Engaging Students in Their Learning
Does this sound familiar?
It is the start of a new school year. Both teachers and students are excited about the potential of a new year. Classes and timetables are set, and everyone is both ready and nervous about meeting new people and new opportunities. Then, the first class starts, and suddenly, you are transported back into the grind, and it all seems like the holidays were months ago.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Teaching and learning is an evolving process, and if we expect things to be different, even though we are doing everything the same, then we are not doing our best by both our students and ourselves. Effective learning can only happen with carefully planned lessons.
Have you ever stopped and asked your students how they learn? Have you ever considered that what has worked for other classes, will not work for your current cohort? If this is you, then you might want to stop and try something different – you may be pleasantly surprised and invigorated by the results!
This week was the start of a new year for me, and I wanted to do things differently. One of my senior classes have not been progressing as nicely as I would like, and over my holidays, it was time for me to reconsider how I was actually teaching them. It occurred to me, that, I may not be teaching the way they learn. With this in mind, I asked them in the first lesson – “how do you learn best?”.
My students were a little shocked that I asked them, but they were also very eager to share with me what they thought. The results of this lesson have been both inspiring and empowering for all involved – my students loved that was prepared to involve them more in my lesson planning, and I was happy to be reminded of why I became a teacher in the first place.
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Below is the lesson, for the future lesson plans
- Sticky Notes
- Big piece of paper
- Pens or pencils
- Whiteboard or somewhere to display a question
- Hand out a set of sticky notes, or small pieces of paper, to each student
- Ask you students to remember a lesson that helped them remember the content and have a brief discussion
- Ask students about the different way that they learn and have a brief discussion
- Ask the question, and have it displayed, “How do I learn best?” or “What strategies help me to learn best?”
- Ask students to write a different way that they learn best onto a sticky note, a new sticky note for each new way they learn best. Give students some time to complete – my students took about 5 minutes
- Then ask students to come and place their sticky notes onto the large piece of paper provided. Try and get them to group ideas together – it just makes it easier for the next part of the lesson!
- Tell the students what the ideas from the class were and discuss, this way you will get to see if the recorded ideas resonate with other students who may not have thought to write that idea down.
- The next part is the most important. Ask the students what each “learning” idea might look like in your class. Discuss how they might feel that they will learn best and as a group brainstorm what sort of lesson will be best for everyone. This discussion can take a while, but it is the most important! Make sure that each lesson idea and learning strategy is recorded – this way it won’t be forgotten.
Some of the ways that my students wrote about in this lesson were
- Practice exam questions
- Practical and hands on lessons
- Small group discussions
- Writing notes
- Thorough explanations
- Repeating concepts and skills in different ways
- Critical feedback
- Teaching others
There are no surprises here, we know as teachers that our students learn using these strategies. But by simply asking my class, they felt like I was listening to them, especially when we had the discussion about how we could learn the content we needed to, to complete the course.
Some of the ideas for future lessons were:
- Movement lessons for theory
- Justifying examples – from both students and the teacher
- Teaching other class members a skill
- Teaching other classes how to do something
- Different types of feedback – oral, written, from peers, from other staff
- Games to learn the content
- Competitions to complete tasks
- Using stations and rotating through different activities
- Small group work for theory and practical
- Regular practice tests
These lessons came from a Grade 12 class – they were so excited to share with me their ideas, and they walked out of the lesson excited and empowered that I had not only asked them, but more importantly, that I had listened to them.
This lesson has inspired me to be more creative in my future lessons. My lesson planning has had a serious injection of invention and innovation.
So, next time you are in a rut, or your students are not progressing as you would like them to, try asking them how they learn best. The results will surprise you.
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Until next time
Julia from Jooya