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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Using personal experiences when teaching.

Using personal experiences when teaching.

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How far is too far when using one's own experiences to assist in delivering a lesson? Can we for the most part keep our experiences to ourselves but still have the students 'connect' with us? I thought about these questions as I was reading an article for an assignment. Sure, we all want our children to trust us and to feel comfortable enough to open up when they have problems, but is there an invisible line we shouldn't venture accross? I look forward to your feedback.

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Ameina's picture

I will give my opinion Andrea on the issue of using experiences to deliver a leasson. I think that we should use our personal experiences as well as students experiences when it comes to helping students understand lessons. I think its unfair that we in the Caribbean teach students certain concepts of which they have had no experience. Sometimes drawing on their experiences or even our own helps them to undertsand the concepts better. I think its unfair for teachers in the Caribbean to ask students to write about a white Christmas when we have never experienced snow.

Darlene Crumrine's picture

I use my personal experiences in my lessons when I feel that it will benefit my students learning. For example, my Flat Stanley assignment. First I read the book, then I actually brought in the letter that I had sent out, as well as my Flat Stanley response. The students then seemed to become more excited and could'nt wait to mail out their letters. Then when their responses started coming back, they wanted share with the class all about Flat Stanley's journey alomng with their souviners,and pictures. The students had so much fun with this assignment they asked if they could send out another letter. However, if I had not shared my experience with my Flat Stanley letter, they may not have enjoyed this assignment as much.
Darlene Crumrine

Andrea R.'s picture
Andrea R.

Darlene, that was some good stuff. I find it very helpful when our experiences are used but some people are of the school of thought that the students will become too 'familiar' with you and feel as if they can overstep their boundaries. As teachers, we set the boundaries in our classrooms and the only thing that will jerk some students is to realise that another person was successful at what they're being asked to do.

Barry Germinara's picture


I think we can't help but bring our personnel experiences into the classroom. When Ameina talked about teachers trying to teach a white Christmas to students living on an island as a negative I instead would see this as a great teaching opportunity. I teach ancient civilizations and so I can only show and tell my students bits and pieces about these cultures. They will either love or hate the assignments I give them depending on how I deliver the material. The concept of a white Christmas would be well served through a video montage of older and newer movies that many people in the Northern Hemisphere watch each year. Possibly, students and teachers could use a blog like this one to watch a streaming video from a sister school in America or Europe. If possible, the island country could offer me the opportunity to come and teach the lesson while enjoying a much needed vacation from the cold!
I think you have to keep some aspects of your life personal, however the more we allow kids into our past experiences the more I think they will look at us as real people who they should look to for guidance.


Andrea R.'s picture
Andrea R.

I understand where Ameina is coming from because I live on a caribbean island myself (Antigua). On the other hand, I agree with your approach in terms of making it a learning experience. I guess it boils down to the type of students you have to deal with. Maybe one day, you will get the opportunity to get a break from the cold! :-)

Darlene Crumrine's picture

Andrea R,
I agree with you. I know personally I always seemed to understand better when my teachers related their experiences with me. Therefore, I do the same. So here is a big thank you for all these teachers who did so. You know who you are.
Darlene Crumrine

Kelly Fry's picture

I think it is a great way to get our students to know us better and to connect with us if we use personal experiences to teach. When I was teaching my students about drugs and alcohol - I told them about a boy friend I had that died from an overdose of inhalants. I think it was important for them to actually hear about an actual - personal story. It helped them to see how fatal doing drugs can be.

I have used personal experiences in other lessons as well. Students need to see us and know us as 'real people' in order to hae that relationship with us - which helps to decrease behavior problems in the classroom. If they respect you - they will behave for you.
Kelly Fry

Michelle LaMassa's picture

This is an excellent topic. I have used my experiencs many times in order to have my students connect to the topic at hand. However, some parents, even administration do not approve at times. There is a definite line you do not want to cross, and I believe we all know what is inappropriate. Take for example, though, a personal experience I brought into a math lesson. I was teaching eighth grade at the time, and it was a lesson on interest rates, compound interest, and simple interest. My husband and I had just bought a house, and I merely used the fact of buying the house as an example of a real life lesson on the day's topics. I didn't use the exact numbers...just the fact of buying the house. I actually had a parent complain that I gave too much personal information. I was floored that the complaint was even brought to administration's attention. It was extremely harmless, and had no real personal information other than I bought a house, and for some reason, this parent did not like that I used it as an example. I must admit, that has not stopped me from using personal experiences. It without a doubt adds to the learning of students. I am always asked in math, "When are we ever going to use this?" I try to give them everyday experiences, personal or not, to illustrate why it is important.

Angela Smith's picture
Angela Smith
Middle School Teacher, Reno, NV

I wholeheartedly agree that we as educators need to put our own personalities into our lessons. You (Michelle) made your lesson relevant to your students by providing them with a "real-world" example of buying your house, the interest rates, compound interest etc. I can't believe that a parent would complain to administration about you. Not only did you make your lesson relevant, but you taught a lesson that many ADULTS in this current Mortgage mess should have been taught! I applaud you for using your own experiences to teach a lesson to your students. For every great lesson we teach, we seldom, if ever get feedback from our students. I think it's a shame when the feedback we do get has to be a negative comment from a parent.

I have found that my best lessons are ones in which my personal experiences and unique personality traits are brought into them. My students also ask me all the time how they are every going to apply what they are learning into real life situations. Sometimes in order to prove relevancy, we have to share a little of our own experiences.

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