Is teaching the same thing as purposeful teaching? If I am teaching students, am I doing so purposefully? Does every aspect of teaching have to be done with a purpose? Does every piece of the teaching puzzle serve a purpose? Do I need to have a purpose for everything I do in the classroom? Does teaching focus on the day-to-day activities and structure of the classroom while purposeful teaching focuses on the skills and objectives assessed? Is there a difference between the two? Should there be? Are great teachers also purposeful teachers? Are the two titles interchangeable?
Wow, who knew I had so many questions about teaching versus purposeful teaching? I do believe that great teachers are also purposeful in everything they do. Effective teachers help their students see the purpose in everything they do in and out of the classroom. Helping students find and see the relevance in what curriculum and content is covered is crucial to making the learning meaningful for the students. If the students don’t see how a skill or nugget of information relates to them, they will tune it out almost instantly. Being a great teacher, means being intentional and purposeful at all times.
While I do strive for excellence in the classroom as a teacher, I know that I struggle at times to be a purposeful teacher. I do not always explain the purpose of everything we do in the classroom and I don’t always make a point to share the relevance of what we are doing with the students. This is something I’m constantly working at. I want my students to see why we are doing what we are doing in the classroom.
Today was one of those shining moments for me as a teacher in the classroom. I actually made a point to explain the purpose of what we were doing in the classroom. During Humanities class today, the students worked on recreating a self-chosen piece of Egyptian art. They gathered their materials and started crafting their recreation of the piece while looking at the original on their computer screen. For a few students, this was an easy task. They got right to work, painting or sculpting their Egyptian art piece. Two of those students finished working in class as they were so focused on the task at hand. Those students are the go-getters. They go and get an assignment done like it’s their duty. Now, most of the students in my class are thinkers, tryers, and time takers. They need lots of time to process an assignment and what it’s asking them to do. They also like to try new things and take risks and this means they need more time. And sometimes, those students are also perfectionists and have to make their work look exactly like they pictured it looking in their minds. Those students need the most time. They need time to work, try, fail, try again, and keep trying. These same students usually struggle to complete their work because of the time it takes. They sometimes get frustrated by this time commitment and have a tendency to give up when working. To help those students learn and understand the importance of persevering and working through problems to find new solutions, I made sure to intentionally explain to the students why we are completing this art of Egypt activity at the close of class today. “One of the reasons we are doing this activity is to help you learn how to persevere and work through your struggles. What do you do when you mess up on a line or color? Do you give up or do you persevere and try again? Having a growth mindset and never giving up are crucial life skills. We want you to have the opportunity to practice these skills of perseverance so that you can develop and grow into diligent, hard-working young men who laugh in the face of adversity. By having to recreate a piece of art that is almost impossible to do so perfectly, you learn to make concessions and utilize your problem solving skills to accomplish the task. We purposefully put these problems in front of you so that you would have a chance to practice using the strategies we’ve worked on all year in the classroom.” The students seemed to understand what I told them as they applied these same strategies and skills to assignments they had to complete in STEM class later in the morning.
I wonder, if I had not specifically explained the purpose of the assignment to the students, would they understand why we are completing this art of Egypt activity? Would it make sense to them? Would they practice using the skills and strategies the same way? It’s hard to tell, of course, but I do feel as though making the purpose of an activity or assignment known to the students helps them see its relevance. They also see how the skills used to complete an activity are connected to other activities. Helping students make mental connections, helps them build stronger neurological connections, thus, making the learning more meaningful and authentic. Although everything in life serves some purpose, our students don’t always see that purpose. Therefore, it is our responsibility to help students see the whys and hows of what we are doing in the classroom. Understanding purpose is the key to unlocking learning for our students. Let’s help all of our students unlock this learning for themselves.