Somewhere along my path of becoming an educator, I was told a quote that will forever stick with me. “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.” I don’t even know for sure who said that quote, but I’m so thankful they did. I’ve only been teaching for, well, this is my second year officially.
Somedays, probably more often than not, I find myself doing it all wrong. It can be discouraging, so if you’re a teacher who feels like a failure when those kiddos walk out the door each day- let me tell ya, you’re not alone. It’s like I’m trying to pull teeth to get students to pay attention. It’s as if I am fighting them to “just pleaseeeee” learn this stuff. Instead of taking the approach: here’s information you must learn and in order to ensure that you do learn it, I’m going to shove it down your throat and make you take tests to prove yourself. That has not worked one bit for me. I’m approaching it entirely different and it is working! I’ll start by describing a job or something of their interest that captures their attention first and foremost and then explain what their goal is to get out of the work, project, etc. I actually try to make them think that they’re in charge, when in reality I’m still fully in control, but switching the roles around having them WANTING to learn the information for themselves is a breath of fresh air!
Here’s an example of how this looks in my classroom:
Originally: I would tell the students to write down the learning goal (which would be posted on the board). The learning goal might be: I will write an argumentative essay to support claims using reason and relevant evidence from the text.
Then, they would be told which pages to complete and we’d have a hands-on activity to follow, ending with an exit slip (sometimes a homework assignment for extra practice).
Now: I present an argument (one that’s of interest to my 6th graders), have students familiarize themselves with each piece of evidence, break up into small groups and decide their position on the argument. We may have a socratic seminar (my students seem to really enjoy these!) and practice disagreeing politely, as well as, defending our position with facts from the texts. When we’re finished I have students talk about what we did and write down the learning goal in their agenda. Lastly, I tell them the assignment and give little guidelines as to how to complete it. When they ask “how many sentences do we need for each paragraph?” I answer with, “as many as it takes for you to persuade the reader, defend your position, and convince me that you know what you’re talking about.” Most kids love a good challenge and some friendly competition so we even vote on whose is the best (one for each position).
I’m not claiming to have it all figured out. As a matter of fact, I’m publicly owning the exact opposite. I never will be the perfect teacher, as no such person exists. My heart’s desire is for my students to feel less forced into learning and start craving it for themselves. I think in order for that to happen though, something has to change. Our approach as teachers is part of that change. I see some students truly yearning for knowledge (every teachers dream) whenever I openly share my traveling experiences with them. Like I tell them, the more you know, the more places you’ll go. It’s opportunities like that which allow me to draw students in and give them fun incentives to learn.
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