To spark interest in class, get personal
I was a yearbook adviser for several years and was the editor of my high school yearbook staff. I believe that working on student publications allows for learning that students can’t easily get anywhere else.
Here’s a key yearbook lesson that I’m sure my students are glad that I learned.
What’s the first thing you look for when you open a new yearbook?
We are important to ourselves. We’re concerned about our image. We’re concerned about how we look and sound to people (even if we don’t outwardly admit it).
Think our students are any different? I teach high school students, and if that’s not a major egocentric time of life, then my hairline isn’t disappearing like a setting sun.
If our students want to find themselves when they open a yearbook, wouldn’t they want to find themselves in our instruction?
Blaine Ray, the creator of a conversational method of teaching world languages, says that we’ll know students are listening if we’re talking about them.
“They will pay attention better and they will remember what you have taught better,” he writes in his book “Fluency Through TPR Storytelling”. “Bring in events from their lives. Have mini-stories contain important school events or national events. Talk about food the students eat. This is all part of ‘personalization.’”
As a world languages teacher, I can talk about practically anything in my classes as long as it’s using vocabulary and grammar concepts that we’ve covered or that they can figure out on their own. So, from time to time, I’ll make up stories in class with my students as the stars.
We’ll talk about things that are important to them. Today, the start of our day was delayed two hours due to fog, so one of my classes and I talked about that a bit.
I don’t like using worksheets and activities out of textbooks. (Surprise, surprise, right?) When I need something like that, I prefer to write my own content, and often, my students are the main characters. Their lives are the plotline. If I have multiple class periods of the same subject, it just takes a “find and replace” in Microsoft Word to change the names.
Personalizing activities in a class is pretty easy in world languages, but it certainly applies to other areas of study.
Social studies teachers can equate the conflict and social ramifications of historical events to students’ lives.
Science teachers can personalize processes and concepts by having students act them out or by comparing them to their own lives (“mitochondria are kind of like the Red Bull that Jack drinks to stay awake playing Skyrim”).
Literature has so many parallels to our students’ social lives that we can often personalize what we read pretty easily.
Obviously, we should be careful when we personalize. Embarrassing our students is the last thing we want to do, and discretion is the key when selecting topics to discuss.
But, when done well, personalizing is exciting and attention-grabbing. It’s a great way to ditch that textbook!