THE CLASS THAT STUDENTS WANT TO COME TO:
We all know that there are many ways to make our students happy: no homework, easy classes and even easier marks. Throw in lots of jokes and a few movies, and you've got a recipe that has students thrilled to be in your class. But will they learn anything?
Too often we equate "fun" classes with those that are slack, where very little meaningful learning occurs. However, I don't think the two are mutually exclusive. In fact, the more engaging your class is, the more likely that your students will learn, even if they stumble into it.
Here are five things that work for me:
1. Be real, be firm, be consistent:
You've heard all of this before, I know. But it's so important it bears repeating. You need to be yourself and show your students that you are a real person with a sense of humour, with hopes and fears, with a tendency to make mistakes. Don't go in there trying to be this perfect, polished person who knows it all. There's nothing more powerful than showing your students that you don't know something -- and then what you do to change that. However, while you're being "real" with your teens, remember that you are the teacher. Be friendly, but take a stand, draw the line, whatever metaphor you want to choose--just make it clear that you are the adult in the room and you have a very important job to do. You can be fun to be with, but in the long run your students will respect you more if you give them structure and discipline.
2. Teach them how to learn, not just what to learn:
For the most part, what we are doing in our classes is not rocket science. However, students can easily get stumped because they just don't know what to do and, more importantly, how to do it. We can't always assume that they know how to interpret, analyze, revise, etc. just because they should have learned how to do it in earlier grades. You would never hand a new driver keys and say "drive"; instead you'd get in that car with him or her and show them what to do. I've been guilty many times in the past of telling my students to complete a task, without showing them. Now that I focus on the learning process, my students are much more engaged. And I don't stop at showing them either. I build in activities that require they actually go through the process when it comes to analysis and revision, for example. Most of us teachers are students by nature. We know how to learn. The greatest gift we can give our students is to teach them how to as well. I blog about process activities quite often: check out this a recent post.
3. Make your activities challenging, but not too challenging:
If the task you give your students is too easy, it can be a little boring. If it's too hard, they'll get frustrated. Dan Pink, author of Drive, calls these Goldilock's taks because they are "just right". When a student feels that they can do it, they will. How do you do this in your classroom? After you've given your students the tools they need to do a complex task, give them an activity that requires them to reach a little further than they have before, something that requires them to synthesize information they have on hand and to use the skills you've been working on. Resist the urge to tell them how to do it and be there to facilitate their learning. You can read about how I did this with my class HERE.
4. Give them a reason then give them variety:
Whenever you start something new, explain to your students what they're doing and why they're doing it. Show them how the lesson is relevant to their lives, other than the fact that it's part of the curriculum so they need to learn it. Look for news articles, pictures and videos that relate to your topic to use as a hook. Then, plan your lessons so the students aren't just sitting there taking notes, doing questions and/or listening to you. If they need information on something, find a novel way to get them to find it, like research stations. If you want to know that they read and understood something, put them in groups and give them a task that will show their understanding. Keep tons of post-it notes, chart paper, markers and highlighters on hand so you can build in actives that get them thinking, learning and moving.
5. Use more formative assessment so students will take risks:
This is something that has transformed my teaching. I used to think they wouldn't do assignments that wouldn't be marked. I found out I was wrong. In fact, it's just the opposite. Once that fear of a bad mark is removed, most students are happy to do work for feedback. It takes the mystery away: we tell them what they need to do to improve and they do it. You can read about my journey with formative assessment here and about a successful activity here.
What makes students excited about coming to a class? It can be that they know it will be easy and full of fun, light activities. However, students will also be excited to come to a class where they feel confident and successful about learning. We know that learning can be fun. The real challenge - and joy - of teaching is getting our students to believe that too.