The biggest task in teaching students anything is to work out what students are interested in. If you are trying to teach students something and they are not interested in that subject it is up to you to create an interest. If you want high results from your students, and your teaching strategy to work out, then you will need to pander to the fancies of your students. That‘s right... You must manipulate your students into believing that what they are learning is what they want to learn. Ok... so that may not have made much sense. Let me give you an example.
Think back to the time you were in University studying for your degree, or perhaps you are still studying for your Bachelor of Education, in which case the following will also apply to you. You have enrolled in your unit of studies. You are eager and ready to tackle the world. You read through your guidelines and tasks set before you and you plunge into the depths of learning with great enthusiasm. The first assignment is due within two weeks worth 20% of your overall mark. Finally you are finished and submit your first masterpiece knowing that it is just great and that your efforts will give you a high mark. Then the bomb drops, your lecturer has just given you 4.5 out of 20. You are instantly discouraged, lost your enthusiasm and dread to even tackle assignment two. What went wrong!
Several things could have gone wrong. You may not have understood your task and did not address the topic properly. The spelling and grammar was not what it should have been. Or you did not pander to your lecturer‘s fancies. Let‘s eliminate; you were spot-on as far as the topic was concerned and you have addressed every point thoroughly. Spelling and grammar are correct and the work is tidy. It adheres to the standard it was to be submitted in and is in general near-perfect order. Now that we have eliminated 2 out of 3 possibilities, there is only one left. The lecturer was not impressed with your work for some reason.
Here is the point I am making. Did you pander to your lecturer‘s taste? Did you do your homework and found out if your lecturer is an atheist or highly religious, vegetarian or a meat lover, outdoor or indoor person, evolutionist or creationist, lover of the colour red or blue, fit and active person or overweight and unfit. The list goes on... But did you do your homework?
If you only received 4.5 out of 20, then my guess is that you did not do your homework and therefore were destined to fail before you even started. As a student in University you need to study your lecturer first thing. That means, at the start of every unit of studies that you commence. By knowing your lecturer you will know what sensitive issues to avoid in order to receive a high mark. I can understand some lecturers protesting at this stage and possibly yelling at this write-up which would only indicate that my presumptions are somewhat correct. Let‘s look at the reality of the situation.
As a lecturer that hates creation, the last thing you want to do is sit there and read a 3000 word document about how the birds and bees were created, how God‘s design is in everything from the smallest atom to the biggest landmark on earth. As an overweight lecturer that hates the great outdoors, the last thing you want to do is sit and stomach a 2500 word assignment telling you all about how lazy and unfit people are and how they should get out there and loose some calories by exercising. Yes, I can understand the drudgery of having to sit through another 50 assignments and having to mark them. So of course the assignment which panders to the lecturer‘s fancy will have a good chance of receiving a high distinction... right?
Ok... so you might say, how does this impact on me as a teacher? You as a teacher or as a future teacher will probably be just like those lecturers. Personal taste will take away better judgement and leave your students disillusioned, disheartened, and indifferent, possibly hating your next lesson. Your students will play up, cause a rumpus in your classroom, distract those who do better than themselves and create distress for them.
So how do you solve this problem? What teaching strategy do you use? You learn to pander to your students‘ fancies. At the start of every year it is your duty to find out what each student likes or dislikes, treasures or loathes. It may seem a daunting task but believe me it will pay off. By simply finding out what your students are like at the start of each year, you will save yourself so much frustration, time and energy you won‘t believe it until you try it.
For example, if you have a class full of high school students who hate reading novels then why not switch to technical books. Or better, encourage students to select their own reading as long as it covers the topic you want them to learn about. Let‘s say you want them to learn about ancient Egypt. Don‘t spoon-feed them with the readers you have pre-chosen but rather let them locate books, movies, educational software or games that cover this topic. They will soon start sharing with their peers, as it always looks greener on the other side of the fence. It is the scenario of "I want what you got". And what happens when inappropriate reading material is brought into the classroom? You use it to your advantage. Teach them why it is inappropriate, discuss together, and learn together. Perhaps you will pleasantly find out that it wasn‘t all that inappropriate after all and that you have learned something instead.
By finding out what your students want to learn, how they want to learn and why they want to learn this, you are pandering to their fancies. Yes, pandering to their preference or giving them what they want but you are also manipulating your position as a teacher and subtly coaxing your students into learning what they are suppose to learn. They will enjoy learning better using part of their chosen method rather than only using what you have decided upon.
I guess psychologists will have a field day with this approach but as a teacher you are also a psychologist and you can utilize it to the advantage of your students. Not to your advantage as you do not need to learn the technicalities of let‘s say a project which develops students‘ interest on how things work by letting them take old appliances apart. Have a look at the following teaching strategy, which involves a hands-on approach, some basic tools and a few old appliances (LINK). You don‘t need an elaborate plan, a simple project can be easily turned into another successful lesson plan achieved. Just because you dislike working with tools does not mean your students do.
Or for example a bug collecting project, just because you hate all bugs and insects, does not mean every body else does. If your science subject calls for learning about insects and you are not into this, the great outdoors or bugs altogether then try the following bug collection approach (LINK). If a student happens to write about God‘s wonderful creation of bugs, so let them. If one writes about how these insects have evolved over millions of years... let them. Your personal opinion does not come into the equation here. The fact that students are reading, writing, researching, documenting and learning is what matters. There is freedom in learning and you should allow freedom within your teaching strategy for your own sanity. Not be regimented and unyielding which will only cause you undue stress.
Remember that each person learns at a different rate, uses different methods to comprehend what they are learning and that student enthusiasm can be quickly dashed forever. Just like yours was dashed when you received that lousy mark from your lecturer! And why did you receive that lousy mark? Because you did not do your homework, you did not pander to your lecturer‘s likes and as a result you were marked down. Unfair? Oh, yes, but it happens every day and every day another student in the classroom is discouraged from learning by their teacher. Wittingly or unwittingly... who knows! Let‘s make sure that you are not going to be guilty of this grave travesty, this classroom crime, and this hideous plot to weed out those students you take a personal dislike to.
Such behaviour should not happen, in or out of the learning environment but of course it does happen. So let‘s make sure that your teaching strategy is one of a kind, one that encourages and panders to your students‘ fancies so they can learn with great enthusiasm and remember a great teacher, you.
© 2008 Griggs I. M. - Teaching Treasures Publications Other Articles by Ingrid Griggs