In the movie, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”, bored students sitting half asleep, while the teacher in monotone repetitively calls the name “Bueller, Bueller” is the quintessential picture of the modern high school classroom. In the stereotype, students come to school for seven hours a day, at a time in life when they have the most energy and stamina, to sit at a desk and listen to teacher after teacher lecture. But, what if your classroom was different? What if it was a place to appreciate aspects of life that you had never known before, to begin to answer the eternal question, why?, and to find novel ways to discover new concepts while playing games? Hopefully, your classroom can be transformed into the part of the day students cannot wait to experience.
1. Eliminate Lectures from your Vocabulary
Make the decision that you will no longer be the teacher who stands in front of the classroom and talks. Instead, have a clear goal in mind and find a new way to reach it. If you would like to teach students about alliteration, send one student to the board, sit the rest in a circle, and throw a ball around the room as each student catches it and recites a word beginning with the letter “D”. Then, break the students into groups and have a competition for the craziest narrative. Or, if your goal is to understand refutations, set up your room like a presidential debate stage, complete with moderators and a press box, dress yourself in a costume, download “news” music on your phone, and have a formal debate on “Should we have pizza for dinner tonight?” Next, together create a refutation, before round two, “Dogs are better house pets than cats.” And, if lecturing is absolutely necessary, do not stand up and talk to students. Ask tons of questions to actively lead them to answers.
2. Develop a New Perspective
Find new ways to look at old things. Go outside. Toss a ball. Lay on the floor. Do anything different. For example, if you want your class to understand parallelism, have students write a narrative about the desk from their chair, and then shake things up by laying on the floor underneath, and then standing on top of it. You have just created parallelism!
Or, perhaps, if your main goal is to help students understand that the one who writes the narrative, controls the microphone, and, inevitably, the one who changes the world, take the “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” poem and rewrite it about a big man, who comes down your chimney in the middle of the night to steal some of your food and leave reindeer poop all over your floor. Changes your perspective on Jolly Old St. Nick, does it not?
What if in your class today, students could go outside and look for the ugliest thing and rewrite it so that it is beautiful? “An obnoxious vine was stuck in a dark unwanted corner of the building; a weed that would easily be rejected by the beautifully manicured lawn beside it. Scaling the wall with drying, deteriorating, decaying leaves hindering its green growth, it was a tumor on the side of the building.” This could easily become: “An innovative rising life that contrasted strongly with the cookie-cutter, fit in the box, boring grass beside it, defying all logic to live, and instead of its Victorian-esque neighborhood which conforms to all the imitating rules, it instead decided to throw off all convention and reach for the stars.” In short, think of new and interesting ways to have a revolutionary perspective on learning, or become the new perception of the vine.
3. Refer to Yourself as the Lead Learner
This week I personally learned something new! I had always assumed that George Washington, when he left the Presidency, changed history forever. Imagine my dismay when I discovered John Adams, our second President, really was responsible for the peaceful transfer of power when he quietly relinquished the Presidency to Thomas Jefferson, leader of the opposing party, his greatest rival, and a man he truly hated! I had a new appreciation for Adams and felt as if a light had just illuminated a dark corner of my brain. I could not wait to share this information with someone! A teacher that has just learned something new will be excited to share that latest information, and in innovative and interesting ways. It is a sad fact, but, newsflash: students already know that we do not know everything. Take the time today to learn something new, even if it is with your own learners in a classroom discussion. You will be much more excited to share it with others, and all those around you will want to join in!
4. Marvel at the World and All of the Amazing Things in it!
The world truly is a remarkable place! Think about it! We are perfectly placed in the universe for the sun to rise every morning, keep the earth at the perfect temperature for life, and allow the big, gas planets to protect us from space debris! In addition, it is truly astonishing that tiny unique atoms that we cannot even see make up substances that can be created by combining atoms of different elements into molecules that can help sustain life! Even a tiny blade of grass is a living being that is smart enough to take water and evenly distribute it, constantly grow upwards, and know when to be dormant and when to be awake! And it does not even have a brain!
The world is a mind-boggling place and we get to share that marvelous world with young people. Get out and experience it. Your enthusiasm will infect your students. Find something new and outstanding to share with the young minds you are about to mold. Discover original and ground-breaking ways to have fun with your students in the classroom. You never know if that tiny blade of grass may have the cure for cancer sitting right inside of it, and one of your students may discover it!
Andrea Duncan has been a teacher of almost every subject: writing, English grammar, science, mathematics, Debate, Latin, and orchestra, for the last 16 years. Currently, she teaches 11th grade at her own school, Matthew 28 Academy.