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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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How to Revitalize Your Students

Ben Johnson

Administrator, author and educator

Have I let "instructional weeds" infest my classroom?

I went out into my backyard today and was astounded about its condition. The hibernating Bermuda grass was yellow-brown as it should have been, but salt-and-peppered throughout the yard were bright green dandelions with the "I dare you to stop me" fluffy white seed flowers that had not been there in the fall.

I thought I had eradicated them completely last summer, but the evidence was plain to see. My yard was infested once again with those obnoxious dandelions that grow so quickly and so effortlessly. So what are the instructional weeds in my classroom? They are the misbehaviors, shoddy work, and apathy evident in many of my students.

Yes, I could blame the students for their behaviors or I could look at what I have been doing to allow these pesky learning inhibiting weeds to germinate and grow. I already did the first thing and although emotionally satisfying, it didn't solve the problem. So I am left to figure out what I have been doing.

Here is my reflection on the situation:

I think I have been trying hard to get the students to learn. Though, I am a bit behind the other teachers so I have been cutting corners and eliminating some of the fun stuff. I have been trying hard to get the students to pay attention and focus (but admittedly my practice drills are not the most interesting things on which to focus). I have been trying to use the class-time efficiently, but I feel that I have to stand by each table in order to get them to perform at acceptable levels. The minute I move, they relax until I come around again.

I thought students were slacking up a bit so I revisited the classroom rules after winter break to make sure the students knew what I expect from them. Some complied for awhile. I have focused more on using CHAMPS technique for framing the behavior expectations for each activity, and that seems to help the students focus. It annoys me that the students have been begging to go outside more (we did a soccer unit earlier), but I can't justify it for the time it takes. We have been working hard on verb skills and vocabulary, but I never seem to have enough time to do much actual communication (I teach Spanish, by the way).

So, that's reflection. Looking at what I have written, it is pretty obvious to see what is missing in my learning designs. The reason students take Spanish is to actually use it in exciting and useful ways. The spark that was there at the beginning of the year, when everything was new and students were going home showing off the Spanish they knew is gone. How did that happen? Yes learning is hard work, but for the sake of saving time, I fell back on instructional practices that I know are not the most effective or very enjoyable. To manage the students and keep them busy, not necessarily learning, I have spent too much time at the copy machine. I lost sight of what is exciting about learning languages and cultures.

Talking to the students about Don Quijote will never provide the sense of urgency or same enthusiasm of creating a reader's theater to present to the parents. Establishing our own travel agency is a hundred times more effective at inspiring students to learn and use the vocabulary than reading the textbook. But those are the things that, little by little, I dismissed as taking too much time and effort; I have become lazy instructionally. If any of you can relate to what I am talking about, you and I both know what to do. I need to get back to the big picture and make the learning relevant, engaging and hands-on.

I'm looking forward to spring, getting out the weed whacker and the weed killer for both my classroom and the back yard. I have to revitalize my classroom to destroy apathy, inspire excellent work, and to eliminate unproductive behaviors. All I need to do is give the students a legitimate reason to learn.

I would be interested in your successes at revitalizing your classes and getting rid of those pesky classroom weeds. Please share in the comments section.

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mafarrace's picture
mafarrace
Middle school French teacher from Falls Church, VA

To help get rid of weeds we sing and use images. I.e. The kids just learned possessives and to help remember, we used the mon, ma, mes song. Then today we'll bring out scrap paper and mini white boards and see who can put together phrases the fastest - I show them a picture of a desk and the word "my", they write down the French phrase. Then we'll think of the wackiest phrases we can using them. I.e. My dog puts his socks on her desk at 10:00 in the morning. I just give them the guidelines - must have 1 possessive, use re verb and a time. Sometimes they'll draw a picture using the words & pass to someone to jave to describe. They're working the whole time.

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