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Aviation Instructors Handbook | Chapter 4

Effective teaching is based on principles of learning which have been discussed in some detail in Chapter 1. The learning process is not easily separated into a definite number of steps. Sometimes, learning occurs almost instantaneously, and other times it is acquired only through long, patient study and diligent practice. The teaching process, on the other hand, can be divided into steps. Although there is disagreement as to the number of steps, examination of the various lists of steps in the teaching process reveals that different authors are saying essentially the same thing: the teaching of new material can be reduced to preparation, presentation, application, and review and evaluation. Discussions in this handbook focus on these four basic steps. [Figure 4-1]


For each lesson or instructional period, the instructor must prepare a lesson plan. Traditionally, this plan includes a statement of lesson objectives, the procedures and facilities to be used during the lesson, the specific goals to be attained, and the means to be used for review and evaluation. The lesson plan should also include home study or other special preparation to be done by the student. The instructor should make certain that all necessary supplies, materials, and equipment needed for the lesson are readily available and that the equipment is operating properly. Preparation of the lesson plan may be accomplished after reference to the syllabus or practical test standards (PTS), or it may be in pre-printed form as prepared by a publisher of training materials. These documents will list general objectives that are to be accomplished. Objectives are needed to bring the unit of instruction into focus. The instructor can organize the overall instructional plan by writing down the objectives and making certain that they flow in a logical sequence from beginning to end. The objectives allow the instructor to structure the training and permit the student to clearly see what is required along the way. It also allows persons outside the process to see and evaluate what is supposed to take place.


One good way to write lesson plans is to begin by formulating performance-based objectives. The instructor uses the objectives as listed in the syllabus or the appropriate PTS as the beginning point for establishing performance-based objectives. These objectives are very helpful in delineating exactly what needs to be done and how it will be done during each lesson. Once the performance-based objectives are written, most of the work of writing a final lesson plan is completed. Chapter 10 discusses lesson plans in depth and provides examples of a variety of acceptable formats.

Performance-based objectives are used to set measurable, reasonable standards that describe the desired performance of the student. This usually involves the term behavioral objective, although it may be referred to as a performance, instructional, or educational objective. All refer to the same thing, the behavior of the student.

These objectives provide a way of stating what performance level is desired of a student before the student is allowed to progress to the next stage of instruction. Again, objectives must be clear, measurable, and repeatable. In other words, they must mean the same thing to any knowledgeable reader. The objectives must be written. If they are not written, they become subject to the fallibility of recall, interpretation, or loss of specificity with time.

Performance-based objectives consist of three parts: description of the skill or behavior, conditions, and criteria. Each part is required and must be stated in a way that will leave every reader with the same picture of the objective, how it will be performed, and to what level of performance. [Figure 4-2]


The description of the skill or behavior explains the desired outcome of the instruction. It actually is a learned capability, which may be defined as knowledge, a skill, or an attitude. The description should be in concrete terms that can be measured. Terms such as “knowledge of...” and “awareness of...” cannot be measured very well and are examples of the types of verbiage which should be avoided. Phrases like “able to select from a list of...” or “able to repeat the steps to...” are better because they can be measured. Furthermore, the skill or behavior described should be logical and within the overall instructional plan.


Conditions are necessary to specifically explain the rules under which the skill or behavior is demonstrated. If a desired capability is to navigate from point A to point B, the objective as stated is not specific enough for all students to do it in the same way. Information such as equipment, tools, reference material, and limiting parameters should be included. For example, inserting conditions narrows the objective as follows: “Using sectional charts, a flight computer, and a Cessna 172, navigate from point A to point B while maintaining standard hemispheric altitudes.” Sometimes, in the process of writing the objective, a difficulty is encountered. This might be someone saying, “But, what if...?” This is a good indication that the original version was confusing to that person. If it is confusing to one person, it will be confusing to others and should be corrected.


Criteria is a list of standards which measure the accomplishment of the objective. The criteria should be stated so that there is no question whether the objective has been met. In the previous example, the criteria may include that navigation from A to B be accomplished within five minutes of the preplanned flight time and that en route altitude be maintained within 200 feet. The revised performance-based objective may now read, “Using a sectional chart and a flight computer, plan a flight and fly from point A to point B in a Cessna 172. Arrival at point B should be within five minutes of planned arrival time and cruise altitude should be maintained within 200 feet during the en route phase of the flight.” The alert reader has already noted that the conditions and criteria have changed slightly during the development of these objectives, and that is exactly the way it will occur. Conditions and criteria should be refined as necessary.

As noted earlier, the practical test standards already have many of the elements needed to formulate performance-based objectives. In most cases, the objective is listed along with sufficient conditions to describe the scope of the objective. The PTS also has specific criteria or standards upon which to grade performance; however, the criteria may not always be specific enough for a particular lesson. The instructor should feel free to write performance-based objectives to fit the desired outcome of the lesson. The objective formulated in the last few paragraphs, for instance, is a well-defined lesson objective from the task, Pilotage and Dead Reckoning, in the Private Pilot Practical Test Standards.


The use of performance-based objectives expands the conventional idea of an objective to include conditions and criteria. This expansion opens the way for the performance-based objective to be used to fill in many of the blanks on the lesson plan. For example, having formulated the conditions under which the student will accomplish the objective, the instructor has already done most of the work toward determining the elements of the lesson and the schedule of events. The equipment necessary, and the instructor and student actions anticipated during the lesson have also been specified. By listing the criteria for the performance-based objectives, the instructor has already established the completion standards normally included as part of the lesson plan.

Use of performance-based objectives also provides the student with a better understanding of the big picture, as well as knowledge of exactly what is expected. This overview can alleviate a significant source of frustration on the part of the student.

As indicated in Chapter 1, performance-based objectives apply to all three domains of learning — cognitive (knowledge), affective (attitudes, beliefs, values), and psychomotor (physical skills). In addition, since each domain includes several educational or skill levels, performance-based objectives may easily be adapted to a specific performance level of knowledge or skill.


Instructors have several methods of presentation from which to choose. In this handbook, the discussion is limited to the lecture method, the demonstration-performance method, and the guided discussion. The nature of the subject matter and the objective in teaching it normally determine the method of presentation. The lecture method is suitable for presenting new material, for summarizing ideas, and for showing relationships between theory and practice. For example, it is suitable for the presentation of a ground school lesson on aircraft weight and balance. This method is most effective when accompanied by instructional aids and training devices. In the case of a lecture on weight and balance, a chalkboard, a marker board, or flip chart could be used effectively.

The demonstration-performance method is desirable for teaching a skill, such as a ground school lesson on the flight computer, or during instruction on most flight maneuvers. Showing a student pilot how to recognize stalls, for example, would be appropriate for this method. The instructor would first demonstrate the common indications of a stall, and then have the student attempt to identify the same stall indications.

Combining the lecture and the demonstration-performance methods would be useful for teaching students to overhaul an engine. The initial information on overhaul procedures would be taught in the classroom using the lecture method, and the actual hands on portion in the shop would use the demonstration-performance method.

In the shop, the instructor would first demonstrate a procedure and then the student would have an opportunity to perform the same procedure. In the demonstration-performance method, the steps must be sequenced in the proper order so the students get a correct picture of each separate process or operation, as well as the overall procedure.

Another form of presentation is the guided discussion which is used in a classroom situation. It is a good method for encouraging active participation of the students. It is especially helpful in teaching subjects such as safety and emergency procedures where students can use initiative and imagination in addressing problem areas. All three forms of presentation will be addressed in greater depth in Chapter 5.


Application is where the student uses what the instructor has presented. After a classroom presentation, the student may be asked to explain the new material. The student also may be asked to perform a procedure or operation that has just been demonstrated. For example, after an instructor has demonstrated and explained the use of the flight computer, the student may be asked to use the flight computer to compute groundspeed, drift correction, or time en route. In most instructional situations, the instructor’s explanation and demonstration activities are alternated with student performance efforts. The instructor makes a presentation and then asks the student to try the same procedure or operation.

Usually the instructor will have to interrupt the student’s efforts for corrections and further demonstrations. This is necessary, because it is very important that each student perform the maneuver or operation the right way the first few times. This is when habits are established. Faulty habits are difficult to correct and must be addressed as soon as possible. Flight instructors in particular must be aware of this problem since students do a lot of their practice without an instructor. Only after reasonable competence has been demonstrated should the student be allowed to practice certain maneuvers on solo flights. Then, the student can practice the maneuver again and again until correct performance becomes almost automatic. Periodic review and evaluation by the instructor is necessary to ensure that the student has not acquired any bad habits.


Before the end of the instructional period, the instructor should review what has been covered during the lesson and require the students to demonstrate how well the lesson objectives have been met. Evaluation is an integral part of each classroom, shop, or flight lesson. The instructor’s evaluation may be informal and recorded only for the instructor’s own use in planning the next lesson for the students, or it may be formal. More likely, the evaluation will be formal and results recorded to certify the student’s progress in the course. In Chapter 5, methods of integrating training syllabi and record keeping will be introduced.

In either case, students should be made aware of their progress. Any advances and deficiencies should be noted at the conclusion of the lesson. Failure to make students aware of their progress, or lack of it, may create a barrier that could impede further instruction. [Figure 4-3]

In aviation training programs, the instructor should remember that it often is difficult for students to get a clear picture of their progress. Students in flight training seldom have a chance to compare their performance with other students. However, they are in a competitive situation with an unseen competitor—competency—and they are normally able to compare their performance only with that of their instructor. The instructor’s feedback must adequately compare the students’ performance to the completion standards of the lesson plan so the students really know how they are doing. Otherwise, the students may become discouraged when their only visible competition, their instructor, is doing well and they are not.

In addition to a review of knowledge and skills learned during the instruction period just completed, each lesson should include a selective review and evaluation of things previously learned. If the evaluation reveals a deficiency in the knowledge or performance, it must be corrected before new material is presented.

If deficiencies or faults not associated with the present lesson are revealed, they should be carefully noted and pointed out to the student. Corrective measures that are practicable within the limitations of the current lesson should be taken immediately. Remedial actions, which are beyond the scope of the immediate lesson, must be included in future lessons in order to minimize unsafe practices or other discrepancies.

The evaluation of student performance and accomplishment during a lesson should be based on the objectives and goals that were established in the instructor’s lesson plan. Review and evaluation allow both the instructor and the students to have a valid picture of where the student stands in respect to the established standard. Review and evaluation in every lesson provides opportunities for both positive feedback and correction of faults.