VARIETY IS THE SPICE OF LIFE (AND LESSONS!)
I once shadowed a student for a day of classes to see what triggered their problem behaviour. What astonished me was not that students were off task or difficult but that they were attentive and compliant for so long when they were expected to sit and listen to teachers talking ad nauseam. The tasks they were asked to do were not inviting or challenging or motivating. There was no reward, intrinsic or extrinsic, for completing work.
Much off task behaviour and disruption could be prevented through the use of relevant, engaging curriculum and interesting pedagogy. If you consider how long you can sit still in a meeting or professional development and remain focused it is not that difficult to understand why students can be off task and unmotivated.
I recently heard the term “three step lesson plan’. It means taking 3 steps to the classroom and then start talking! Really? I am still amazed how often I see ‘chalk and talk’ lessons though now of course it is ‘whiteboard marker and talk’.
When you add a social element to your lessons by allowing them to discuss and work in groups, you are teaching students how to get along with each other, how to take turns in a conversation and how to listen respectfully to someone else’s opinion.
Making the learning more interesting for the students will also increase your enjoyment so why not give it a go?
Here are some ways to change it up:
1. CREATE A BALANCE. Structure your lessons with a balance of listening and activity. Young people can listen effectively for about half their age in minutes e.g. if they are 12 they can listen for 6 minutes at one time.
2. USE A SCHEDULE. Make the structure obvious to the students by having a schedule on the board which could look like this: 10 mins teacher talk, 10 minutes paired work, 10 minutes sharing with whole class, 10 minutes recording in work books, 5 minute review and game.
3. Use paired and group activities.
4. GAMES AND SIMULATIONS. Having fun engages our brain and makes the learning memorable. I can still see students keenly learning their times tables to see how quickly they could recite them and beat their own time.
5. ALLOW CHOICE. Give students a say in when and with whom they present their work. Allow them to choose whether they present to the whole class, a small group or to the teacher.
6. ALL STUDENTS ANSWER. Use mini-whiteboards for students to write answers and hold up to the teacher. This approach reduces anxiety for students who fear failure as the answer can be erased, and gives the teacher immediate feedback about how well the students are learning.
7. INCORPORATE MOVEMENT. No one learns best by sitting at a desk or on the floor for long periods of time. Use movement to underscore the learning. Adding movements to learning can enhance and embed the learning. Think about using actions with a song or memory tricks to learn lists of dates.
8. JIGSAW OR EXPERT GROUPS. Students reading and learning a topic then teaching it to a small group.
9. USE MUSIC. It can signal the end of a task, transition time or pack up time. Use music as part of your lessons…as a break, as a movement, to lift the mood or to give students thinking time. Music has the power to change feelings- use it to provide a background to your activities. It can also promote positive relationships through shared tastes and knowledge of songs. Singing is a fantastic transition activity for younger students and could be used effectively with older students who also love to sing.
10. PAIRED AND GROUP DISCUSSIONS. We learn by talking about things and giving students opportunities to discuss the work will help to make it relevant and meaningful. Keep chatting times short and give clear boundaries for the discussions to keep students on task.
11. Give practical demonstrations to make the learning relevant and real.
12. PEER MENTORING. Have students explain content to each other.
13. CLASS MEETINGS. Conduct real life problem solving situations addressing student need e.g. how to develop time management skills or how to deal assertively with bullying behaviour.
14. USE A VARIETY OF RESOURCES. Raid the library to provide students with resources to use e.g. a range of texts, laptops, internet, encyclopedias, posters, guest speakers, excursions, incursions etc.
As an adult can you sit all day? Check out this article where a therapist goes to middle school and tries to sit all day.