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Note: After publishing this post today, its original title "If They Could Just Sit Still They Might Learn Something" didn't seem to fit it anymore. After all, that title once again puts the blame on the students. Thus this new title which focuses on where the problem lies; within me.
You know the group of students; those impulsive, blurter-outers that poke each other during class and never quite seem to be listening to what you are doing. Those kids that are in every class who the more we yell, the less they do. Those kids I thought I had figured out until recently. Well those kids have been teaching me quite the lessons lately. Those kids have reminded me why I changed my teaching style in the first place and now I stand renewed, refocused, and definitely re-humbled.
First lesson; Don't assume they don't know something. After a few days lessons with some students I kept thinking that their gaps were huge, that their knowledge was lacking, that they had missed out on so much. Until I started to pay attention. Then instead of whole concepts missing, I realized there were small misconceptions that needed to be tweaked, things that needed to be defined, items that should be refreshed. It wasn't that they were missing entire units, rather that some of their remembering was just a little off.
Second lesson; Talking more will not teach them more. I kept droning on trying to cover everything that I thought they had missed or needed reinforced; is it any wonder that they grew more and more restless? When raising my voice didn't seem to change the situation, it dawned on me that I needed to stop talking. Let them work, switch up the task, and stop hogging the lime light. Have mini projects, get them moving, even use mini whiteboards, anything to make them active. Switch it up!
Third lesson; Give them time to think. I was so excited when one student knew the answer that I called on them to be more efficient. That way we could cover more material since all I was looking for was the answer anyway. When we take away students' time to think though we rob them of the chance to explore their procedures, to gain confidence, and to learn something. It is not about the answer, it is about how you get there.
Fourth lesson; Bring back the fun. Often when faced with students who seem to be struggling with concepts we switch to drill and kill mode. We take away the "fun" projects because that wont teach them enough. Unfortunately those projects and hands-on activities are just what we need. These students have already been taught something the traditional way, now lets think of another way to explore it. Anything hands-on activity always seems better than just more and more practice.
Fifth lesson; Let them teach. When a student gets something, let them explain how they did it. Let them get the confidence they need to speak to a whole group of peers. Let them boast a little to build confidence. Don't just tell them, "Good job," let them have their moment because perhaps that hasn't happened very often.
Sixth Lesson; Don't punish. When students were blurting out and drowning me in side conversation, my brain immediately switched to consequence mode. Amazing how it still lurks below the surface, ingrained somewhere, even now after almost 2 years with no classroom punishment. Instead of punishing though, I came up with a solution; a simple post it on their desk. Now when they blurt out an answer or jab at each other they have to put down a tally mark. I just make a check motion with my finger and they know, it is between the student and I. Nothing is done with the amount of tallies, it is simply a way for them to see how much they blurt out. Several students have already told me after two days of this that they cannot believe they blurt out so much. Self-awareness beats punishment any day.
When students are loud, out of their seats or simply not focused, we tend to blame the student. We tend to think that something is wrong with their concentration rather than looking inward and wondering what can we change about ourselves? What can we change about our delivery? And while these lessons are not a fix all plan, they are helping me teach these students better. They are reminding me what it feels like to not understand something and still want to learn. They are reminding me that I can be boring and dry as a teacher and that it has a direct effect on the students. Once again, my students taught me something important and for that I am thankful.