The Teacher as a Facilitator of Students' Learning
Learning involves selecting relevant information and interpreting
it through one's existing knowledge. Accordingly, the teacher
becomes a participant with the learner in a shared process
of cognition (i.e. constructing meaning in a given situation).
Thus, instruction is geared toward helping the student to
develop learning and thinking strategies that are appropriate
for working within various subject domains.
As facilitators of learning, teachers engage in various activities
- creating a supportive, caring atmosphere for learning,
- promoting discussion in the classroom,
- finding out what the students are thinking,
- helping students clarify and reflect upon their own ideas,
- challenging students' ideas,
- encouraging students to find answers for themselves and
'getting them to think',
- giving feedback,
- motivating and stimulating students to learn (e.g. by
giving positive feedback).
Monitoring students' thinking processes, giving them feedback
and motivating them to learn are not only very important tasks
of a facilitator, but they are also intimately related. Traditionally,
tests and examinations evaluate how students perform in terms
of learning outcome. However in a learner-centred education
system, it is more important to monitor students' learning
processes and to give them direct feedback. Such feedback
can help students learn more efficiently; and if used correctly,
feedback can function as a very powerful tool to motivate
students to learn. Consequently, monitoring students'
learning processes demands the teacher's 'awareness and control'
(or metacognition) of his/her own teaching.
Metacognition, Self-reflection, and Monitoring
Teaching is basically an intellectual task. It is essential
for teachers to be aware of one's place in a long sequence
of operations, e.g. knowing when a sub-goal has been achieved,
detecting errors and recovering from those errors, looking
ahead and looking back. To know whether a sub-goal has been
reached in the classroom means information must be obtained
from the students. If we accept the concept of 'learning
as a construction of knowledge', a teacher should gather information
on students' learning processes as they learn in the classroom rather than information on students' learning outcomes at
the end of the lecture or at a much later stage during tests
Superior teaching involves 'metacognition' on the teacher's
part. A teacher acts metacognitively (i.e. beyond the cognitive)
when he/she appraises students' reactions and then correspondingly
adjusts his/her instructional input. It is as if the teacher
activates a 'freeze frame' on his/her teaching in the classroom,
steps back and takes a second look at what is going on. This
activity in the teacher's mind allows both the formulation
of measures to correct the situation, and feedback to students
that is necessary to facilitate their learning. To gauge a
students' learning process, a teacher must check certain 'indicators
of learning' such as:
- level of interest and enjoyment,
- level of involvement and ownership,
- willingness to inquire and ability to ask critical questions,
- on-task behaviour,
- quality of discussion of ideas among students and teacher,
- learning-to-learn skills,
- transfer and linking of ideas,
- openness to new concepts,
- willingness to ascertain initial hypotheses and subsequent
Of the above measures, questioning can be considered as the
most effective tool to monitor how students learn. Questioning
involves those questions that the teacher raises to the students,
and those that the students ask in order to seek clarification.
The types of questions a teacher poses to students and how
the teacher sequences these questions should capture students'
attention, arouse their curiosity, reinforce important points,
and promote active learning. But being responsive to student
questioning is just as important. Traditionally, teachers
undertake monitoring through evaluating students' answers
to their questions. In contrast, a superior teacher not only
allows, but also encourages/provokes students to ask questions.
This is because much information can be gathered on students'
learning process by evaluating the nature and quality of questions
Feedback as a Motivational Factor
Within the context of education, there are two possible interpretations
of 'feedback'. In the instructional paradigm, it is important
for the teacher to obtain students' opinions about the quality
of his/her teaching. In the learning paradigm, after gathering
information on the students' learning process, it is essential
for the teacher to reflect and then give his/her views on
what he/she has observed back to the students.
Although feedback can be given to an individual, a group
of students, or the whole class, it is more efficient if the
entire class is privy to the monitoring process and feedback
so that students can learn from one another. Direct feedback
is also vital. The longer the delay between work and feedback,
the less effective the feedback becomes. Ideally, feedback
should be provided within minutes after finishing a task (and
no longer than 24 hours after the task's completion), or immediately
after a student asks or has answered a question. When students
learn new skills, feedback should be provided as frequently
as possible (e.g. after each problem/succeeding stage of complexity
faced) to be maximally effective so that students can steadily
become more proficient with the new material/methods.
A positive approach should also be employed when providing
students with feedback on their mistakes. Positive feedback
generally provides more information than negative feedback,
and strengthens a student's motivation and self-confidence.
For example, students can be told when they have succeeded
in decreasing the number of errors made on a worksheet. One
effective method to help a student decrease his error rate
is to prompt him/her to realise the mistake made and articulate
what went wrong, and then to guide him/her to understand how
to arrive at a 'correct' or ideal response.
Whether feedback is given continuously or differentially
influences its efficiency. When continuous feedback is employed,
students receive feedback on their performance each time they
perform a given task whereas differential feedback is only
provided when a student performs better on the task. One advantage
that differential feedback offers over continuous feedback
is that it places the major emphasis on improvement rather
than upon a student's absolute level of achievement. Hence,
all students have a near equal chance of obtaining recognition.