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Last week, I wrote about how disengaged students are like zombies. It’s scary how quickly the epidemic of disengaged, zombie students spreads when you don’t take appropriate steps to prevent it, but thankfully there are measures you can take to bring your students back to life without creating a mob.
Imagine a classroom where students learn and love the process of learning. A classroom without zombie students. A classroom where your students don’t suck the life out of you. Benjamin Franklin said “an ounce of prevention is worth of a pound of cure.” Truer words were never spoken! You can prevent students from becoming disengaged, but…and you may not like this idea…you must throw away the worksheets and textbooks. Worksheets kill any passion for learning a student might have. Think about the times you were in school. Did you get giddy about learning when the teacher handed you a packet of papers to complete? Did you enjoy writing journals and essays about meaningless topics? Did you love spending time diagramming sentences? Even the best students begin to become zombified when you throw worksheets at them.
What can you do instead?
* Find lessons that will truly inspire them. Make them feel like they are a part of something they care about. You can do this in any subject. Are you talking about argumentative writing in English/Language Arts?
* Find a topic the students can really sink their teeth into—draw from events that are really happening where they live. Students, especially those in middle and high school, have opinions and they’re screaming for a chance to share them. Channel that energy. They don’t like the rule about not having gum at school? Tell them to write a persuasive essay with reasons they should be allowed to chew gum. Better yet, bring in newspapers and have them find an article they disagree with or one they agree with strongly.
* Find something controversial for them to talk about (within reason) and give them an opportunity to write an editorial piece—one that you will really send to the editor of the newspaper. Watch the engagement rise at the opportunity to state an opinion in a big way!
* If you teach math, link it to the real world as much as possible. In my classroom, all number concepts become money-related. Bring in speakers from car companies, banks, and businesses when you talk about percent, sales tax, and interest rates. Make it real to them. Have them create a budget based on their knowledge of these mathematical concepts—including purchasing cars, renting or buying homes, and all the other adult things they will want to explore later in life. Not only will they become more engaged with what they’re learning, but they will learn real life skills that they can use once they leave school. When students ask when they’re ever going to use math in the real world, show them. Show them why they need to care about what they’re learning by having them work with equations, percents, ratios, proportions, simple interest, and all those other concepts within the context of the real world.
Maybe you already have some zombies in your classroom. Maybe some have become real monsters at this point. The zombie epidemic in the classroom is not incurable. It is never too late to have an engaged classroom. Does it take more work? Maybe. But not as much work as it takes to settle a rowdy classroom caused by students trying not to fall asleep.
* Find ways to incorporate activity. Kid do not like sitting still in their desks completing worksheets. Every now and then they will need to sit down and write something on a worksheet, take a quiz or a test, etc., but this should not become an everyday event.
* Ask the students what they are interested in if you have not already completed an interest inventory on them. Once you know what they’re interested in you’ll know how to hook them.
Everything can be related back to academic material. From sports to music, surfing to skateboarding, hunting to fishing, and everything in between, you can find lessons that cover your objectives while engaging your students. Watch them go from zombie students to eager learners when you tie in the things they really care about.
* Do not let your classroom become stagnant. In an ever-changing world, your lessons should reflect what is going on around your students. While the concepts you teach might remain mostly the same, approaching for teaching and learning change all the time.
* It takes courage to step out of your comfort zone, but try things you never thought you could do before. Just like students, we can learn new things. Keep your classroom alive with the sounds of learning by becoming a learner yourself.
* Join a colleague in planning out lessons to help lighten the load a little. Look at Pinterest for lessons and freebies for the classroom, look at your school’s resource links to find websites that include interactive lessons, and above all, have fun with your students!
You’ll find that not only does the day go by much more quickly than you imagined, but you’ll enjoy teaching more because your students will enjoy learning.