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Kids are born with an unmatchable curiosity that's always growing. As babies they are exploring the world around them, as toddlers they learn to question everything they see and hear, and as little kids they are eager to learn from peers and educators. But one day, the magic of learning fades.
This can happen at any age, but there is no mistaking that by the time you are sending your fourteen or eighteen-year-old child into the classroom, they are frustrated and burnt out on education.
One of the reasons this happens is because kids have very little autonomy in the classroom. Most of the time they are told what to learn about, how to learn about it, and then are given big old tests that question how well they learned the material. Many kids get frustrated and disinterested when they cannot explore the world around them in the ways they want. Teens develop a dislike or even hatred of school after years of their grades telling them they are "bad" students.
Creating the Spark
As parents and educators, it is important to find the spark that ignites students to want to learn more. Sometimes its less about what you are learning, and more about how you learn. For example, in the ELA classroom, there is little defining what texts kids read. Teachers must measure how well students comprehend complex texts and analyze the materials. This allows the ELA teacher to open up kids to a whole slew of books and texts which allows many students to engage in the work.
The hardest part about allowing kids individualized reading assignments for a teacher is the difficulty in being able to accurately grade work on something the teacher may not have read. The good news is, that there are cliff notes on almost all books these days. Once considered a dirty word to ELA teachers everywhere as kids used the site to get out of doing their reading, however, Cliff Notes can drastically improve a teacher's arsenal when it comes to individualized reading materials for students.
Another thing teachers can do in the ELA classroom is to allow students to choose from a selection of books or short stories. While it's not as good as allowing students to choose literally anything, it is still an opportunity to give students agency in the classroom.
For parents at home, this is why it is important to allow your kids to read what they like. At school, many students do not get the opportunity to read what they want, and therefore are always reading stories that seem "boring" and unimportant. Even scrolling beauty blogs is better than reading nothing. Always keep that in mind when at home!
Not an ELA Teacher?
Not all teachers get it quite as easy as the ELA teacher when it comes to personalized instruction in the classroom. A math teacher for example has a very specific list of concepts and strategies to teach a classroom of students, and there is not always a personalized method that seems obvious.
But! There can be with a little creativity. Teachers who have to stick to specific material in the classroom can give students more options in how they work. For example, daily classroom "menus" are a great way for students to feel they control their learning.
Have three or four sections that must be completed each day. Within each section, you can have two to four options. It is fine to have a "required" portion of the menu so all students get a core assignment completed, but allowing students choices along the way will greatly improve the negativity that follows them into the classroom.
Students work at their own pace on each section to get their classwork completed. The first section could be the warm-up or bell ringer. The second section could be a physical activity or book work. The third section could pertain to word problems or puzzles and the final activity could be a journal, review problems, or even a creative option to demonstrate a method.
Science teachers get the added bonus of allowing experiments into the classroom. Something about experiments gets all kids hyped up. So, allowing kids to earn their lab time by completing a menu is a great way to get kids engaged when learning about a topic.
History also has the option to really get kids engaged by allowing them to do a deep dive on a particular aspect of a time period. Once they get through the "required" portion of a time period students could work independently or in groups to learn more about one thing that they were interested in or want to learn more about, whether it is how butcher shops worked in that decade, to the invention of something in that time period.
Adding videos, clips, group projects, games and music will also allow students more creative outlets that also spark interest and engagement.
As the teacher you set up multiple options in each section every week that pertains to the unit. You set up the materials and instructions for the students, and each day they get to work through their choices at their own pace, seeking help when needed. The best part about this setup is that you as the teacher are free to move around and help those who are struggling.
Pro Tip: Add video lessons for your quick learners. You will find they can move on ahead of you allowing you the freedom to focus on those who are struggling.