Engaging Today’s Students in Active Learning (Part 3)
Barrier Breaking Techniques
Students of this current generation are expected to understand deeper and more complex concepts than students of previous generations. Therefore, the argument naturally follows that more is expected of teachers during this evolving generation to better prepare these students for tomorrow’s workforce. It becomes important for teachers and administration to form policies that aide in the break through of these barriers for every child. The act of learning is far more than the mechanical application of rules and so it becomes necessary to explore ways to engage students and ignite the spark of learning.
Engaging Students: The fact remains that, as a nation, we need to educate our population so that our country stays competitive and the workforce is able to face the challenges of the 21st century and teachers are the key to the country’s success. So how can teachers engage students? How can they reach into the hearts and minds of students who have learned to distrust adults and resist knowledge?
Let’s look at the teaching element first. Part of teachers’ roles in education needs to involve the concept of unfreezing, retraining, and refreezing. Poor habits need to be unfrozen (the pattern broken or lifted from the person’s mind). At that point, a new behavior needs to be introduced to the subject. Finally, once the old habit is broken and a new behavior is introduced, it was time to refreeze the new habit into the person’s behavior pattern.
When students with lower than anticipated grades are given the opportunity to set goals to improve their grades, plus the ability to take action to follow up on their devised strategy, they are more motivated in class.
It is further noted that when teachers clearly state expectations-using basic, simplistic instructions-and students are confident they have clear, attainable goals of moderate difficulty-students feel greater incentive to actively engage in learning. One recent study revealed that the average student assignment consists of such ambiguous instruction that even fellow teachers can’t easily decipher what’s required. The practice of altering behavior patterns, therefore, is not exclusively contained to students; teachers, as well, need to be retrained.
The traditional educator style of teaching that involves students learning a concept and then applying the related behavior to given situations (such as role-play) requires a reversal. If students are guided through activities first without being given instruction on what or how to perceive the situation and concepts are discussed afterward, students are better able to develop their own theories about the activity rather than simply being instructed what to think.
Although many students reject traditional teaching, they crave feedback on their progress and grade improvement regularly. Instead of grading students exclusively on rote memory, it’s suggested that teachers base a portion of grading on their observation of students’ improvement in class performance-i.e., demonstration or modeling of leadership, teamwork, and problem-solving skills.
Using open notebook or open book quizzes on a weekly basis allows students to gain the needed success in test scores as well as to reinforce independent problem-solving skills. The improved grades offer those students who don’t identify positively with school a point at which to begin the belonging process. Furthermore, the skill of investigating information on demand is far more useful for students to adapt to the work environment than the simple task of quoting obscure facts; the art of problem solving serves students better both in school and in their future careers.
Once teachers provide an attainable yardstick for students to evaluate their own behavior, students benefit and grow. Students who are encouraged to maintain a journal of personal revelation, better develop the reasoning needed to track their own progress. Most students are not skilled in self-analysis; however, when students learn to evaluate themselves in constructive ways, they are able to discover personal growth and reinforce the lessons learned.