Of all the times of the school year, the most challenging is the winter months between New Year’s and spring break. Students can become lethargic even though the curriculum intensifies. Teachers may be pressured by the teaching schedule, the administration, even by parents (especially those concerned about their children’s grades for college applications). Under these circumstances, teaching can be difficult and learning may be lagging. What can you do?
First, compare teaching to another occupation: acting. The teacher and the actor are alike in some ways: each performs for an audience on a stage or in front of the room, each tries to communicate information to an audience, and each is responsible for engaging his or her listeners.
Actors are sensitive to their audience, quickly recognizing if they are emotionally engaged or bored. Good actors are exceptionally skilled in catching their audience’s attention. Good teachers need to do the same. One of my favorite bits of advice for both occupations is: if your audience is not listening, reevaluate your approach.
Especially during the winter doldrums, as teachers we must actively engage our students in instructional activities and learning. There are many different strategies to engage students: class discussions, demonstrations, cooperative learning, group projects, hands-on activities, Socratic questioning, and many others. Even lectures can be engaging if done well.
Remember your teachers who were spellbinders, engaging your attention and your mind? Think about what they did to keep your attention. Did they break down complicated topics to an easy-to-discuss level? Did they use humor or extra energy to spice up the material? Try some of those techniques.
By finding new strategies to capture and engage your students’ minds, you can reenergize them. Successful learning is based on the teacher’s mastery of content and his or her presentation. Determine if your students are engaged by looking in their eyes, encouraging their questions, watching their activities, and assessing their products in quizzes, homework, and in other forms.
Parents can also help by making sure their children eat a balanced breakfast in the morning for energy, have a nutritious lunch and snacks, and get enough sleep overnight so they are ready to learn throughout the day.
This month, take a look at what’s happening (or not happening) in your classes. Look for new ways to present the same old lessons. You could energize your students and recharge yourself.