Picture: Greece Central School District – Archive shoot
Oftentimes teachers feel as if they’re not really getting through to students. Sure, the students simply may not be particularly interested in the subject; however, it’s worth considering that perhaps the traditional classroom dynamic is taking away from students’ willingness to learn.
The traditional classroom is teacher-centered, as the teacher lectures their students on what they need to know. Joe Ruhl, a biology teacher and Ted Talk speaker, argues that this teaching style is not what students respond to best. According to Joe, research has shown that by making choice a characteristic of the classroom, students will respond by being more engaged and willing to learn.
In addition to choice, students should be encouraged to engage in the three C’s: collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity. The National Education Association has identified these three C’s as the essential skills to learn in the 21st century. So why then are the majority of American classrooms eliminating student choice and avoiding the three C’s?
Some answers include it being unstandardized, different, and abstract; however, Joe was courageous enough to take the challenge and shift the spotlight in his biology class from himself to the students. He divided the year into three week sections, each section having a list of objectives that students needed to hit. The students themselves were allowed to pick which activities they did in class in order to meet the requirements.
The students thoroughly enjoyed being able to choose which form of learning they pursued. Oftentimes, students even forgot Joe was in the classroom. Some of the most popular activities included hands-on learning such as laboratory experiments, while others included technology-based learning such as computer tutorials.
This classroom environment freed up a substantial amount of time for Joe. He used this time to work with two to three students for ten minutes at a time, answering questions that they asked. He also claimed that the free time allowed him to better inspire and show how passionate he is about biology, motivating his students to pursue the sciences with the same zest that he demonstrates.
The take home message? Airtight plans can be important. Standards can be important. However, we must be open to investigating new methods of educating students based off of what the research shows us.