“I like this class,” said one student to another at the end of my 7th period government class on Friday afternoon. And here is the great part: he didn’t know I heard him say it, therefore, I know it wasn’t just a sycophantic remark. While I’ve heard statements like this before, believe me when I say, I’ve also heard quite the opposite opinion. So please don’t think this post is about me patting myself on the back. If I am remembering correctly, however, I’ve never heard a student say this about my government class at the end of week one. It’s not that all my students in the past have disliked the class. They just haven’t always fully enjoyed the course either. Needless to say, it was the perfect thing to hear at the end of a long first week of school.
I have to believe that he said this in large part because I’m teaching the class so very differently than I’ve done in the past, as explained in this previous post. Apparently, at least so far, those changes are proving appealing to at least some of my students. Hearing that little bit of affirmation is encouraging and motivating.
I did something else that I think might have been a contributing factor in terms of this student’s comment – I explained to my students WHY I made the changes I did to the course, WHY we are going to do the things we are going to do this semester, and WHY it is important. In explaining this to them, I tried to be as open and honest as possible, even acknowledging mistakes I’d made in the past in teaching the course. Therefore, this is going to be my new mantra: “Why? Why? Why?”
I think too often I forget to explain to my students why I am doing what I’m doing and why I am asking them to do certain things in return. I guess I’ve always known (or at least assumed I’ve known) why I did this lesson or that assignment, and as long as I knew, that was enough. It shouldn’t surprise me then that for the students it becomes about nothing more than completing the assignment, making the grade, and passing the course. Explaining why doesn’t have to take more than a couple of minutes, but I think it might be time well spent, and not just for the students. If you have to explain it to your students, you are forced to think about it yourself. And if you can’t come up with a good enough explanation, maybe you shouldn’t do that assignment or activity, or maybe you need to make some changes to make it more purposeful. (Note: “Because it’s on the test,” or vague comments such as, “You’ll need this for college,” are usually not the best answers. ;))
So in the future, when I’m creating a unit of study, planning an activity, or writing an assessment, I’ll try to remember to ask myself, “Why? Why? Why?” Just as importantly, if not more so, I’ll do my best to explain the answers to those questions to my students.