You plan a great lesson. You give it your enthusiastic best.
But your students don’t respond well.
They’re distracted and sleepy. They’re bored and slouched in their seats.
They’re uninspired and blase’ about what you have to teach them.
When you finally send them off for independent or group work, they show little urgency.
You push through and get the job done, but the period feels like a waste.
You’re rightfully concerned that the next lesson or next day will bring about more of the same.
So what should you do?
Should you give an impassioned speech and remind your class of their purpose?
Should you reteach your expectations? Should you lighten the mood and bring some fun to the next lesson?
While these methods can be effective, there is a strategy that has a way of setting fire under even the laziest group of students. It’s a strategy that may seem counterintuitive, but never fails to send a jolt of energy through the entire class.
You see, the chief reason students become apathetic is because your lessons have remained at the same level of challenge. In other words, they’ve fallen into a comfortable groove and now all feel about the same.
So the solution, the antidote, is to raise the bar. It’s to increase the difficulty by asking more of your students.
How this looks in some ways depends on your grade level, but a few things remain universal.
I recommend the following:
1. Get them working sooner.
Shorten the directed teaching portion of your lesson by at least half, and then quickly shift responsibility to your students.
Get them up and working on a project within just a few minutes of the start of the period.
2. Increase the pace.
Create urgency by allowing substantially less time than normal to complete work, say 20 minutes rather than the normal 35.
And let them know before giving your instruction, which will not only heighten listening and concentration, but also make things more interesting.
3. Allow some frustration.
Add an additional step or two (or three). Make the lesson, or whatever is required of your students, more complex and challenging.
Allow your students to struggle—because a bit of frustration, along with the prospect of failure, is good. It renews their spirit and awakens their desire to care.
Ask A Lot More
Make sure that, whatever you do, it’s a distinct change.
In other words, your students should be taken aback by what you expect, which may mean asking for double their output, level of focus, number of students in a group, etc.
Read and summarize two chapters instead of the usual one. Do a project in a day that normally takes a week. Require all students to speak for their group rather than just one.
The effect can be dramatic. They’ll often do more and perform better than you ever thought possible.
Now, it’s important to point out that increasing the intensity and workload isn’t a punishment. It’s merely a way to shock them out of their malaise.
This doesn’t mean that you now have to do every lesson this way. Every once in a while, however, can be just the thing your students need.
Still, it may very well show you, prove to you, that you can ask more of them than you have in the past.
It can be a revelatory experience.
When you first announce that they’ll be solving ten problems instead of five, if they grumble and sigh or their jaws drop, you’ll know you’re on the right track.
Just smile and carry on. Tighten the screws, up the ante, turn up the heat.
It does a class good.
PS – Enrollment for the summer online course The Classroom Management Makeover will now open earlier than we first anticipated. The new date is May 16th. It will stay open until June 6th.
Once enrolled, you may access the course whenever you like and for as long as you wish. We’ll be sure and email more information to all subscribers, as well as provide a link to the course, over the next couple of weeks.
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