Nowadays, many researchers and educators argue about the effectiveness of traditional and non-traditional teaching instructions. On the one hand, traditional instructions like the creation of the teacher-centred environment in the classroom help teachers to cover topics, provide students with clear instructions and standard, and introduce the critical material. However, students cannot develop their skills and check how effective they may use their knowledge. On the other hand, non-traditional instructions like the support of the student-centred environment put students at the centre and help them develop their skills and use their creativity. Still, the role of teachers should be ignored in this approach as well. The comparison between these two approaches will be made based on classroom observations. This classroom observational report aims at discussing the differences between traditional and non-traditional methods and clarifying what kind of teaching is effective for 5th-grade students who study English and Social Studies.
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Classroom observations have been extensively used in the field of education to assess classroom behaviours. Before the creation of systematic observational methods, researchers explored effective teaching methods by using subjective data or anecdotal accounts of teaching. With regards to students’ learning, classroom observations can become effective methods for assessing what teaching tools facilitate their understanding and which practices limit their knowledge. This paper will focus on studying the impact of traditional versus non-traditional (flipped, technology-oriented, peer instruction, etc.) classroom instruction methods on students’ understanding of different subjects.
Traditional classroom instructions refer to conventional methods of education established by the old traditions that the society used in schools. In the case of this classroom observation, traditional classroom instruction will be associated with teacher-centred methods that revolve around memorisation and rote learning; during such instructional teaching, students rarely engage in the lesson. On the other end of the spectrum, non-traditional classroom instruction in student-oriented and task-based; therefore, students play a large role in classroom activities. The integration of technologies in teaching and learning is becoming more predominant. With tablets and smartphones replacing textbooks, and with an option to research just about any topic “on the spot”, technologies play the role of tremendous learning facilitators in the classroom. Therefore, this classroom observational report will focus on assessing students’ behaviours during English and Social Studies classes, determining their responses to how teachers approached the lesson, identifying which teaching strategy is the most appropriate, as well as coming up with quality improvement advice with regards to traditional versus non-traditional instruction.
Importance of Classroom Observations
Nowadays, classroom observations are implemented by administrators, instructional specialists, and fellow teachers to provide educators with constructive criticism and feedback targeted at improving their instructional techniques and classroom management skills. Furthermore, classroom observations can be used by school administrators to conduct formal job-performance evaluations (Hidden Curriculum, 2013). Besides, such observations help to identify strong and weak aspects of a learning process and clarify what kind of work is effective with a particular group of students.
Teacher-Centred vs Student-Centred Methods
Researchers compare student-centred and teacher-centred classroom instructions to determine which type influences students’ learning most positively. The understanding of the differences between traditional (teacher-centred) and non-traditional (student-centred) classroom instructions is essential. Teachers emphasised the effectiveness of student-centred instruction in encouraging hands-on activities, work in groups, small products, and engaging conversations that encourage students to participate (Woolfolk, Hughes & Walkup 2013). Furthermore, student-centred instruction was found to facilitate an inclusive environment where students are respectful of each other. Inclusive education means that students are free to attend schools and choose classes in regards to their age and grade (Slavin 2006). Inclusion could be full when students receive all their instructions in a general setting and partial when students may be involved in another instructional setting in case their certain needs should be considered (Slavin 2006). Therefore, student-centred instruction deals with the needs of students and the environments that teachers could create for their students.
On the other hand, teacher-directed instruction allows for minimal flexibility for students since it implies that students passively receive new information with an emphasis on the acquisition of knowledge, and the role of the teacher is to be a primary information giver and an evaluator of students’ knowledge (McCabe & O’Coonnor 2014). While traditional classroom instructions can be effective in presenting students with necessary information about a subject, they limit student’s personal growth, as mentioned by Ahmed (2013). Therefore, researchers pointed to the tremendous advantages of student-oriented learning and identified traditional instructions as limiting and obsolete. However, in language learning and social studies, traditional instructions remain the most commonly used even though educators have advocated for non-traditional instruction.
Worth of Teacher-Directed Instructions in English and Social Studies Classes
In many schools and countries, people believe that students may learn better from their teachers’ instructions compared to the work they prepare alone (Slavin 2006). In these instructions, teachers have to work actively with their students in classrooms and consider each student as a unique person with their skills and abilities and as a part of a whole group where students should cooperate and make shared decisions. At the same time, even if teachers are the centres of the work in classrooms, there is a demand for the instructions which are tailored to the individual needs and expectations of students (Slavin 2006). Traditional teaching also presupposes the promotion of the teacher’s authority that could be supported by local and state laws (Orlich et al. 2012). Teachers can create appropriate standards to be followed in classrooms and identify students’ behaviours which have to be followed. Besides, traditional learning may include the consequences of misbehaviour and the inability to study the same way other students try to follow (Orlich et al. 2012). 5th-grade students are those 11-year-old children, who may not know how to work in groups or how to make group and individual conclusions (Orlich et al. 2012). Therefore, teacher-centred instructions help to stabilise the situation in the classroom, control the work of students, and define the standards for all participants.
Benefits of Free Discovery Teaching in English and Social Studies Classes
However, it is wrong to believe that the advantages of teacher-centred instructions may replace the possibility to work under free discovery instructions. The peculiar feature of a student-centred classroom is the role of a teacher as a “guide on the side” that may help students to discover their best skills and own meanings without control and lectures (Long et al. 2011). In many schools, teachers support the idea of a student-centred approach because it helps to motivate students and make them believe in the possibility to develop their skills and comprehend the peculiarities of a learning process. Teachers think that such instruction promotes students with a chance to build their knowledge and teachers with an opportunity to discover important ideas and develop challenging real-life tasks (Long et al. 2011). Besides, if teachers focus on students’ independent language and social development, it is also possible to use different technologies and sources. Discoveries and opportunities usually stimulate students to think about how to succeed and what steps to take to achieve positive results.
This classroom observational report adopted a qualitative approach to data collection based on four classroom observations: two lessons of English and two lessons of Social Studies with different teachers in the same Dubai school. Comparing the two subjects in the context of instructional tools can give educators a better understanding of the differences in instruction for various subjects. First, it was necessary to send a request to a school’s director to get permission for classroom observations. The letter was sent via e-mail (see Appendix 1). Then, it was essential to create a plan according to which the observation was organised. In that case, the motivational observation was guided by an academic observation form (see Appendix 2) that provided a set of guidelines that teachers could use to assess the effectiveness of student-based and teacher-based instruction.
The work of two different teachers was observed. Eighty students were involved in observations (20 students in each class). Two classes were “girls only”, and two classes were “boys only”. The purpose of the observations was to define the main aspects of traditional and non-traditional teaching and compare the approaches used in different classes. The comparison included such aspects as adapted instructions and materials, teachers’ and students’ communication levels, the use of instructional practices, and the classroom climate. The form (see Appendix 2) was printed four times, and each class observation as described in terms of the points given.
Data Analysis and Findings
The observations discussed in this report include the work of two different teachers with the other students. There are two classes discussed: English and Social Studies. English is the class during which teachers have to include creative writing and understanding of the meanings and use different methods to introduce new rules and standards for students. Social studies are the discipline within the frames of which the 5th-grade students could learn the basics of religion, psychology, philosophy, and traditions. In other words, they have to learn how to live in regards to the rules and standards defined by society.
During the first lesson of English language teaching, the teacher set to implement a traditional approach to classroom instruction and structured her work in such a way that the majority of the information presented was conducted by her. At the beginning of the lesson, the teacher provided a brief overview of the lesson and explained how every topic would be approached.
First, the teacher made a quick PowerPoint presentation of the new English words students were to learn during the class and asked the students to memorise as many new words as possible, without writing them down. While some students were successful in memorising the words, the majority of English learners was struggling with memorisation and asked the teacher to show the words once again. Then, the teacher read a short article that contained new words. After reading the article, the teacher started asking questions about the information presented in it to determine how well students were listening and memorising new words. These questions were not engaging enough since students just answered them without facilitating a discussion. The only student-centred exercise involved students being grouped into pairs; they were asked to create a short dialogue that contained new words. When students were interacting, the teacher monitored the classroom and answered any questions students had regarding the assignment. Students seemed to like that kind of exercise; although there was some commotion in the classroom, the dialogues English learners created were funny and interesting.
During the second English language lesson, the teacher completely shifted her approach to instruction and implemented a student-centred instruction to facilitate language learning. While the teacher used the same introduction when presenting an overview of the lesson, the first activity was group-based. The teacher divided the classroom into four groups and gave out small sheets of paper with crosswords (see Figure 1) containing new words from the previous class.
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The first group of students who completed the assignment was considered a winner and was rewarded with less homework than others. It was evident that students were highly motivated by the assignment and tried to complete it first to get less homework. However, that task was very effective in promoting collaboration and teamwork among group members. Even though the classroom was very loud during the activity, the enthusiasm exhibited by students showed that many language learners like group assignments because they can share their knowledge and learn something new from their peers.
The lesson was about the importance of traditions and religion in the Arab society. The teacher provided the observer with a course plan within the frames of which students could work in two types of the environment. First, the teacher used a teacher-centred instruction and made sure that students followed all tutor’s comments and suggestions. Students did not have to share their opinions of knowledge because the goal was to show students how other people treat their roots and respect the conditions under which they had to live. The teacher chose several countries for discussions, the USA, Britain, and the UAE, to compare the attitudes of different nations to their traditions and focused on the traditions of the UAE and the connection of society to religion. Students listened to everything their teacher talked about and did not even try to add their judgements or evaluations.
There were several YouTube videos chosen by the teacher to demonstrate how different people in different countries share their religious and cultural values. As soon as the teacher stopped lecturing, she asked if students had any questions. Several students raised their hands, and the teacher answered their questions in a clear and explanatory way. It seemed that the teacher established the task not to leave any crucial topics behind. It was a teacher-centred lesson where the teacher performed the main role, set the rules, and informed the students about their tasks and possible expectations. The main task student had to perform at home was the creation of their own story about their family traditions or the traditions of another family from any other country.
The second lesson in Social Studies differed from the first one. The teacher said that this time, she expected to see how students could use the knowledge gained during the last lesson, share their own opinions, and tell their own stories. First, the teacher wanted to clarify which stories the students prepared. It turned out that only 10 out of 80 students were ready with the stories about the traditions of other countries. The rest 70 students were eager to share their own experience and the knowledge their parents shared with them. Besides, not many students wanted to share their experiences. Therefore, the teacher invited volunteers only. In general, 25 students told their stories during the class.
Another task was the identification of the countries according to their traditions. Students were divided into four groups (5 students per each group). There was a table given to every group (see Figure 2) and clear instructions to be followed. Students had to match the images with the names of the countries and say a few words about each country’s tradition. Five minutes were given to students. If they could, students should name the tradition and offer its description. Five options were chosen to identify a leader. It was expected that each group was able to give a correct answer and participate in the class discussions.
Figure 2: Countries and Traditions (own design).
At the end of the lesson, students had to share their personal opinions about the importance of traditions and answer some general questions. The role of the teacher during the lesson was insignificant. The only task that had to be performed was the clarification of activities which students had to be involved in.
Results and Discussions
English and Social Studies were properly observed in two different classes. As it was discussed by Slavin (2006) and Orlich et al. (2012), the teacher-centred instruction and student-centred instruction varied considerably. Besides, students, as well as teachers, demonstrated different attitudes to the approaches chosen. The observations proved the fact that students could be afraid of the lessons when they had to talk and discuss different topics. However, they were also fascinated and involved in every working process. However, there were neither rewards nor punishments for students who performed the required amount of work better or worse. Students wanted to share their knowledge and experiences to talk and not being restricted by certain rules and standards. Therefore, it is possible to say that student-centred lesson helped students to discover their skills and knowledge, and teachers could observe what students could do and how they could use the knowledge gained.
The investigations of McCabe and O’Coonnor (2014) were also proved during the observation process. These researchers underlined the role of a teacher in a student-centred approach. The observations also helped to clarify that teachers could become facilitators in a learning process. Students could not perform all work alone. They needed clear instructions and motivation. In a Dubai school, teachers want to provide their students with choices and a variety of approaches, but they also have to rely on something. They should have a beginning point or a guide to be followed. The main differences between the approaches are given in Figure 3.
However, it is necessary to admit that all observations did not help to clarify what kind of teaching approach was effective for students and why. The observations demonstrated students’ attitudes to a learning process, teachers’ readiness to study students, and the exchange of information that corresponded with the chosen topic. During the English class, students had to learn and memorise new material. During Social Studies, students had to communicate and discussed the material. Different themes and different approached proved the development of different perceptions of the material.
It was concluded that English classes are more interesting and effective for students when they have to follow the teacher’s instructions and ideas. Students have to learn new words and practice in writing. Social Studies is the discipline where students have to learn from their own experiences and facts. Still, students have to understand that their direct participation and the formulation of the opinions cannot be ignored.
In general, traditional and non-traditional teaching methods are frequently used in Dubai schools, as well as in other schools around the whole world. In some schools, teachers are obliged to follow particular instructions and meet the requirements established by an institution. In the chosen Dubai school, teachers are welcome to use different approaches regarding the needs of students and the goals of teachers. During the educational process, teacher-centred and student-centred instructions were followed. The analysis of the literature, as well as the results of the observations, proved that both approaches had their own positive and negative characteristics. It is hard to predict what results could be achieved in case teachers followed the same style day by day. In the teacher-centred environment, students may fail to develop their skills and comprehend what they actually may or may not do. In the student-centred environment, students are deprived of the opportunities to study and learn new material.
Therefore, it is suggested to change the styles according to the aims of the lessons. One day, a teacher has to introduce new material and make sure that students listen and memorise everything. Another day, it is necessary to check how students could use their knowledge in practice. The observations showed that both methods were effective enough. However, it is expected to develop new research using another method and communicating with people to clarify the opinions of students and teachers on the work they have to perform.
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McCabe, A & O’Coonnor, U 2014, ‘Student-centred learning: the role and responsibility of the lecturer’, Teaching in Higher Education, vol. 19, no. 4, pp. 350-359.
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