2.1 A successful day? Engaging your students may not be enough
I thought the day was a success.
I was exhausted, but elated. For the first time ever, I had spent an entire day in my classroom without once seeing a student asleep (bad) or out of control (worse). Perhaps I had finally discovered the real key to managing a classroom. Certainly it was about building relationships with students and creating a positive classroom culture — both essential elements. But it was also about making the lessons engaging! Instead of just talking about the material, my students had explored it! They had done activity after activity, and I had learned an incredibly important lesson: If I put more energy into making my classroom interesting, I could expend less energy pleading with my kids to stay alert and on task.
One for the “win” column?
The next day, my students struggled to build on that knowledge, and I realized that my activities, while engaging, hadn’t really focused on what my students needed to know. I had lost sight of their learning objectives in the midst of my planning. I had gotten so excited about what we could do that I had forgotten to think about what they should learn.
Please don’t misinterpret my message. Engagement is critical. Get your students invested. Structure activities that excite their personalities as well as their minds. But never, never, never lose sight of what those activities are supposed to be teaching. You have a classroom full of students who struggle with reading, writing, basic math, critical thinking and many other essential skills. Those students are counting on you to highlight what they need to know.
Pay attention to the gaps in your students’ learning. Translate their needs into objectives, and determine how you can measure their progress toward those goals. Then create the lessons that will really engage them — never losing sight of the purpose each lesson must serve.
Educator Grant Wiggins calls this “backwards planning,” encouraging us to design objectives first so we can create assessments and lessons with those objectives in mind. Recognize the power of that process and the role you play in directing your students’ attention. Know what they need, then consider how they best learn.
Did my class have a successful day?
You can’t answer that question if I’ve only told you about my students’ behavior. Success is attained when those kids have been engaged, encouraged, embraced, and educated. Students must feel appreciated, be invested — and they must learn.