I recently met a young teacher who is currently teaching English to Vietnamese students in Hanoi.
We were sitting having a drink on the shores of Westlake and talking about our jobs. She told me about her recent experience with her students while teaching them about fables. They had found them very interesting – perhaps because Vietnamese culture is so full of moral tales and they could connect with them personally and conceptually. She had planned for them to write their own fables once they had developed their own “toolkits” for the features of a fable and, it turned out, they were hoping she would ask them to. In fact, they told her what she wanted them to do for their homework. She had been reading their work the day we met and she was clearly excited about what they had produced. She was experiencing what I am going to call the “teaching tingles” – her body language and a spark in her eyes gave it away!
It made me think about all those times that I have told people about something my students and I have done and that wonderful tingling sensation I get as my emotional connection with them and with my job becomes tangible. These are the moments that we should aim to have as often as possible, taking steps to make our teaching and learning culture create the conditions for students to do wonderful things whenever they can.
It is energizing to be around teachers who want to talk about their students’ potential, possibilities and achievements – those teachers who are excited about the things that can be done. In this type of environment, people come up with great ideas and fresh, innovative approaches.
If it makes us feel this way, imagine how it makes our students feel. Perhaps their answer to that age-old question “what did you do at school today?” will change from “nothing” to… well, who knows what they will say!
What recently gave you the “teaching tingles”?
…get the best out of students.
- Believe in them. It is, quite frankly, amazing how often you hear teachers say things like “oh, my kids won’t be able to do that”. If you believe in your students, and they know you believe in them, they will consistently surpass your and their expectations.
- Take the time to know them. Many teachers struggle to get the best from the students simply because they don’t really know them. This is frequently because they are too busy pursuing their own agenda, which often has more to do with teaching than learning.
- Be determined to make it personal. When students make personal connections to the things they learn there is a much higher chance that they will care about and be motivated by them. Their thinking, their processes and their products will naturally be better as a result.
- Set the scene. Let students know that you take them seriously, that you have high expectations and that you will be watching them as they work. Take the time to get them in the right frame of mind and to get the atmosphere necessary for them to be successful. This is time well spent.
- Give them regular anecdotal feedback. Feedback should be happening all the time and in many different forms. Make it clear that you consider every single moment you have together to be a potential learning moment by giving “sweet and sour” feedback as they do everything and anything! Use “noticing and naming” (thanks Lana!) to highlight the things they do and why they are good or not so good.
- Honour them, their learning and their work. Students respond to the effort we put into teaching them, guiding them through their learning and sharing the work they produce. When we go to great lengths to make learning meaningful, authentic, interesting and energetic for them… they respond. When we don’t… they don’t. Pretty simple equation really.
- Be flexible. Don’t stick to plans if they’re not working. Don’t persist with something if students are not responding. Don’t be rigid about where things are going if they’re not naturally going that way. Don’t miss out on chances to let students steer from time to time.
None of these things are particularly new or revolutionary. But, it is really important for teachers to keep coming back to thinking this way, simply because of this fact: when students are not enjoying learning and pushing their own boundaries, it is very often our fault.
Here is a short video that shows some students giving their best and illustrates the culture and environment that can make that happen.
I once heard someone say “we’re not going to bother with blogging, we need to concentrate on the kids’ writing instead”. It is only once you have truly experienced blogging, once your students have been genuinely “let loose” with a blog and once you have seen what happens to the way that students start to use written communication on a blog that you can actually understand the power of it. I love this posting called “20 reasons why students should blog”:
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