Microteaching is a scaled-down, simulated teaching encounter designed for the training of both preservice or in-service teachers. It has been used worldwide since its invention at Stanford University in the late 1950s by Dwight W. Allen, Robert Bush, and Kim Romney. Its purpose is to provide teachers with the opportunity for the safe practice of an enlarged cluster of teaching skills while learning how to develop simple, single-concept lessons in any teaching subject. Microteaching helps teachers improve both content and methods of teaching and develop specific teaching skills such as questioning, the use of examples and simple artifacts to make lessons more interesting, effective reinforcement techniques, and introducing and closing lessons effectively. Immediate, focused feedback and encouragement, combined with the opportunity to practice the suggested improvements in the same training session, are the foundations of the microteaching protocol.
Over the years microteaching has taken many forms. Its early configurations were very formal and complex. Real students (typically four or five) were placed in a rotation of teaching stations in a microteaching clinic. Teachers would teach an initial five to ten minute, single element lesson that was critiqued by a supervisor. The teacher would have a brief time to revise the lesson and then reteach the same lesson to a different group. In later years these sessions were videotaped. Videotaping microteaching lessons became the optimal practice because it allowed teachers to view their own performance.
Microteaching soon spread to more than half of the teacher preparation programs in the United States, and to other parts of the world. Though successful, its complexity overwhelmed its effectiveness as a training device and its use declined over the following decades.
The New Microteaching: Simplified
In the late 1980s and 1990s microteaching was reinvigorated with a completely new format developed in southern Africa and later in China. Because of the lack of available technology in developing countries, microteaching's format had to be made less technology dependent in order to be useful. Early modifications were made in Malawi, but it was in Namibia and China where microteaching was completely transformed.
Twenty-first-century microteaching increases training effectiveness using an even more scaled-down teaching simulation environment. The new microteaching format was primarily shaped as a response to in-service teacher education needs in Namibia, where the vast majority of teachers were uncertified and there were few resources with which to train them. In China it became part of a national effort to modernize teaching practice. Three important new concepts were incorporated:
- Self-study groups. Teachers rotate between the roles of teacher and student, building on earlier versions of "peer microteaching." Self-study groups of four or five teachers have become the norm.
- The 2 + 2 evaluation protocol. In earlier versions of microteaching, rather elaborate observation protocols had been developed to evaluate performance for each teaching skill. In the new microteaching, each new skill is introduced to trainees in varied combinations of face-to-face training sessions, multimedia presentations, and printed materials. These training materials give cued behaviors to watch for and comment on in the accompanying microteaching lesson. After a microteaching lesson is taught, each of the teachers playing a student role provides peer evaluation of the teaching episode using the 2 + 2 protocol–two compliments and two suggestions. Compliments and suggestions are focused on the specific skill being emphasized, but may relate to other aspects of the lesson as well.
- Peer supervision. Originally the microteaching protocol required the presence of a trained supervisor during each lesson. However, with minimal training the compliments and suggestions of peers can become powerful training forces. Trainees feel empowered by the practice of encouraging them to evaluate the compliments and suggestions they receive from their peers (and supervisors, when present), allowing them the discretion to accept or reject any or all suggestions. On average, about two-thirds of the suggestions are considered worthwhile and suggestions from peers and trained supervisors are about equally valued.
The new, simplified format–widely used in the United States as well as abroad in the early twenty-first century–also makes it easier to incorporate the full, recommended protocol of teaching and reteaching each lesson for each student. The microteaching experience goes well beyond the formal, narrow training agenda. The gestalt experience of planning and executing a brief lesson that is closely monitored and scrutinized and the offering and receipt of feedback from respected peers is an integral part of the experience. In the present format students often have three or four complete microteaching cycles in a single course. More cycles tend not to be well received by students, as the training format seems to break down after about four cycles. Some in-service training programs have received enthusiastic reception from students for periodic microteaching sessions (one session each term or semester) over an extended period of time.
The flexibility of allowing each microteaching self-study group to make its own schedule, find its own location, and organize its own training and feedback procedures becomes an important part of the training experience. This leads to substantial savings of resources and allows the number of scheduled sessions to be determined by academic merit, not resource limitations.
Variants of Microteaching
Over the years many microteaching clinics have made modifications in the basic training protocol that detract from the effectiveness of microteaching training, but are thought necessary, given the constraint of resources. Some of the most frequent of these modifications includes greatly increasing the size of the microteaching class. Sometimes an entire class of twenty to thirty-five students is used as the microteaching class. This is necessary for scheduling reasons and because of the lack of facilities and staff for multiple, simultaneous sessions. This adaptation requires students to be passive learners for large numbers of lessons as each trainee has a turn to teach. The number of students in each class means that students teach very infrequently, often only once, and usually have no opportunity to reteach.
Another adaptation is the use of longer lessons, often fifteen or twenty minutes in length, because it is difficult to fit some lesson concepts into a five-minute lesson. This difficulty results from a lack of understanding of a single lesson element. A typical lesson will combine multiple concepts within the same topic, yet teachers often are not trained to break down their lessons into individual concepts. Identifying single concepts and planning a single concept lesson is itself an important skill. Microteaching is well suited to help teachers identify single concepts and learn how to create learning modules from which longer lessons can easily be constructed. Longer lessons in microteaching greatly increase the complexity and duration of training sessions, reduce the number of sessions possible for each individual trainee (unless the length of training is increased), and tend to cause the training sessions to lose focus. Microteaching research at Stanford University repeatedly showed that a five minute lesson is sufficient for the practice of many useful teaching skills in all subject areas.
The development of elaborate microteaching facilities, sometimes with permanent installation of multiple cameras, one-way glass partitions, and even audio capability at each student desk, has been another development. Though very well intentioned, such clinic facilities have not proven cost-effective for the widespread use of microteaching. These facilities are even more personnel intensive. Often special technicians are assigned along with a supervisor/proctor. These facilities would be more effective if the videotaping capacity was entrusted to students, thereby reducing the cost. The ideal would be for one out of every three or four sessions to be videotaped with a simple, one-camera setup with the opportunity to view the lesson immediately. When videotaping is not available and lessons are not taped, the training results have been found to be quite acceptable, though not optimal.
Microteaching Models of Teaching Skills
Microteaching can be an effective tool for the development of teacher training materials. When training protocols are being created to demonstrate new teaching skills, microteaching sessions can be developed and taped giving instances and non-instances of the skill. Asking trainees to view these tapes together is an effective way to highlight and demonstrate the essential aspects of the skill being taught.
Microteaching has been developed as a course in many teacher-training institutions around the world. It readily combines theory with practice. When one considers that teacher trainees in many training programs do their practice teaching under inadequate supervision with no student feedback, the relative merits and economy of microteaching become more and more apparent. Microteaching offers the advantages of both a controlled laboratory environment and realistic practical experience. It is hardly a substitute for teaching practice, but it offers advantages such as close supervision, manageable objectives established according to individual trainee needs and progress, continuous feedback, an unprecedented opportunity for self-evaluation, immediate guidance in areas of demonstrated deficiency, and the opportunity to repeat a lesson whenever desired. When these advantages are combined with the economy of resources required to obtain them, microteaching becomes a valuable training method under many conditions throughout the world.
See also: Elementary Education, subentry on Preparation of Teachers; Secondary Education, subentry on Preparation of Teachers; Teacher Education, subentry on International Perspective.
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Dwight W. Allen