Thursday, September 9, 2010

Sparking the Minds of Students

Getting students excited about their learning is absolutely the best way to have fun every day as a teacher. When your students are fired up about being in your class they bring with them their unbridled enthusiasm and energy. That energy and enthusiasm is then pumped into to you and it begins a positive cycle between you and your students and learning. So what are some ways you can spark the minds of your students and get them excited about learning?

First of all, you need to feel passionate about what you are teaching. If you find your subject matter boring and unworthy of your attention, then you won't be able to inspire your students to be excited about it. If you've lost the passion for what you teach, you need to take some time to reconnect with the reason why you started teaching. Remind yourself of the spark that first entered you and filled you with excitement about your subject area. I've always loved writing. It is something I've been doing since the 2nd grade. I can remember going over to a friend's house and writing story after story while she drew the pictures to go along with them. Teaching writing was not necessarily my first choice, but when I finally decided that was what I wanted to do I became thoroughly excited about inspiring my students to let loose the muse and communicate their thoughts on paper. What was your experience?

If you find yourself teaching something not your first choice, what can you do to become passionate about it? One way is to watch movies, read books, and find interesting facts about that subject area or topic. Actively search for something that will spark your interest and passion so that you can pass it along to students. I, for one, am not an avid mathematician. It is not my forte at all. However, I found myself suddenly having to teach math and needing my students excited about it. I do love puzzles and I connected solving math equations to solving puzzles. Suddenly math seemed like an endless set of mysteries to be solved rather than just skill and drill. When the topic or subject area is not your favorite, it is up to you to find a way to make it intriguing for both yourself and your students.

Secondly, find a way to make the students active in their learning. Passive learning, including listening to lectures and doggedly copying down notes or reading silently and answering worksheet questions is boring. Do we need some of that type of learning? Yes. Do we need that type of learning all the time? No. Look at your lessons and ask yourself, what can I do to get my students actively involved? Break them into groups and assign each one a section of the chapter. Have them become experts on that information and present it to the rest of the class as a skit, on a poster, through a poem or story, or possibly in a Power Point presentation. Create scavenger hunts for students to locate information or have them create their own scavenger hunts and swap papers. Get students moving around the classroom. Create mysteries that require math or science to solve the problem. Give students sleuthing tools so they feel like detectives as they solve these mysteries.

Pose questions that challenge students to think through the answers or research information to solve the puzzle. This can be done in any subject area. Allow students to cut, color, draw, and create products as part of the learning process. Many elementary teachers use these types of learning tools, but unfortunately many middle school and high school teachers seem to feel that it is beneath them and their students to do more than lecture, read, and complete pre-printed handouts. This is so sad because our middle and high school students love to be read to, color, cut, and create. They simply need to do so at a higher level than our elementary students. They have more experiences and bigger ideas to add to the creative process, and as such can come up with fantastic products that enhance both their excitement and learning. For instance, creating collages from modern day pictures in magazines to represent/explain a historical event or historical figure requires students to synthesize information.

Being passionate about your subject area communicates fascination and energy to students. They soak up that energy and return it back to you double-fold. Getting students actively involved in their learning gives them the opportunity to put themselves into the equation. Both of these strategies will work together to spark the minds of your students. This in turn lights the fire of enthusiasm and excitement about teaching and learning in you, which then lights the fire of learning in your students. What an awesome cycle to create in our classrooms and what a lasting legacy we leave when this happens!

Reprinted with permission from Emma McDonald's column, New Teacher Advisor, on Education World.


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