One the most common challenges in teaching classes of any kind is being faced with a group of students who can differ greatly in their background knowledge and ability level. The natural tendency when this happens is to teach to the middle of the class – which can leave your more advanced students feeling bored and your struggling students feeling overwhelmed on occasion.
If you build scaffolding and extension activities into your lesson plan you can keep your higher level students engaged and prevent your lower level students from becoming overwhelmed. It’s a lot more prep work when planning a class or workshop but it’s worth it to take the extra time going in.
Suppose you need to make sure students memorize the order the significant events occurred during the Civil War along with the significant items associated to each event. The old school way of doing this would be through lecture, students taking notes, maybe they would study, and then you would test the next day to make sure they had the information memorized. One modern way, particularly in a flipped classroom setting, would be to do wall or table races to help ensure longer retention, speed up the learning process, make learning fun, and to help the students engage with each other during class rather than just with the instructor.
"Well, this is how we're told to do it at my company," began the objections from the woman who I knew would take more than the standard convincing. She had her PowerPoint presentation all setup. It was inside the company branded format and it included every bullet point of what she was going to say during her presentation. She had made the most common error. She was using PowerPoint as her speaker notes instead of as a tool designed to emphasize the most important takeaways from her talk.
By using your PowerPoint to emphasize visually only your strongest points, they will stick in your attendees minds long after your talk is over. A picture is worth a thousand words and can often help your audience retain just as many. You do, though, have to be selective about what you most want to stick.
Don’t judge a man until you've walked a mile in his shoes. Sensitivity exercises are activities that help your students understand just that. They put the class in a position where they experience a mock version of what another person’s experience feels like. Creating good sensitivity exercises takes some skill. Let’s look at the basic steps involved in creating these exercises along with some good examples to get you going.
“Are you texting or doing something else I’d rather not know about under your desk?” I said and stopped class. My general rule for cell phones is that they be off and stored away. The penalty for cell phone use is that if I see you doing anything with the cell phone, the class stops and we all turn to stare at you until you realize you aren’t paying attention and put it away. It’s rude, poor manners, and you aren’t learning when you aren’t paying attention. And, yes, I teach adults not children.
There are times, though, when embracing the cell phone for some engaged activities can be good. Everything in moderation after all – even cell phones in the classroom. There just needs to be some structure and, no, I will not be listing any activities that involve replying to Facebook statuses or using the opportunity to text a friend. There are reasons other teachers tell me that I’m stricter than the nuns they grew up with.
Don’t teach people what they can discover on their own.
There are portions of every training class where the intent is to relay a list of rules or to help the students better understand an underlying issue. The old method of getting this information across was through lecture. And, lecture, in terms of retention, is not always the best way to get the information to stick and be internalized by your students. By splitting your class into small groups and using discussion cards, you can actually increase retention, comprehension, and also make your class a lot more engaging and fun.
When doing a workshop or class, the limit of planned lecture time before moving to an activity or form of engaged learning is roughly ten minutes – much beyond that and people’s attention spans just aren’t there. One of the ways to get the class moving and increase their engagement is to do a Four Corners or a Human Graph activity. Both of these activities get your students up, out of their chairs, and moving around the classroom. They can even be used to help with knowledge retention.
“Nope, not quite. Stay standing,” was my response to the student who answered my call-out question but just didn’t get out the more complete answer I needed. I went to the next student, “Melissa, what is your answer to that question?” Melissa answered correctly. I told her, “Excellent, you can sit down.” I then went back to the student who didn’t answer correctly, “Okay, you heard what Melissa just said. Try your answer again.” This time he got the answer right and I told him he could also sit down.
Frequently when a student isn't learning, people will say, "Well, teach them a different way." That is all well and good but what does that mean? What if I don't have a different way? The learning modalities are standard fare in class design and using a mix of all three of these ways of learning ensures you are engaging all the students in your classroom.
Let's examine each of the three modalities:
When it comes to adult-centered instructional design, it's important to bring up Gail Elkin. Her research on retention and attention spans is where we get the 10-2 rule -- ten minutes of instruction followed directly by two minutes or more of an engaged activity that cements what was just covered. Dividing a class up this way has been shown to increase engagement, greatly improve retention, and, yes, if done correctly, it can up the fun rating of the class you are teaching.
My Writing and Other Resources for Students
A growing collection of writing and other resources for students to use to continue their growth.