Talk to Your Students for the Best Advice About Teaching

Thinking back on the teachers I had in school, my favorites were the ones who made a connection with me.  They tried to get to know and understand who I was as a student and person.  They asked me questions and talked to me.  While I didn’t necessarily learn the most from those teachers, I remember those teachers and classes more positively and descriptively.  I remember the good feelings I had going to sixth grade English class because Mrs. Lacombe went out of her to find me books that I wanted to read.  She got me hooked on Roald Dahl.  She was amazing.  My love for reading started in the sixth grade because of her.  As an older student and teacher now, I try to encapsulate what she did for me, in my work with my students.  I talk to them, ask them questions, get to know them, and find out what they like and dislike so that I can best help them grow and develop as students and people.

Today during lunch, I had the opportunity to engage the students at my table in a discussion around teaching.  As I always do during every lunch period, I asked the students how their classes were.

One student responded, “Same old classes as always.”  I thought to myself, that’s so sad.

I asked him, “What would make it different?  What do you wish your teachers would do?”

He said, Projects.  I want to do more hands on projects.”  The neuroscience behind learning completely supports his answer.  Students need to be doing and engaged in the learning process for tangible learning to take place.  Why not do projects?  Why not allow the students to explore and test?

This same student then said, “In English class, all we do is read our book aloud as a class the whole period every day.”

I was flabbergasted.  “Really,” I asked.  “You just read aloud from your English book for 40 minutes?”

Then another student from that same class chimed in, “Yes, that’s all we do every day.”

How is that possible?  Why is that style of teaching still permitted?  Do the students step into a wormhole when they enter that classroom?  The students are clearly bored and disengaged, and so why does this teacher continue teaching in this same manner?

Then, I opened the discussion to the other 6 boys at my table.  “What do you wish your classes were like?”

One student said, “I want more time to do my homework.”

I then thought to myself, why do our students have so much meaningless homework?  What’s the point of it all?  I asked the table, “What if we reduced the amount of homework you were given?  What if you had no homework or only homework that was meaningful and important to the learning process?”

The table erupted in, “Yes.  Great idea.”  What’s the purpose of homework anyway?  Is it to reinforce ideas, practice new skills, regurgitate information learned, to bore students, or something else?  Most homework seems to be in the form of worksheets or busy work.  Why?  Where is the learning?

One student said, “I actually hate doing homework and so doing it makes me not learn anything.”  Yet, teachers give it anyway.  If meaningless homework turns students off from the learning process, why do teachers still assign it?

Another student talked about turning in late work and how it negatively impacts his grade.  If students do work that meets or exceeds the graded objective, why does it matter when they do it?  If the objective isn’t about timeliness, then why should they lose points?

So, I gained all of this information from a few students in about 20 minutes.  Now, I already knew most of this from my previous training and research, but it was reaffirmed today.  Imagine what else we could learn from our students if we just talked to them more.  All teachers should be asking their students, “How do you learn best?  What do you want class to be like?”  We would get more buy-in from the students and learning would be genuine if we did this regularly.

So, like Mrs. Lacombe did for me, teachers need to talk to their students and get to know them as learners and individuals.  Our classes could be so much more beneficial for our students if we just ask them what they want.

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