Learning from the Student’s View

By Nick Jones, CEI Intern

Much of the conversation on teaching relies on the observation of educators and administrators ‘“ those leading instruction, not the students. Students may answer surveys every so often and parent-teacher conferences help keep parents in the loop, but how would teachers change their instruction if they taught from the perspective of their students.

One teacher did just that. Alexis Wiggins, an IB teacher working in the Middle East shadowed two high school students for two days and received invaluable insight. Her findings are worth considering for your own classroom.

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Students sit all day. Wiggins’s first observation is that ‘students sit all day, and sitting is exhausting.’ From Michelle Obama’s ‘Let’s Move’ campaign to the organization Action for Healthy Kids, there are a multitude of organizations and resources that advocate for the need to engage kids in physical activity. It’s easy for teachers to uninterruptedly present a lesson when there’s a lot of material to cover but students need a break. Giving students time to refresh their minds will allow them to come back to their work with more clarity. Accordingly, researchers at the University of Illinois found that ‘brief diversions vastly improve focus’ (Yates, 2011). According to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, benefits of more active children include:

  1. Faster cognitive processing

  2. Better attention span

  3. Increased performance on standardized tests

(Kohl and Cook, 2013)

Students learn passively 90% of their time in class. Wiggins’s second observation is that students do more listening than they do interacting with learning material. Sure, there are many subject areas that are lecture-centric, but think about learning material like learning a new language ‘“ it requires a lot of interaction to tweak and finesse skills. In an effort to create a welcoming environment, invite students to ask questions and employ comprehension checks between learning concepts.

A more engaging way to teach typically lecture-centered material is a picture tour. Print out pictures of ideas, art, or whatever it is you’re covering in class and post them all around the room. Design a worksheet that prompts students with questions about their observations.

Likewise, research from Gallaudet University indicates that after two weeks of consuming information we remember:

  1. 10% of what we read

  2. 30% of what we watch

  3. 90% of what we do

(Dillehay, 2011)

Students are reprimanded and riddled with rules all day long. Obviously students need structure and a general set of rules to govern them but the key is making them effective. Wiggins noted she ‘lost count of how many times were told to be quiet and pay attention.’ When making classroom rules, consider the 5 Cs: clarity, consistency, communication, caring, and create. Include students in rulemaking and discuss fair ways to address misconduct. Including students in rule enforcement makes them accountable and gives them a sense of social responsibility. What’s more, having students consult other resources before asking their teacher a specific question can take pressure and stress off educators who feel as though they already answered that particular question.

While teachers are often audited by their peers and superiors, considering the other spectrum of learning ‘“ the students, can spark fresh ideas about how teachers teach. With the stress of standardized testing and other external pressures, it’s easy to forget that there is more to class than just teaching for the test, students come to school to feel safe, a sense of community, and to grow as individuals.

References

Dillehay, J. (2011). Why are our students so passive in class? Washington, D.C.; Gallaudet University. Retrieved 2014

Kohl III, H. W., & Cook, H. D. (Eds.). (2013). Educating the Student Body: Taking Physical Activity and Physical Education to School. Washington, DC: Institute of Medicine, National Academies Press.

Martin, B. (2011). The 5 C’s of Effective Discipline: Setting Rules for Children.Psych Central. Retrieved on October 30, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/the-5-cs-of-effective-discipline-setting-rules-for-children/00010504

Yates, D. (2011, February 8). Brief diversions vastly improve focus, researchers find. In News Bureau | Illinois. Retrieved 2014, from http://www.news.illinois.edu/news/11/0208focus_AlejandroLleras.html