The finishing touch: anatomy of expert lesson closures
Background: Based on the idea that students remember best what is presented last, the lesson closure is commonly identified as an important component of effective teaching and has recently surfaced as a routine practice of expert teachers in sport. Despite its link to both effective and expert instruction, the lesson closure has seen scarce attention as a topic of research and no studies have examined how successful teachers close their lessons. Purpose: The purpose of this investigation was to examine the lesson closures of expert teachers. Specifically, the lesson closures of expert golf and tennis instructors were analyzed to trace features defining the anatomy of expert lesson closures, including (a) the amount of time experts took to close their lessons; (b) the order in which previously identified episodes of expert closures unfolded; and (c) the instructional content contained within each of these episodes. Participants and setting: Twenty-one expert tennis instructors and 21 expert golf instructors (n ¼ 42) were selected as participants for the study. Berliner’s criteria of teaching expertise were used to identify expert teachers. These included (a) 10 or more years of teaching experience; (b) Professional Tennis Registry (PTR) or Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) certification; (c) formal recognition for quality instruction (e.g. National Teacher of the Year); and (d) peer and student recognition for outstanding teaching. The study was conducted in two different settings: PTR Headquarters on Hilton Head Island, SC, and the University of Georgia Golf Course. Study design: The procedures selected for use in this study were primarily qualitative, given the study’s aim to examine and describe in depth certain features of the teaching process within the context of instructional expertise. The literature that informed these procedures included Berliner’s theoretical work on expertise in teaching, Baker, Schempp, Hardin and Clark’s study of the routines and rituals of expert golf instructors, and two seminal sourcebooks for qualitative inquiry and analysis by Denzin, and Huberman and Miles. Data collection: Data for this study were drawn from two larger investigations of expert sport instruction, during which the instructors were videotaped teaching a 45-minute lesson to either one student in golf or four students in tennis. Data analysis: The videotapes were analyzed for trends in the length, sequence, and content of the experts’ closures. An inductive analysis was used to organize and reduce the data, as well as to verify the accuracy of the findings with the original data set. To increase trustworthiness, two researchers well trained in qualitative methods analyzed the data to achieve investigator triangulation. Findings: Closure lengths ranged between approximately 30 seconds and 10 minutes. A typical closure sequence unfolded through four phases: (a) initiating closure after a successful performance by the student; (b) teacher signals the lesson will close; (c) review of the main points; and (d) teacher provides suggestions for further student practice. Certain expert behaviors emerged as trends in each closure phase, such as maintaining practice conditions late in the lesson to facilitate a successful student performance, using a succinct verbal signal to indicate the beginning of the closure, reviewing both lesson content and student performance, and offering relevant practice drills. Some of the experts’ behaviors served to augment descriptions of effective teaching from the classroom literature. Conclusions: This study illustrates how some expert teachers add a finishing touch to their lessons and suggests an initial model for continuing research and developing practice related to the lesson closure in teaching. It is not clear from this study if novel characteristics of expert sport instruction were a function of the teachers’ expertise or of differences in context between classrooms with large groups of students and instructional settings with small groups of students or a single student. Future research should compare expert teaching across multiple contexts to better define instructional expertise as a global construct and establish clearer boundaries between effectiveness and expertise in teaching.