It’s almost the end of the first week of a new year – for me this week has been once again evidence to the fact that no matter how much we might be planning to do life always surprises us with its unexpected twists and turns. There are however lessons to be learnt in everything that happens to us either good or bad. And these lessons can be extended to the classroom, to the parallel lifelong journey of learning something new. These are perhaps the most important lessons to teach since they can help our students manage the unexpected in their lives, be more prepared to face the many challenges ahead but also appreciate the positive moments.
Here are some of these lessons I feel we need to share with our students:
- Count your blessings: When we are confronted with something new and difficult, we are often so overwhelmed by the challenge ahead that we forget how much we must have known to have reached that point in our learning journey. Every time we present something new to our students it’s essential to prep the ground by reinforcing our students’ belief in what they already know so that they can use their prior knowledge to deal with the new situation. There are many ways to do that either by using brainstorming activities, creating mindmaps with what our students already know about the new topic or by working on self-assessment tasks which include positive statements (I can do …. I think I know how to…..I’m sure I can…but I’d like to learn how to….). For more ideas on how to do so and bring our students’ knowledge, skills and talents in the spotlight, read my post here!
- Do one thing at a time: When our students handle something new either that is a new tense or a more challenging reading comprehension task, we need to set mini goals with them. Tell them that they should try to manage one thing every time, for e.g. in the case of a new tense, they should focus on its formation first, then move on to explore the differences between the affirmative, interrogative and negative, after that see one of its usages etc. They should know that you don’t expect them to be able to understand everything at once. Instead, they should focus on what is important to do now, face the immediate challenge ahead of them and then move on.
- Be patient: That’s the most difficult part for all of us. Everything takes time and it is often the anticipation of wanting to reach a goal that makes us feel impatient. Usually, our students tend to be more patient when we are patient with their progress as teachers. Giving time to students is essential if we want them to understand how they can deal with new situations themselves without feeling discouraged or losing sight of their goals.
- Believe in change: One of the reasons why most people fear change is because they aren’t prepared for it. It’s the only thing though that we need to take for granted – change will happen. One way of making our students more understanding of change is first of all to vary the materials we use to teach them. Also, we should try to expose them to different learning experiences (podcasts, Skype in the classroom, a friend of ours who can come as a guest in our classes, use of learning platforms etc) and also different types of assessment (instead of writing essays for example you could start a class blogg, set up a YouTube channel and invite your students to try vlogging etc). The more varied their learning environment is, the easier it is for them to get used to change.
- Think of alternatives: If option A doesn’t work out, always have a Plan B, C and D ready. What does that mean for our students? If they realize that working on a skill in a specific way doesn’t work out, we should offer them alternatives. This could be easily done by having a class discussion where everyone shares tips and advice on how the problem could be overcome. Also, as I mentioned in my previous post we need to embrace failure and make it part of learning. If our students don’t learn how to respond to failure, then they are more likely to give up learning as a lifelong process at some point.
- Go with the flow: What I mean by that is that when we’re confronted with something difficult, we need to accept it first. To accept the feeling that this is something that troubles us, confuses us and makes us feel weak. One way of addressing such feelings is by having a box or jar in the class where students anonymously share their fears and problems. Instead of advising our kids to “stop thinking about this or that” or cultivate a culture of “you can do it” no matter what it’s better to show them that it’s OK not to be strong all the time. What they need to remember is that there’s a way out of their problems if they set their minds to dealing with them and consciously work towards overcoming their difficulty.