4 Rules for Better Homeschool Teaching Every Parent Should Know
Reading time: 7 minutes
Here are four time-tested rules to improve your homeschool teaching. Follow them – they will make your lessons and learning experiences more effective. Keep this handy and use it as a checklist to remind you to stay at the top of your instructional game.
1. Begin with the “First 60-Seconds Rule”
This first rule is practiced by top-notch professional speakers and expert trainers. Watch them, you will notice one thing they all do at the start of their presentations. They open emphatically with a verbal “cannon shot” crafted to grab their audience – for example, a statement with a unique or intriguing point of view, a shocking fact, or a provocative question to challenge your thinking.
They do not start with a rambling review, a lengthy discussion of a theory, or small talk to make you feel good. They go right to a major point and dangle it right there in front of your brain. The make you sit up in your chair.
Professional speakers must grab your attention early, if they don’t, they know their presentation will fizzle out or fall flat. The same applies to the lessons we teach. When these fall flat, or don’t motivate, it’s usually not the information, it’s because we didn’t gain student engagement.
The First 60 Seconds rule tells us to always begin with engagement as your goal. It states: whenever you open – whether a lesson, a course, or a presentation, you have only 60 seconds to capture your audience, to get them motivated to want to listen. After the first minute, their brains have decided for them. If you haven’t won them over, you’re going struggle to keep their attention, and many of those who tuned out won’t mentally return during your lesson.
Is this advice intended only for professional speakers? I think not, and here’s why.
It works with your kids because it has to do with a scientific principle – the human brain is attracted to that which is novel, shocking, or different. Their brains subconsciously respond to your signals that tell them “listen up” – this is both your challenge, and your opportunity. A good opening makes for a better lesson, skipping over it has a cost of lower attention.
Effective teacher take time to focus and motivate learners. Even in your home classroom, the first 60 seconds matters!
2. Always Discuss Your Learning Objectives
Experienced teachers have learned this lesson the hard way – never assume your students know the point of the exercise you are about to teach – even when it seems obvious to you. They know the importance of aligning and clarifying expectations to accomplishing the learning goals. This is the rule of clear learning objectives.
At the start of every learning experience you teach, develop the discipline of carefully walking your students through your expectations for that lesson. Never skip this first step.
Describe your learning objectives, or read the ones in your Instructor’s Guide, and establish your high expectations to achieve the desired learning outcomes. Kids, and adults, all learn better when clear goals are laid in front of us. When you include your kids in the learning process by discussing goals and expectations you create greater responsibility for learning.
I always write my learning objectives on a whiteboard or flip chart before the students or trainees come into the room. I consider this step one of my more important first activities. After a short and hopefully attention-grabbing opening, I begin with a walk through each of the bullet points, clarifying and answering questions, so I am confident we will have a clear roadmap for learning. Even when this is only a 15-minute lesson, I always do this.
Where do I find them? Some come from my designing the lesson. Others I draw from the course developer’s instructor’s guide – when I use off-the-shelf materials. Sometimes I have to pull them out of the air when I find the purpose of the lesson evolving because we decided to talk about other things. Whatever the case, I take a moment to rewrite or “polish” them to appeal to the needs and wants of my audience.
Then I don’t read them in a bland monotone voice bullet by bullet like I’m assembling a new bike; I try to explain them with conviction and enthusiasm because my purpose is to engage and inspire better learning. It’s about igniting inspiration, not reading a business agenda.
Once you start, use the objectives during your lesson to refocus. Display them in a visible place, so you can point your kids back to the goals should you need to refocus them. At the end of the lesson, use the objectives to evaluate progress and to promote a sense of accomplishment – pointedly mark them off like a checklist. I find a little embellishment helps us feel good about what we have done.
Follow this rule – take time to describe and discuss the learning objectives for all the learning experiences you lead or teach. This means all learning situations – whether teaching a lesson, preparing for a field trip, or leading a music practice. Try doing this with your own training, practice by having discussions with yourself – what am I going to accomplish in the gym today?
Remember, clear objectives help everyone learn better. Expert performers do it – bring this into your homeschooling. It’s not hard to do and it need not take much time, it’s as simple as saying, “At the end of this lesson, I expect you to be able to do these four things – ABCD.”
3. The “Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two” rule
How can we confidently know we are teaching the right amount of information? When does it become too much? Is there an upper limit to new ideas before stopping to discuss or “process” it? Because of research studies in neuroscience, we now know what this limit is.
The “Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two” guides us. This establishes the upper capacity of our brain’s working memory. Most people store no more than 5 to 9 items in their short-term memory at a time, and for younger kids, this might be fewer. Once you reach this limit, the student has to forget a piece of information before adding another. When you exceed this limit, you waste time and effort.
Working memory is what your kid’s brain is using in the classroom. The maximum capacity of working memory serves like a speed limit –plan your lessons to remain at a safe speed for learning. Limit the amount of new information introduced, then conduct exercises and activities to commit this to long-term memory. Do this before you move on to introduce more new information.
With new subject matter, stay within the magic number. Have your kids manipulate the new information with interactive exercises, problem-solving, and discussions. Allow them to practice and retrieve the information until it begins to form into chunks or connects to other information in long-term memory. Then you know you are ready to move on.
Remember and apply the “Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two” rule.
Remember the 3-Step Instructional Rule
In the world of training and development, there is a well-traveled saying that everyone knows. I learned this many years ago when I started out as a junior trainer – and it’s still valid today.
Every lesson should have three steps:
“Tell ‘em what you are going to teach them, teach it, then tell ‘em what you just taught them.”
It’s one of the most useful rules to follow when you are working on your teaching plan. Organize your content and activities around these steps. This translates into three steps for learning – first establish clear learning expectations, teach your content, then take time to review it so you reinforce the information.
Follow this simple rule – it works.