Friday, December 29, 2006

Teaching Styles

Just as students have very different learning styles, instructors have their own styles of teaching. These teaching styles reflect on how the instructor approaches the topic, and how they present the material to the students. Anthony Grasha has four main clusters of teaching styles of how the instructor addresses learning courses.

Teaching Styles
Grasha has five teaching styles that he has identified. These include the Expert, Formal Authority, Personal Model, Facilitator, and the Delegator. Each of these styles identify how an instructor addresses a course and material.

The Expert
The Expert addresses the class as one that possesses knowledge and expertise that students need (Grasha, 1996). The instructor focuses their efforts on keeping their status by displaying knowledge in detail that the students do not have. This has the advantage that is centered in the knowledge that the students need. Unfortunately it can make for a very over bearing classroom environment, alienating the instructor from the students.

Formal Authority
The instructor is focused on the knowledge that they have, and in providing feedback, establishing learning goals, and setting rules for the students to follow (Grasha, 1996). The advantages would be clear expectations within the course. The disadvantage would be the lack of flexibility in the class.

Personal Model
This learning style is focused on teaching by personal example, establishing a method of thinking and behavior for the student to emulate (Grasha, 1996). Here, the instructor would be focusing on how their course is organized, keeping the methods and tasks structured in a way that encourages the learner to think and behave in a specific manner. The advantage to this style is the direct emphasis on observation as the learning method. Unfortunately, it can alienate students by making them feel unable to perform at such high expectations.

The Facilitator
Concerned with the relationship between the student and the instructor, the facilitator will focus on direction through questions and exploring options (Grasha, 1996). This is perhaps most like the Socratic method, in that the instructor will guide a course through questions that allow the students to explore all aspects of a problem based on their own experiences. The advantage to this is the personal flexibility, but it does require a lot of time in order to be sure that all required topics are covered in the course.

The Delegator
Of all the learning styles, the delegator requires that the students focus on their own learning achievements, functioning as an autonomous, independent person or group (Grasha, 1996). This means that the students gain confidence in knowing that they completely understand what is expected of them, and can achieve their goals by relying on their own abilities, rather than the instructor. Unfortunately, many students become anxious when they are given such autonomy, and therefore the style can backfire.

The Clusters
The clusters represent learning styles that are related, and often are found together. Though there are four clusters, the one that is perhaps the most applicable to my personal teaching style would be the fourth cluster, putting the Delegator, facilitator, and expert teaching styles, which give the students a level of autonomy while giving the students direction and providing direction to the courses. I focus on these because I feel that it is the best application to my chosen teaching style.

Teaching Styles and Distance Learning
Each teaching style can be applied in a classroom or a distance learning environment, but in order to provide success for both the student and the instructor, the course would need to provide a learning environment that benefits both. With a traditional classroom, the instructor can provide a number of examples and activities that are spontaneous based on the synchronous manner of their instruction. In a distance education course, it’s necessary to plan the course participation, and how the course information would be best addressed. Distance education courses are most often asynchronous, which require students to make the effort to participate. This being the case, the facilitator’s method of teaching is very well suited. The instructor is able to provide discussion questions, spend time to focus on the discussions, so that students are able to increase their understanding.

It also gives the instructor an opportunity to focus on diversity, as participation would be well planned and it gives the instructor and students time to both understand and respond respectfully to each other. It also gives the students plenty time to review and better understand one another. Finding common ground through the direction of the facilitator or delegator gives plenty of learning opportunities for all, and gives the students and instructor an opportunity to understand a different point of view by relating that point of view to experiences that they have had.

This, of course, is different from my impressions on the first week in that I hadn’t thought of specific methods of teaching beyond the expert or formal authority figure. Now, with the experiences that I have had in this course, I have learned that diversity is best served when students have the opportunity to focus on the material by relating to their own experiences.

Anthony Grasha, Teaching with Style Pittsburgh, PA: Alliance Publishers, 1996, p.154. 

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