MAKING LEARNING FUN: IDEAS FOR TEACHERS
“Kids hate school” gags may be funny in the comic strips, but real-life teachers don’t laugh when kids slouch and grumble through the day. How can you make your classroom a place kids enjoy being?
Let Them Speak
If your idea of proper student behavior is “sit still and listen to what I have to tell you,” of course kids will dread your classroom: no one likes being treated as a subservient with no free-speech rights. Encourage your students to raise their hands whenever they have something to add, and show respect even for off-the-wall opinions. You just might learn something.
If you’re worried about the lesson being disrupted:
- Rehearse lessons in advance, making them about two-thirds as long as class time.
- Ask students to explain, not just express, their opinions. Evaluating why they believe as they do is an important early lesson in critical thinking—and you’re also teaching them, by example, to listen to others’ opinions.
- If faced with a nonstop talker, politely tell them it’s time to give someone else (even you!) a turn. If you sense they have valuable ideas that won’t fit into the day’s schedule, offer to talk with them one-on-one after class.
Maximize Human Interaction
Even with room for student comments, don’t make every day about the kids listening to you teach. Encourage them to address comments to the class as a whole, not just you. Schedule group projects every week. Shuffle seating now and then—not just to minimize whispering and note-passing, but so everyone will get used to seeing different faces close up. While you’re at it, consider forgoing the traditional rows-of-desks-facing-your-desk arrangement and putting all desks in a circle, so everyone can see everyone else’s face all the time.
Put Learning Goals Into Words
The classic schoolchild’s whine of “Why do I have to learn this?” has validity. No one wants to do work that feels like useless perpetual motion; in the adult world, that’s driven many people to despair. It’s a good idea to help kids understand now that life is always about purpose and progress, not just finishing to-do lists and climbing to some vague “next level.”
Try starting each term with an open discussion—followed by a homework assignment—of “what I want to do when I grow up.” Then you’ll have the rest of the term to weave in individual- and age-appropriate mentions of how knowing this is a building block toward achieving that. If your students are older and your class subject-specific, encourage right-brained students in a left-brained class (or vice versa) by making sure the curricula include real-world examples of precision in art, creativity in science, and the like.
Model a Positive Attitude
If you look forward to school every day, students will catch that attitude. Smile. Appreciate everyone for who they are. And don’t resolve that “everything will go as planned today”; remind yourself that surprises are something to be grateful for, because surprises are the best teachers.
Isn’t that the very love of learning you want your students to keep for life?