Guest Student Post – Improving your teaching

I’m excited to post the contents of a speech given last week by a student from my school.  Crispian is in Year 10 and has been working with me for a couple of months to develop his speech writing and delivery.  Last week he presented this speech in front of about a dozen of his teachers.

The content is great and includes a few challenges for all teachers about the need to consider new and engaging teaching practices.

 

 

You will probably remember the ridiculously comical film, Shrek. This peculiar film has many memorable parts. You may remember the heroic upside-down rescue to save Princess Fiona or the interrogation of poor Gingerbread Man. And of course, you could never forget Donkey, for one, who seemed to get all the good lines. Except for one in particular. That Shrek got. About onions. ‘Wait a second,’ you say. ‘Onions?’ Yes, there was something about onions.

Ogres have layers, onions have layers, and therefore ogres are like onions. Outstanding logic there. Well, in all truth, Shrek has a point. Ogres most definitely have layers. In fact, virtually everything does. Each person has a character that is built and wrapped by layers of their life. But what is most relevant is that the best class environment is built upon by many different layers, just like how the core of an onion is wrapped in layers.

Throughout my journey as a pupil, I have discovered that some students are not overly keen about school. I know, shocking, but it is a fact! Some don’t really care, some just get bored and some feel pressed with difficulties, each having their own reasoning. Occasionally I can relate to these. Despite these occasional lows, I am aware of the effort you teachers display to increase the fun factor of classes. Through my student perspective, I am confident that I can help your classes become even more enjoyable for all students through five layers that can be easily wrapped around your class plans. These five layers are: relevant work, being the unique you, telling stories, initiating discussions and being creative.

The first layer of the onion is… making work relevant. As a whole, schoolwork often does not relate to real life. This is a problem. Learning information that has no apparent relevance to any of our possible future careers is a complete waste of time. Notice how I said ‘apparent’. I think that we students are missing the hidden relevance of certain work half of the time. We need to know about the hidden benefits of learning the work you teach us.

One of the primary deciding factors that sets one class from the rest is whether students have the incentive to learn what is taught. I’ve heard from an adult youth worker that our generation – the generation you teach – is becoming much more self-centred, and I hate to say it, but it’s probably true. Despite the obvious problem of selfishness, you can still turn this negative into a positive! This characteristic can be easily exploited to get students to learn, and to enjoy learning, by giving them a ‘what’s in it for me’ reason.

Work is easier to remember and understand when links are made throughout the learning process. I know that I don’t like learning something I don’t understand. And I’m sure it’s the same for most people. So if all the other reasons aren’t enough, why not make what you teach more understandable?

There are some questions teachers should be thinking of and answer when preparing lessons. Why should students try learn the information you teach? How does this information relate to real life? By simply spending an extra minute in lessons to answer these questions allow us to connect and understand class work easier. Speaking is not the only way to create links. Activities can be designed that show and let students experience the real life importance. Connecting topics to the outside world is highly beneficial.

Our next layer – a livelier layer – considers how younger people, like we students, are naturally more inclined to be active. Writing notes is boring. I don’t like it and my class doesn’t like it. Why? Youth are active people, despite the stereotypical idea of teenagers lounging around watching television and trying to do their homework at the same time… but failing. But back on subject – we are active people. The majority of us prefer practical subjects, especially PE, over more theory-based subjects

Most of you are probably aware of the push by students to reincorporate sport during afternoons, which was discontinued a few years ago. I think that one of the primary reasons for this push is because of the appealing activity that would be involved in those lessons.

However, active work is not limited to the practical subjects. Theory-based subjects such as English, Mathematics and History can easily incorporate a more active aspect. Similar to the appeal of afternoon sport, setting aside a few minutes to play short games during class to illustrate points easily grabs students’ attention. Other activities that simply get students out of their seats are engaging, waking students from the typical boredom of writing notes.

On to the next layer. You are a living story! Just being yourself tells as much of a story as speaking, but being fake is detrimental. You can easily see through a big cheesy smile like the one I’m trying to talk through right now. Obviously the smile was fake. It’s the same way with students. We can tell whenever you are not displaying your true self. Displaying a character that is not your true self not only downgrades your credibility as a teacher, but is nearly always bland and always undeveloped. Your real character, which is built on layer upon layer of experience, is the real jewel of a classroom. It is your personality and your experience that makes your class unique and different from any other.

You teachers must be sure to share the real you to students. In Psalm 139 it says “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” Every one of you… your character… is the unique work of the creative, all-powerful and mystifying God. Why not display you, the work of God, throughout the classroom?

For the past term in English, our grade has been discovering Nazi Germany from a literary point of view. Part of the unit involved the viewing of The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas. Some of you may have seen this film, while others would have heard of it, and would know of the film’s highly emotional content. I for one am a ‘highly emotionally intelligent person’, meaning I become affected emotionally more than a typical student. Due to my self-knowledge of my emotional intelligence, I came to the realisation very quickly that I would be very affected by the film. Upon this realisation, I decided to inform my English teacher. With guidance from the teacher, I met with our Counsellor to learn strategies of tackling emotions.

Now the only reason I ended up learning strategies that did effectively deal with the impacting emotions was because I felt connected with the English teacher. The teacher had shared throughout numerous occasions personal stories about herself to the class. I am certain that due to the sharing of these stories, my relationship with the teacher reached the point where I felt comfortable in sharing my personal story.

This is only one example of the importance of sharing yourself to a class. But there’s more. As strange as it may seem, we actually enjoy knowing about you. Sharing true stories and experiences about you builds layers of relationships between each and every student in the class. Plus, those stories are breaks from working, and breaks from working are always enjoyable.

Pastors and preachers have embraced the principal of story-telling in their sermons just like Jesus. The stories act as both a hook to generate interest and an illustration for the sermon. This principle can be applied easily to lessons. How did you feel when I shared about my ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas‘ experience? Telling stories like this is an example of how telling stories during your lessons will engage and interest students. And guess what! You even manage to provide a real life situation to refer to throughout the lesson, so bonus!

Stories told by teachers also help create a more appeasing vibe in the classroom, as students feel they are being communicated with rather than being lectured to. Lectures are considered by the majority as uninteresting, while stories are the opposite – they are interesting. Over the course of this public speaking task, I have discovered the purpose of stories… or what is technically called anecdotes. All I ever hear from Mr Wilcox is that anecdotes are important. He must have literally drilled that idea into my head. Thanks.

Stories and anecdotes are much easier to tell when you display your character. In fact, your character is one of the most crucial things to display when teaching. You have spent years developing your character, so why don’t you display what is truly you? Your unique and special character has been built through a journey that is unique to you. This unique character brings life into the classroom, ensuring it is different to every other class, and not transparent but instead much more interesting.

Stories are not the end. Initiating discussions during classes is just as golden. Discussions are an engaging way to recall, develop and apply information that has been learnt. We students are given the opportunity through discussion to express our values and thoughts on a subject, consider ideas from other students and expand on our own. All of this allows us students to discover new ideas and perspectives that would otherwise be displayed only by the teacher.

As I just said, discussions are engaging. As we reach a more mature age, we students are increasingly finding discussions more appealing than when we were young. In my spare time I am actively part of a forum community – an online site where discussions take place in thread format. Numerous threads sprout in these forums daily, threads of which I would typically read through and then input any discussion I feel necessary. There is a reason why I, and many other people, enjoy participating in this online environment during free time – to engage discussion and challenge myself.

I generally do not bother participating in forum threads that begin with a simple question. This is similar to my participation in class discussions. I like to share my view on other people’s ideas in the classroom, but I dislike answering simple questions. Teachers should set aside some class time to express their own potentially controversial ideas for students to discuss.

Discussions are also advantageous in developing the critical thinking of students by encouraging them to show their ideas and ask questions. A student with good skill in critical thinking constantly tries hard to understand and evaluate learnt work, and especially through rhetorical questioning. Students that learn this type of thinking also become more engaged in classwork, and thus find it more enjoyable.

Finally, the topic you’ve all been waiting for… Homework. I could never pass the opportunity to ramble on about – I mean briefly mention – the topic of homework. You’ve probably heard about debates over homework for years, but one thing that stands out is the obvious negativity of students towards being given homework. I am one of those that lean against – I really think homework should be limited in supply. From a student perspective, being given extra homework on top of assignments from other classes inflicts huge amounts of pressure, especially as homework is typically due during much shorter timeframes.

Now, I’m not going to be like every other student and say that homework should be abolished, decimated and pulverised, and never seen again, because, granted, there are certainly times when homework may be necessary, such as to revisit work learnt. However, I am sure that there are ways to increase the fun factor of homework! How? Using the layer of creativity!

Homework should be something that students would want to do in their spare time. Simply answering questions, researching or doing the ‘go home and look at this’ is bland. Interesting homework should be creative, such as making something artistic, or be ingeniously related to hobbies.

What do you think might happen if you relate homework to hobbies? All of us have some type of hobby or interest. Teachers can take into account student’s common hobbies and use them to make homework seem more engaging. Firstly, teachers should find out what a student’s interests are by

communicating with them. Then, teachers should relate homework to hobbies, so homework becomes something that students actually want to do. I remember one time that I actually enjoyed homework. Pretty amazing for someone like myself. This homework came in the form of creating a poster. I love computer art and graphical work, so this really appealed to me. It is one case of homework I actually did, started work on quickly and actually enjoyed. That is creative homework in my books.

As I reach the end, let’s remember to apply the five simple layers wrapped up in this package.

  • Make work relevant – tell us ‘what’s in it for me?’
  • Show us the wonderful you – display your flare for all to see.
  • Bring us from the classroom into another world with stories and anecdotes.
  • Initiate discussions – we think, we learn and we enjoy it.
  • And be creative. Turn homework from the ‘ugh’ the ‘ha’!

So, just remember that you… and your classroom… both have layers.

 

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