We’ve all been through professional development that made us want to pull out our hair or crawl out of our skin. As the speaker drones on, or reads a powerpoint, all you can think is: “When is lunch?”, “How much longer?”, “I already know how to do this!!!”, or maybe even, “I’m totally lost!…they aren’t making any sense!”. While I can almost guarantee you’re shaking your head up and down slightly as you read this, and reflect on your last bad experience with professional development… do you think your students ever feel the same way?
I have come to the conclusion that students don’t want to act out, they don’t want to disrupt your class, and they generally have a desire to learn. It is when we make them feel like WE do, at those bad professional developments, that they are most likely to act out because they don’t know how to handle their own emotional reactions to frustration. While you would obviously not shout, disrupt, or embarrass yourself in a meeting, they have not yet developed the skills to filter out and monitor their reactions like adults.
In order to allow learners to feel comfortable and successful in any environment, we need to do everything we can to accommodate their individual needs, pace, and learning styles. Along with a focus on building relationships, this year in my classroom I have focused on letting students learn at their own pace. I’ve tried to provide enough “stretch,” as well as support, to minimize these feelings among them.
The results? You guessed it! Less discipline problems.
Let’s be clear: no classroom is perfect or without disruption, but in terms of the amount of disruptions and behavior in my class, it was much less than before. There are several ways that I have found to help individualize education and personalize the learning experience for students. While making 12 different assignments for a class is obviously not possible… there are things you can control.
1. Have 1,000 conversations about nothing:
Before you do anything inside the classroom or change any systems or routines that you have set, get to know your students. I know more about the latest video games, rap music, and Air Jordans than I have ever wanted to. Sometimes, having a conversation about nothing with students is a way for you to let them know you are human, and for you to see them in another context. Find out what they like, what they are interested in, and what drives their excitement. That 15 second conversation could save you a lot of trouble in the middle of a class. Anyone who even tries to tell you how to manage a class, without building relationships outside of it with your learners, is lying.
2. Give students time to learn:
Students are often rushed through material so fast that they do not have time to actually understand or learn it. Students must be given the time that they need to work through both content and assignments. Expecting every student to work through the same task, assignment, or learning opportunity at the exact same rate with the same understanding is not realistic. Students should work where THEY are, as opposed to where YOU want them to be.
3. Let them show you what they know, however that may be:
Learners in my classroom are constantly formatively assessed for mastery, and they know what my expectations are at all times. There are times when some of my more cognitively limited students can’t express the knowledge through writing, so instead I allow them to verbally show understanding (or draw, or point, or any other way to show me). Since they know that I only care about what they KNOW and not how much they DO, we often work together to ensure a true assessment of their knowledge. This takes the student focus from being “task oriented” to “learning oriented.” This changes the way they look at learning opportunities: instead of giving them more work to do, we offer them opportunities to further their knowledge and understanding.
4. Let them F.A.I.L. forward:
Learning should never be defined by turning in an assignment and then being judged on your performance. If you, as a teacher, were shown a new teaching method, and then had an observation by a principal the next day that determined if you passed or failed your evaluation for the year, there would be a high probability of failure. I have seen a lot of students have to do that same thing. They get introduced to a topic, are given minimal time to master the information, and are then judged on their knowledge of it just before moving onto the next topic. Students who fail often start to defy the instructor for continuing this cycle, saying things like “I’m not doing this!” In my classroom F.A.I.L. stands for “First. Attempt. In. Learning.” I expect my students to “fail” often during the learning process and they know they will get multiple opportunities to find success. This is perhaps one of the most successful parts of the system I am using this year. My students don’t fear assignments but take them as challenges and even my most challenged students aren’t afraid to try.
As I said before, no classroom is perfect. I still have days that are worse than others. I can truly tell you though, since making these changes in my classroom, I have found my passion for education again. I look forward to welcoming my students into the room and they look forward to an environment where they can thrive. Like anything in education, it’s not perfect, but its on the right track.
Try these things out over the next few days and see if they help you like they have helped me. I’d love to hear your story. If you’ve tried any of these things or want to know more, email me or comment below, and lets talk about it.
Never be afraid to try something new!