Have you ever watched toddlers play in a playground? You will notice how the children interact with the objects and nature around them. You will see their eyes question, then see the way in which they resolve the problem that has risen in their minds. Kids are naturally curious. They are discovering their world and when something doesn’t fit they will interact with others and figure out a way this works best for them. While training teachers, I often show this video, Nathan Playing at Preschool and ask teachers to reflect on how Nathan and his friend are learning. Nathan and his friend make muffins out of the leaves and dirt. They then go to bake them but find the muffin tray doesn’t fit. They then figure out a solution together and the way they do this is without any words. Watch the video to discover the imaginative way in which they resolve the issue.
This type of learning encourages play, movement, the exploration of curiosities, problem solving, creativity, collaboration, real world application, personalization and critical thinking. These are all the characteristics of learning that engages and motivates. Our students crave and need this kind of learning in order to find their paths and discover more about themselves and their interests. They are continually discovering how their talents and skills will be used to mark their place in their world. They want to make sense of it all and motivating them to uncover their passions is one way to keep them focused.
We have millions of kids out there who are not focused. They repeat poverty cycles, end up in jail or become addicts. They are part of an educational system that focuses on test results. They are taught from curricula that focus on standardized testing results which means a lot of drilling of facts. Students stay in desks for most of the day and recite answers in order to pass or get their teachers and parents off their backs. They don’t want to learn because most learning in schools is tedious, boring and irrelevant. None of us enjoy answering questions from a textbook or bubbling answers on a worksheet because we don’t really learn much from this process at all. Wouldn’t it be better for our students to instead get out of their desks, work with their peers, come up with many solutions for a problem and test them all until they come up with the solution that works for them?
We will walk into our classes this week and we have a choice. We can decide to lecture, drill, have students answer questions from textbooks, fill in worksheets and follow our set curriculum to a tee. Or we can choose to teach in a way that gets backs to the roots of the learning that inspired and engaged us before we went to school. I hope that many of you will look at your curriculum and see how you can make it support authentic and engaging learning. It is not an easy adjustment, but the time investment is worth it because at the end of the year you will actually like being a teacher, your students will have experienced so much growth, and you will have inspired some of your learners to enjoy learning. Try changing one thing a week or month. That’s what helped me. I began with the chapter tests and switched them into projects. Then I tackled bookwork, vocabulary quizzes, and getting rid of multiple choice activities. I took baby steps until eventually I was the kind of educator I enjoyed being. Good luck on your school year and hope it is one of the best ever!
Shelly Sanchez Terrell (@ShellTerrell) is a teacher trainer, author, and international speaker. She has co-founded and organized the acclaimed educational projects Edchat, The Reform Symposium E-Conference and the ELTON nominated Virtual Round Table language and technology conference and ELTChat. Her prolific presence in the educator community through social media has been recognized by several notable entities, such as The New York Times and The Washington Post. Find free ebooks and resources for teachers on her blog, Teacher Reboot Camp. Look out for her upcoming book, The 30 Goals Challenge for Educators published by Eye on Education.