It can’t be stressed enough how much better students learn when they feel physically and emotionally safe and comfortable in their learning environment. The artificiality of the classroom set-up can be greatly improved and enhanced by the use of interesting wall-displays, such as helpful and informative posters and the classroom itself made more appealing by the use of plants, splashes of color and, where possible, soft music to help students feel welcome and relaxed. Students could even be encouraged to take responsibility for the displays and plant care, as in one highly successful Japanese model, which shows that students who feel a sense of ownership for their environment will also feel more attached to it. Children, especially younger ones, also respond well to familiar rituals, so having the same orderly procedure at the start of each lesson can give students confidence and create a healthy working atmosphere.
As teachers, we should always aim to be open-minded, and avoid being judgemental. Children (and many adults) thrive on positive feedback. Adding a little drama or emotion to our lessons will enliven them and make them more memorable for our students. Humor, also, is a valuable tool to any teacher, and we should not be afraid to use it in the classroom. Humor can be instrumental in helping students to feel at ease, as well as in diffusing difficult situations. However, it is extremely important that the humor is kindly intended and never used at a student’s expense to disparage or embarrass.
Students learn in different ways and at different paces, so a variety of teaching methods should keep everyone happy and engaged. A classroom (and where possible the lessons) should be multi-sensory. The brain needs constant stimulation, and as many youngsters have short attention spans, activities should be varied, as well as carefully-timed and well-managed. Regular switching of teaching and learning styles (incorporating group and pair work), and periodic pauses to recap and offer feedback will help keep lessons lively, and students focused. Although there are many and real advantages to group work, this is not, however, without its disadvantages, and careful planning will be required when forming groups to ensure the students are comfortable and able to participate equally. Drama, where the subject allows, can be another useful tool that brings subjects alive, stimulating students’ imaginations and facilitating active learning.
Students will appreciate knowing what is expected of them in each lesson, so the achievable aims and objectives of the lesson should be shared with them, for example written up on a wipe-clean board on the wall—and preferably remain visible throughout the lesson so students can remind themselves (or be reminded) if their attention wanders off course. Teachers should be able to explain in what ways the lesson is relevant and encourage students to visualise their future selves. Keep them informed of both short and long term teaching and learning plans.
Homework should be related to the lesson in order to consolidate or reinforce what has been taught, rather than being handed out for the sake of it. It needs to be purposeful as well as valued by the teacher, and rewarded with prompt, relevant and positive feedback. If a module has been completed, consolidation reading in preparation for a quiz, or getting students to research the next topic alone ahead of starting the next module could be useful homework tasks.
All students will ask at some point in their education why they are expected to learn a certain subject or topic. I would be a very rich person by now if I had a dollar for every time a student asked “Why do I have to learn about someone [Shakespeare] who lived over 400 years ago, and doesn’t speak or write the way I do?” It’s crucial to be able to demonstrate to students the relevance of the tasks you expect them to perform. The more relevant to themselves they see the subject/topic, the more effectively it will be committed to long term memory.
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Lynette Sofras is a former Head of English at a large London High School. She now divides her work days between editing and writing (mainly) women’s fiction. You can read about her novels on her website: http://www.lynettesofras.com, or check out her blog on writing-related topics at: https://manicscribbler.blogspot.com/.