The Trials and Tribulations of Conveying Information to Students

When students approach me at any time of day, but especially in the morning, and ask me how my day is, my response is always the same, “Best day of my life, thanks for asking.”  The boys seem to get a kick out of it.  Most of the students just accept it for what it is, a positive outlook on life.  They know me as the happiest teacher on Earth and so it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for me to take an optimistic approach to life as well.  There are a few brave questioning and doubting students who wonder if I’m telling the truth.  Today, one of those students called me out.  He asked, “Mr. Holt, if today is the best day of your life, how can tomorrow be better than today?”  My response to him was, “Each new day is a gift because one day I won’t wake up or go to sleep and so each new day that I get to enjoy and experience is the best day of my life.”  This explanation seemed to satisfy the student and usually assuages those who doubt my integrity.  Of course, you’re probably thinking, “You’re crazy.  You can’t possibly believe that.  It must just be what you tell the students.”  And you’d be half-right.  Sure, some moments and days are more memorable than others, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t embrace each new experience with the same gusto as the last.  I know my time on top of Earth’s crust is limited and so I want to carpe diem as much as possible.  I’d rather employ a positive outlook on life than dwell on all of the negative and depressing things that could easily weigh me down.  Research shows that happy people live longer and have more fulfilling lives.  I want to be one of those lucky people.  Each new day is a gift and also a challenge.  Seeing the good in the world is not easy, but every day my heart beats, my mind’s eye looks for the positive and good in every situation, no matter how difficult or challenging it may appear.

This approach to life bleeds over into my teaching as well.  I try to approach each new class and student interaction with an open mind and positive attitude so that I can not only grow as an educator but also help support and challenge my students to grow and develop in their own ways as well.  Of course this isn’t always easy and I fumble from time to time.  I’m not perfect and I’m sure to point this out to my students regularly as I don’t expect perfection from them.  I do remind them that the best and most meaningful way to learn is to make mistakes and then learn from them.  Failure is part of the learning process.

Today in STEM class, I reviewed, with the whole class, the geological timelines the students had all created individually.  I pointed out the big happenings in Earth’s rich history and celebrated the learning and work my students had accomplished.  I asked students, at random, questions throughout this discussion to be sure they were taking in and processing the information being conveyed.  I didn’t expect that they would remember everything covered and I’m certainly not going to test them on the information discussed in class today; however, I did hope that the boys would be able to paint a picture for themselves, mentally, that showcases how big, full, and diverse Earth’s geological history is.  The students had the opportunity to ask questions throughout the activity and many high-level questions were posed and discussed.  The students seemed very interested and curious in how Earth evolved and changed over time.  While this portion of the class took about 45 minutes to complete, it wasn’t until the last few minutes that I noticed the body language of two of the students start to slip and display disinterest and boredom.  I was impressed.  Usually, I am only able to hold their focus and attention for 10-to-20-minute chunks.  I didn’t even realize how long the activity was taking until the last few minutes when I started to notice the change in those two students.  The boys mostly all seemed engaged and were asking great questions.  They seemed to be taking in the information being discussed.

Now, here comes the BUT and questions.  Was it the most effective way to wrap up this activity and project on Earth’s geological history?  They had worked on these timelines for over a week in and out of class.  I wanted them to share their brilliance and knowledge with their peers.  I wanted to celebrate their fine work.  But, was every student genuinely engaged or were they just faking it like I sometimes do?  Were they really processing information and taking in knowledge or thinking about their afternoon sports practice or whether or not they have lint in their belly button?  While I wasn’t grading or assessing the students on a particular objective for this overview discussion of Earth’s geological history, I did hope that some big ideas were conveyed to the boys.  I wanted them to understand how long Earth’s geological history truly is.  I also wanted them to realize how long it took major geological changes and developments to occur.  I hoped they learned this.  Do I know for certain if they did or not?  I did have the students complete an Exit Ticket check-in assessment on which they wrote one big idea they learned from today’s discussion on Earth’s geological history.  Almost every student was able to share one important, overarching theme I had hoped they would extract from today’s discussion.  Two students had difficulty completing this task on their own, but with scaffolding, even they were able to demonstrate their understanding of big ideas they had learned today.  I was impressed.  So maybe I was able to accomplish my goal.  Even so, I wonder if the discussion was the most effective and appropriate way to convey information to them.  Could I have tried another technique that might have been more beneficial to them?  What if they shared their outlines with each other in a rotating pair-share activity?  Would that have worked better?  This might have reduced the amount of time spent on the activity as well.  Without specific instruction and questions from me, would the learning have been as tangible and meaningful to them?  What if I had printed out their timelines, put them together in packets for the students, and had them review them as a homework assignment, taking margin notes along the way?  Would this have been a more appropriate way to accomplish the same task?

Who knows what might have happened if I had taken an alternate route to today’s destination.  I do know that conveying information or knowledge to students can be a challenge.  How do I do it in an engaging manner?  I don’t want to lecture at my sixth graders or have them take copious notes as I drone on and on about Earth’s geology.  Their brains need to develop a bit further for them to be capable of successfully accomplishing a task like that.  I struggle with knowing how to provide information and content to my students in an effective manner.  I doubt myself frequently.  Isn’t that a good thing though?  It means that I am always trying to grow and become a better, more effective educator by reflecting on my practice.  Yeah, I think that’s exactly what it means.  Go me!


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