learner. The same content can be transacted in different ways depending on the desired outcomes. Learners differ both amongst each other and within each other, for example, in terms of ability, interest in a particular discipline, etc. Teacher behaviour varies from class to class and from teacher to teacher. Of all the possibilities, the variables discussed here are:

  • The learning task
  • Learner behaviour
  • Teacher behaviour
    1. Teacher personality
    2. Teaching style
    3. Teacher expectations
    4. Teacher competence

THE LEARNING TASK

The learning task is what the teaching-learning process is intended to accomplish. It can best be assessed by the Instructional Objective. For example, when transacting content about environmental pollution, the instructional objectives can be that at the end of the lesson, the learner will define environmental pollution, state the types of environmental pollution, describe the various types of environmental pollution, state the causes of environmental pollution, ....., develop pro-environmetal behaviour. Thus, the learning task is always a variable in the teaching-learning process, depending on the developmental stage of the learner, the higher amins of education, the content chosen and so on. Also, there is a wide range of behaviour that the learner will manifest depending on the learning task or instructional objectives chosen.

LEARNER BEHAVIOUR

Learner behaviour comprises collective activities displayed by the learner. Learner behaviour is different at the point in time they begin to participate in the teaching-learning process, it varies during the process and finally, at the end of the process. For our purpose, we are concerned with entry and terminal beaviour, which are assessed by the teacher. Entry behaviour comprises the activities/responses of the learners prior to the teaching-learning process. The prior knowledge of learners, their interests, attitudes, abilities, etc make up the entry behaviour of students. Terminal behaviour comprises the activities/responses displayed by learners after the completion of the teaching-learning process. Thus the change in behaviour after the teaching-learning process will make up the terminal behaviour.

TEACHER BEHAVIOUR

According to Gagne,

The essential task of the teacher is to arrange the conditions of the learner's environment so that the processes of learning will be activated, supported, enhanced, and maintained.

Teacher behaviour will vary from teacher to teacher and from one learning situation to another. This variable can be broken down into various components; we are currently concerned with four.

Teacher personality

Personality has being defined in various ways. Allport's definition, one of the most comprehensive is:

Personality is the dynamic organisation within the individual of those psychosocial systems that determine his unique adjustment to his environment.

Personality can be said to have two aspects: social stimulus value and response value. The former detemines the influence a person's personality has on others, whether he is attractive, whether he causes others to model their behaviour on his, and so on. The latter is the manner in which others respond to a person.

The behavior of the teacher depends on his/her personality as well as on the impact it has on the learners, the way in which learners respond to him/her, thus influencing communication (verbal and non-verbal), motivation, interaction with students (both within and out of the learning situation), methods of teaching, time spent on content, etc. In bief, the teacher's personality determines the learning environment, thus determining the response of the learners, to the extent of impacting achievement, attitude, self-esteem, participation and so on.

A study by WJF Lew reviewed older studies and identified the personality traits of effective teachers. It makes for interesting reading; suggest you have a look at it:
Personality traits of effective teachers

Teaching Style

Style is a predominantly personal way of doing something, whether it is wearing clothes or writing a letter (or e-mail). Teachers also have a personal style of teaching which they carry from one learning situation to another and they also moderate their style to suit the content being transacted, for instance, teaching style in the laboratory will be different from that in the classic classroom. Teaching style is affected by the teachers' beliefs about what is good teaching, their personal preferences, personality and abilities, and the content to be transacted, as evidence in the example mentioned in the prior sentence.

Instructors develop a teaching style based on their beliefs about what constitutes good teaching, personal preferences, their abilities, and the norms of their particular discipline. Some believe classes should be teacher-centered, where

The various styles can be classified into the following broad categories:

Formal Authority

Also referred to as the 'sage on the stage' model, this style is teacher-centred with the teacher being responsible for providing the learning experience to students and students being recipients of the experience. Although students may participate (ask and answer questions, clarify doubts), their participation is not central to the teaching-learning process. For instance, a lecture.

Demonstrator or Personal Model

This is a teacher-centred model wherein the teacher demonstrates or models behaviour but student participation is then necessary for learning. The teacher expects the students to reproduce the skills demonstrated, acting as a guide or coach to ensure appropriate learning. For instance, a demonstration of an experiment to then be undertaken by students.

Facilitator

Also referred to as 'guide by the side' model, this is a student-centred style of teaching with the responsibility of learning predominantly with the learners. It involves independent learning, and collaborative learning and problem solving. Group activities are designed which need active participation by students, leading to desired learning. For instance, projects.

Delegator

In this style, the teacher delegates the responsibility of learning to individual students or groups of students, who are then entirely responsible for learning, from motivating themselves to self-evaluation during learning. The teacher acts as a mere consultant. For instance, assignments.

Teacher Expectations

According to Cooper and Goody,

Teacher Expectations refer to inferences that teachers make about the future academic achievement of students...teachers respond on the basis of their existing expectations for students rather than to changes in student performance caused by sources other than the teacher.

Thus, if a teacher expects a child to be able to solve mathematical problems successfully and communicates this expectation to the student, either through verbal or non-verbal communication, the chances are that the child will be able to meet the teacher's expectations; unfortunately, the reverse is also true. In this manner, the teacher's expectations become a 'self-fulfilling prophecy'.
To elaborate, generally teachers have dfferent expectations from different students in terms of behaviour and achievement. In keeping with these expectations, teachers behave differently towards these students, thus communicating their expectations to the learners. Unless the learner resists these expectations, his/her behaviour will change to be consistent with the expectations, thus reinforcing the teacher's expecatations and creating a visious cycle. Follow this link to find out more about teacher expectations as a variable in the teaching-learning process:
Pygmalion in the Classroom

Teacher competence

The General Teaching Council for Scotland defines teacher competence as comprising:
  • professional knowledge and understanding
  • professional skills and abilities
  • professional values and personal commitment

These are further elaborated as:

Professional Knowledge and Understanding

(a) have detailed knowledge and understanding of the relevant areas of the pre-school, primary or secondary school curriculum;
(b) have sufficient knowledge and understanding to fulfil their responsibilities for literacy and numeracy; personal, social and health education; and ICT. (As appropriate to the sector and stage of development.);
(c) understand the nature of the curriculum and its development;
(d) have sufficient knowledge and understanding to meet their responsibilities to teach cross-curricular aspects;
(e) have a broad, critical understanding of the principal features of the education system, educational policy and practice, and of their part in it;
(f) have detailed working knowledge of their sector, of the school(s) in which they teach, and of their professional responsibilities within them;
(g) can articulate their professional values and practices and relate them to theoretical principles and perspectives;
(h) have research-based knowledge relating to learning and teaching and a critical appreciation of the contribution of research to education in general.

Professional Skills and Abilities

(a) are able to plan coherent and progressive teaching programmes which match their pupils’ needs and abilities, and they can justify what they teach;
(b) communicate clearly, making skilful use of a variety of media, and interact productively with pupils, individually and collectively;
(c) use a range of teaching strategies and resources which they can evaluate and justify in terms of curriculum requirements and of the needs and abilities of their pupils;
(d) set and maintain expectations and pace of work for all pupils;
(e) work co-operatively with other professionals and adults;
(f) organise and manage classes and resources to achieve safe, orderly and purposeful activity;
(g) manage pupil behaviour and classroom incidents fairly, sensitively and consistently, making sensible use of rewards and sanctions, and seeking and using the advice of colleagues when necessary;
(h) understand and apply the principles of assessment, recording and reporting;
(i) use the results of assessment to evaluate and improve their teaching, and the learning and attainment of the children they teach.

Professional Values and Personal Commitment

(a) learn from their experience of practice and from critical evaluation of relevant literature in their professional development;
(b) convey an understanding of practice and general educational matters in their professional dialogue and communication;
(c) reflect on and act to improve their own professional practice, contribute to their own professional development, and engage in the process of curriculum development;
(d) should show in their day-to-day practice a commitment to social justice and inclusion;
(e) take responsibility for their professional learning and development;
(f) value, respect and are active partners in the communities in which they work.

The American Federation of Teachers has also identified standards for teacher competence in student assessment, a vital part of the teaching-learning process as:

The scope of a teacher's professional role and responsibilities for student assessment may be described in terms of the following activities. These activities imply that teachers need competence in student assessment and sufficient time and resources to complete them in a professional manner.

Activities Occurring Prior to Instruction

(a) Understanding students' cultural backgrounds, interests, skills, and abilities as they apply across range of learning domains and/or subject areas;
(b) understanding students' motivations and their interests in specific class content;
(c) clarifying and articulating the performance outcomes expected of pupils; and
(d) planning instruction for individuals or groups of students.

Activities Occurring During Instruction

(a) Monitoring pupil progress toward instructional goals;
(b) identifying gains and difficulties pupils are experiencing in learning and performing;
(c) adjusting instruction; (d) giving contingent, specific, and credible praise and feedback;
(e) motivating students to learn; and
(f) judging the extent of attainment of instructional outcomes.

Activities Occurring After The Appropriate Instructional Segment

(e.g. lesson, class, semester, grade)
(a) Describing the extent to which each pupil has attained both short- and long-term instructional goals;
(b) communicating strengths and weaknesses based on assessment results to students, and parents or guardians;
(c) recording and reporting assessment results for school-level analysis, evaluation, and decision-making;
(d) analyzing assessment information gathered before and during instruction to understand each students' progress to date and to inform future instructional planning;
(e) evaluating the effectiveness of instruction; and
(f) evaluating the effectiveness of the curriculum and materials in use.

Teacher's Involvement in School Building and School District Decision-Making

(a) Serving on a school or district committee examining the school's and district's strengths weaknesses in the development of its students;
(b) working on the development or selection of assessment methods for school building or school district use;
(c) evaluating school district curriculum; and (d) other related activities.

Teacher's Involvement in a Wider Community of Educators

(a) Serving on a state committee asked to develop learning goals and associated assessment methods;
(b) participating in reviews of the appropriateness of district, state, or national student goals associated assessment methods; and
(c) interpreting the results of state and national student assessment programs.