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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Holmén

How I Shocked My Students into Learning

Updated: Oct 8, 2018

The overwhelm of knowledge
Are we creating students that can handle this information overload?

Studies are showing that in this Age of Knowledge, products and services will be composed of more intellect and less labor, material, and capital. The primary source of wealth creation will be the human imagination, something that cannot be managed using traditional methods stated by authors, Gorey, Dobat and Sweeney from System Thinkers, a publication that shares the newest innovations in all venture sectors.

So what does this have to do with our classrooms? Ultimately, every student that crosses our thresholds must have the ability to take on new information and apply it to affect the desired outcome. When I look back through the 25 years of teaching, I knew I had to change the way I taught to create a classroom of self-starters that challenged their environment, and not just become passive followers that parrot their teachers' expectations.

My First Lesson: The Tourist Experience of Heightened Awareness

Can you remember what it felt like traveling to a new city or country and feeling that excitement and anxiety of the unfamiliar? Struggling to find the best place to eat, let alone navigate a foreign language felt daunting, yet you felt quite accomplished when you reflected back on your visit.

Teaching students to become mindfully aware and engaged in their learning takes a different style of teaching. You can't "prepare' them for what's coming as many styles of teaching expect. Background information, prepping for vocabulary and giving "I can" statements all has its place, but for students to become seekers of knowledge, you have to give them opportunities to seek!

Step 1: Speak in Another Language While Completing a Simple Task

Every first day of class with my new students, I prep their desks with white copy paper and scissors. The only thing on the board was my name, nothing else. As they entered the room, questions abound about what I was going to teach or field trips, yet I wouldn't speak. I'd smile, motioning them to take their seats. They knew at that moment this was going to be a different experience.

So, for the sake of creating a 'strange and new' environment, this lesson needs to be done in a different Language. I speak French (though rusty from years of neglect,) You don't need to speak perfectly for this activity. Just dust off your high school language books and write out a simple script. I admit I had to use Google Translate for some of the phrases I would need, but no worries if it isn't 100% correct. You can also do the lesson silently, though you won't have a list of vocabulary afterward to show your students how much they learned.

Step 2: Challenge Them To Follow Directions In A Different Way

Many teachers have seen the student created book that uses no staples or glue to create it. It is made with two sets of 3 papers each, cutting the ends of one set of papers to fit inside the second group of papers. Here's a video on how to make the book.

Once the students settled in, I began by welcoming them and introducing myself. "Bonjour, mes étudiants! J'aime appelle Mademoiselle Holmén. Je serai votre professeur pour cette année." And so on.

Yes, they were like deer in headlights, and I loved it! Some tried to figure out what I was saying. I've only had one student proficient in French in the years I taught this, so I prep a note for them not to translate for their friends. They loved the immediate rapport.

I did not stray away from French even when I saw several students wanting to give up. This taught me immediately about those students that needed to build perseverance when struggling and to watch their demeanor change when they succeeded.

I was able to detect self-starters and those that had eased into leadership roles, as well as those whose learning style might cause them to struggle since I did not have any written directions. This lesson was beneficial to tactile, auditory and visual learners, but not for those that need directions written down.

Once the students were successful in creating the book, I allowed them to help others that may be struggling. The whole lesson was an excellent chance for me to observe these citizens in training, by noting learning styles, perceptions of mindset, as well as red-flag students that may need additional outside support during the year.

Step 3: Discuss The Experience

Once the students held up their completed books, I began speaking English to their relief! Each time I do this activity, I can't tell you the amusement that comes from their comments.

"Oh, my gosh, that made my head hurt!" or, "I can't believe I made a book all in French!"

Then the discussion begins. I displayed on the ActivBoard the vocabulary words I used that they learned. They were shocked by how many words they learned in one lesson; 158 words they were able to recall and know the meaning.

We also talked about what they did when they felt stuck. Some would glance at neighbors' work, and some would shut down. We spoke about how certain skills need to be learned in order to create new understandings from new experiences.

We also talked about how some skills we've learned over the years are detrimental to our own success.

Shutting down, relying on others to a fault, and getting stressed all create an emotional roller coaster for students that struggle with their choices.

They learned that learning is a choice. Motivating them to want to learn is the key.

Step 4: Becoming Mindful Learners

This is such a great lesson on how students become immediately mindful. They no longer could rely on their language skills. Watching my every move caused them to pay attention. They stayed focused and present through every step. How often do we see our students so on point in any given day in our classrooms?

The room, at first, is noisy since the outspoken ones would voice their concerns about not understanding a thing I said. But the room suddenly silences when they have to watch the intricacies of cutting the paper to fit, and they realize I am expecting them to follow. I can then refer back to this lesson months later when students need reminding to be 'mindful' when they are struggling.

When doing this lesson in front of other teachers, they always mention how, "So-and-so, never pays attention, but with this lesson, he/she didn't take their eyes off of you!"

It is such a powerful lesson for support-staff to watch like counselors and Special Ed teachers. We often see the outcome of poor decision-making skills from our students, and watching it in action helps create a plan to guide these students out of detrimental mindsets. Support staff can see how their students' might need additional guidance to work on the child's belief systems that may be holding them back.

Step 5: Create Authentic Writing For Content

I always have my students write about these experiences. What an incredible way to make writing more meaningful and to give me written content to utilize for later writing lessons.

Too often we ask students to write about things they have little experience, and expect them to come up with a non-refutable essay. Scaffolding their own writing toward a future lesson on persuasive writing or narrative writing makes the work more meaningful.

Prompts for Writing:

How did it make you feel when you couldn't understand me?

Tell of another time you had to learn something new without assistance or understanding.

Did you feel like giving up? Why or why not?

Was there a time you had to rely on someone else? Why?

What steps do you take when you feel overwhelmed?

Do you like to be challenged? Tell of another time you felt challenged like this.



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