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Teaching and learning situations

Hill suggests that teachers need to start with an understanding of where the learner is in terms of their learning, the level they have reached, past experience, and understanding of learning needs and goals (2007).

As part of the overall planning process for a teaching session you will have defined the aims of the session, the learning outcomes or objectives and possibly an assessment (see the Setting Learning Objectives module for more details on how to do this).

At the start of the session, aims and outcomes should be explained to the learners to set the context for the learning. As discussed earlier, one of the responsibilities of the teacher is to help align the stated, formal learning outcomes with the individual learner’s educational needs. So how can we do this in busy clinical sessions such as a ward round, outpatients clinic or in a GP practice when we might be involved in teaching many different groups of learners?

Assessing learning needs can be done relatively informally at the start of a teaching session simply by asking the learners what they would like to or what they expect to get out of the teaching session. Making this a routine part of any teaching session helps to avoid those situations where the teacher is gamely plodding on regardless, even though the learners are clearly disengaged with the process.

The first step is to establish a good rapport with learners so that you can work together towards what should be a shared objective. If you have planned your teaching session thoughtfully and learners are aware of the curriculum, the learners’ needs and your plans for the teaching should be well-aligned and there will be no need for more than minor adjustments. Sometimes, although the learners’ needs may be different from or additional to the stated learning outcomes, it is important to teach the session according to the overall curriculum or timetable. This is especially important when the teaching topics are linked with formal assessments. Explain this to the learners, acknowledge their needs and (if necessary) find ways to meet their needs outside the current teaching session. This may involve recommending reading or e-learning resources, setting extra teaching sessions, setting up learning sets or speaking with course coordinators.

On the occasions you are asked to teach a session without much background or with an unclear remit, you may find that there is very little alignment between what you plan to teach and the learners’ needs. Again, discussing this with the learners and making a sensible plan to meet needs is the best strategy, although this is less possible in a large group or lecture-based situation or when time is short.

During and towards the end of the teaching session we need to keep in sight how far the learners have travelled towards the learning goals, where they may have gone off track and what further learning or practice may be required. This where a detailed lesson plan can be very helpful; see Teachers’ Toolkit.

Teachers need to keep an eye on the tasks they want learners to achieve as well as the process of learning (which may involve managing group dynamics), as both task and process need to be attended to so that learning needs are met. If we go back to the learning journey metaphor, the process and the tasks/activities involved in the journey will be very different if you are flying, travelling by car or by boat; if you travel alone or in a group; if you have never been to an area before or if you are being led by a guide who is very familiar with where you want to go.

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