I observe students everyday as they learn and work. A pedagogical stance of mine is that learning is to be authentic if learning is to occur at all. Contrived instances or made up schemes seem not to have an impact as I predict they do. Fairy tale learning atmospheres are thought to increase student motivation and generate a drive for learning. This has not been the case.
Planning for learning is essential. Assuming a teacher uses backwards design and that he/she plans with someone else, though someone may prefer planning as an individual. When presented with something new a student has to learn, the teacher thinks of the best possible engaging learning experience possible. Now, sometimes it is down right boring and that is a fact of life, but I do not believe there is a teacher out there who does not want his/her students really be into learning. I brainstorm as many ideas as I can that would excite a student to learn. With best laid intentions and a computer to type with, I compose a lesson plan that is astounding in terms of its creativity and learning potential. The day comes and I deliver the instruction and you know what I quickly learn?
What I thought happened not
Here is a great example of what I thought was engaging was a complete flop. I wanted students to see a problem in the district where I live and problem was that the town could use a new source of revenue. Keep in mind this is my problem….the one I said is a problem. So, in PBL style, I create an exciting opening event. I made a Prezi, downloaded a snippit of the “Rocky” anthem and as students walk in I was playing it out and acting excited. By the way, eighth graders do not get excited, and they were not excited or even interested in the Prezi that was playing and anthem. I realized at that point, it flopped and my contrived instance of engagement went up in a puff of smoke. I thought I developed an engaging opening sequence. I thought I would capture their attention. I thought and I thought and I thought. My thoughts and planning didn’t do anything.
When was the last time you learned something in a contrived atmosphere? For instance, buying groceries thinking you have the metal cart under budget but the display as clerk shows the real dollars and sense blowing the food budget? Or, when was the last time you painted a room only to find you were a gallon short and had to back to the store to get another gallon? These are real life learning experiences that happen in real time and space. Should learning be denigrated to contrived instances that have no meaning for students? Nope.
My new plan of action
As I quickly realize the degree to which students do not connect real life to content, I must change how I go about teaching and learning. In order for me to be an effective teacher I have to allow the feedback students are giving me to change how I go about my practice. There is no better giver of new teaching tact than a student(s) reaction to my teaching. If they aren’t into, I am going to have a very hard time getting them learn. So, my new plan of action is to get a feel for what students want to learn about by proposing some ideas to them allowing them to have choice and then embed the instruction in their content preference.