Traditionally, students have not always enjoyed their school experiences for one reason or another. It may have been the environment, the instructional method, or the relationship between the teacher and student themselves. Nevertheless, the point of power is in the present moment and every day is a chance to do something differently. How do we help students love learning in a way that lets them harbour a passion for it all throughout their lives?
In the struggle to teach kids the knowledge they need to thrive, your greatest allies are students themselves. Teachers have a much easier time getting their students to remember and build on their lessons if those students are actively engaged in the material and eager to learn more. But not all students display such a love for learning right off the bat, which is why the most effective educators are those who make their lessons easy to love.
Through the following strategies, you can show kids that learning is fun and valuable, leaving them fully engaged in everything you teach them. Help students love learning again, and always—it’s one of the greatest gifts you can give them as an educator.
Since the days of Socrates, we’ve known that the best way to learn about the world is to question it. So whether you’re teaching a standard lesson, leading a field trip, or watching a film or performance with educational content, encourage your students to ask any questions that come to mind in the process. Then follow those questions up with additional questions, getting your students to think critically about the topic.
To illustrate this process, imagine that you’re watching the film The Wizard of Oz as part of a history lesson. One of your students might ask, “Why does the movie start out in black and white, then change to color, then go back to black and white?” In response, you can say, “That’s a really good question; why do you think that is?” You can then use additional questions to guide the student to the right answer. Consider asking, “Have you seen any other movies that are black and white? How old are those movies?” If any other students think they know the answer, invite them to tell the class. Together, the students have a good chance of figuring it out for themselves.
This method accomplishes two things. First, it helps students realize the complexity of the world, and how different types of knowledge are connected to each other. It shows them that a seemingly simple question can open up all sorts of new knowledge for them to learn. As a result, students will start asking more questions about everything they do, expanding their opportunities to learn.
Second, this method helps students realize how much they already know. Their past experiences have given them substantial knowledge of the world. All they have to do is connect this knowledge to new questions as they arise. This makes students feel intelligent and empowered, giving them the confidence to continue learning throughout their lives.
Pursue their Passions
Getting students to ask questions can help them feel more passionate about the topics they’re learning. However, many of your students already have passions and interests which they are eager to learn more about. The better you are at finding out those interests and incorporating them into your lesson plans, the more engaged your students will be from the moment each lesson begins.
As an example, say that you’re a science teacher trying to teach your students some basic facts about chemistry. Instead of just lecturing them about those facts, start off the lesson by asking students what their favorite foods are. Write those foods down on the board, and see if there are any common themes; for instance, if one student says pizza, another says macaroni and cheese, and a third says lasagna, the common theme is cheese. Ask your students why they think cheese tastes good. This provides a great jumping-off point to talk about the chemistry of cheese, teaching students how different chemicals react with each other to make their favorite ingredient taste great.
Besides asking students questions to find out what they’re interested in, you can often tell just based on what students say and do. For example, say that you find a student at recess burning a leaf with a magnifying glass. While you shouldn’t necessarily let them keep doing this as it’s dangerous, you can use it as a jumping-off point for lessons about fire, the sun, physics, or any number of other topics. Considering bringing the leaf inside, showing it to other students, and asking them how they think it got burned. Odds are, they’ll be surprised and excited to find out that it’s possible to do this with a magnifying glass, and will want to learn more. (Just make sure that while you teach them, you make it clear they shouldn’t do this unsupervised!)
You’re more likely to help students love learning if you ensure they feel safe while they do it, so don’t make the stakes too high during school activities. That said, they also tend to engage more with activities that are challenging. To get the best of both worlds, incorporate more brain teasers, riddles, logic games, and other puzzles into the classroom.
The best puzzles ask students to put together different things they have learned. For example, if you’re teaching about chemistry, tell students to imagine that they have been given a cup of milk and a cup of water. They need to empty each cup into a larger glass in such a way that the milk and water do not mix, and it will still be possible to differentiate them. Students will need to use their knowledge of chemistry to answer this question.
The benefit of puzzles is that they contain their own reward. Students who manage to solve a challenging or confusing question will instantly feel proud and accomplished, even if you don’t offer them a prize for doing so. Students will want to feel this way again, so they will seek out more puzzles and challenges to solve, leading them to learn more at every opportunity.
Elevate Hands-On Experiences
Learning is always more fun if it’s hands-on. So at every opportunity, you should give students a chance to apply what they’ve learned in practical ways. In science lessons, this is easy—just give students some safe but enjoyable experiments they can do, such as mixing two chemicals to see how they react. But you can also apply other kinds of knowledge in practical ways.
For example, if you’re teaching a history lesson, have students come up with skits where they act like the historical figures you’re studying. Not only do these activities help students feel more connected to what they’re learning, but they also make the lessons easier to remember. After all, it’s far easier to recall something you did than something you were told.
So there you have it—4 terrifically engaging ways you can help students love learning now and forever. The passion for lifelong learning exists in all of us, and all it takes is finding our own way to channel into what brings it alive. You don’t have to model a love for learning in a specific way for every student. All you have to do is teach with enthusiasm and joyful curiosity, and your learners will end up feeling the same way. That’s the real gift of teaching.
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