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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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What Makes a Learning Experience Unbelievably Satisfying?

Ben Johnson

Administrator, author and educator
"Good." My typical reply to that is, "Good for what?" This makes her laugh but she still doesn't want to provide much detail to her days learning activities. It might be that she is providing a buffer of protection for her teachers from an overly critical dad, or I suppose it could be a syndrome of her age -- simply not wanting dad to know too much.

Whatever it is, it's the typical response and she only shares more about her day upon insistent prodding. It would be nice, just one day, if I would ask her, "How was your day at school?" and she would respond, "Unbelievably satisfying!"

Those are words that I don't think are regularly used to describe schools. Even more specifically, I am reasonably certain that in the history of the world, no student has ever described her day at school as unbelievably satisfying. These are the thoughts that pass through my head every day as I drive passed a billboard for Dr. Pepper, in which a smiling leprechaun holds up a soda can and in big bold letters states, "Unbelievably Satisfying!"

But wouldn't it be absolutely awesome if our schools were able to inspire this kind of emotion in their students?

So how can an everyday school experience become unbelievably satisfying to a student? In the case of Dr. Pepper, they claim it is this way because it quenches your thirst, and is sweet, tasty, and fizzy. Let's look at how a teacher can make her classroom learning activities unbelievably satisfying for her students:

  • Students have a general curiosity, a thirst to find out what's new. When a teacher inspires students to discover something new, you can actually hear the gulp, gulp gulp...ahhhhhhh.
  • Students love to feel needed and essential. When teachers share leadership and play to the strengths of the student, there it goes again, gulp, gulp gulp...ahhhhhhh.
  • Students crave honest and specific praise and when they get it from an observant teacher, gulp, gulp gulp...ahhhhhhh.
  • The sweetness of victory fills students to the brim when they succeed at difficult problems with which an astute teacher has challenged them, gulp, gulp gulp...ahhhhhhh.
  • Canny teachers purposefully engage the students in hands-on projects designed to leave the students with a taste for more, while energetic and enthusiastic teachers create fun and active learning environments where the students' excitement can't help but bubble to the surface, gulp, gulp gulp...ahhhhhhh.

That is how teachers can create unbelievably satisfying days at school for students. Getting away from the idea that education is something you do to kids, and embracing the idea that it is something to be experienced with kids is what will make the difference between a good day at school and an unbelievably satisfying one.

Mercedes is my youngest child, but I have hope that soon she will have unbelievably satisfying days at school every day.

What are some ways that you make learning experiences in your classroom satisfying and memorable for your students?

Ben Johnson

Administrator, author and educator
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Comments (32)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Lucy's picture

As a Kindergarten teacher, I greet each of my students by name in the morning. I try my best to create an environment where children feel safe and can learn. I also agree with using humor that a 5/6 year old can understand. I also try to incorporate things that they are interested in. I feel sharing stories about myself and my family helps keep them motivated and shows I care about them. (It helps this year my son is in Kindergarten).
The teachers I remember where the ones I truly felt cared about me. I hope to make an impact on my students and making Kindergarten an experience they would consider a satisfying one.

Lesley Mahler's picture

I am reminded of something one of my college professors use to say many times ... "Teaching is like acting, it involves props, scene changes, and song and dance." Every day is like seeing a new audience with new possibilities. I am refreshed to begin a new performance. Thank you.

Erin's picture

I'm a first grade teacher and I recently began graduate school. I think it is reall important that all children feel comfortable in the classroom in order to be able to learn. I have 17 students in my class this year, and each of them brings something unique to offer. Tapping into their interests and allowng them to express themselves, even at a young age, helps keep them engaged in the learning activity. I also try to use as many manipulatives and hands-on experiences as I possibly can in order to teach my lessons. I always have more engagement when all students are able to create, manipulate, and move about the classroom.

Jenn F's picture

I am a Kindergarten teacher and a graduate student. I feel what makes your learning experience satisfying is the teacher them self. First, you need to get to know each child personally. You need to let them know that you are there to help them, mentor them, and teach them. They need a positive person look up to. Teachers need to engage the students and make learning fun. They need hands on activities that are going to be encourage learning. I think kids learn through play. Especially at a pre-k or K level. Also, I feel like letting the students make their own decision. If I am going to do a lesson I have 3 activities that go with it and the students can choose which one they want to do. If you realize all students learn differently and meet the needs of all the student that your learning experience will be satisfying.

Krista Zade's picture

This is so very true. It would be so excited to hear students give that response to questions about their school days. It is usually easy to tell when students are not motivated, but not always as easy to motivate them. Like others who have commented here, I have found that the more I am able to relate lessons to my students' personal interests and lives, the more engaged they will be. Also, varying the learning modalities that I appeal to is a huge help; I like to use a good amount of kinesthetic activities along with visual and auditory instruction. I have noticed that keeping my lessons brief helps too. I teach second graders, and I really have found that after 7-8 minutes they generally start to get fidgety no matter what we are doing. Most kids really can only stick to one task for the amount of minutes equivalent to their age. They need frequent breaks for them to stay motivated and learning. It is easy to remember these things as I sit as my computer, and equally as easy to forget them as I get caught up in the chaos of my classroom. I hope to continue developing my motivational strategies so that my students' days will be "unbelievably satisfying!"

Chris S.'s picture

Thanks for the thought-provoking post!

Please do me a favor and add an "f" to "satisying" (sic) in the title. Sorry, I'm an English teacher! (=

Chrissy M.'s picture

This is so true and I would love for my students to describe my class as "unbelievably satisfying". I try to make each day exciting for my students through fun hands on activities, but wish that I could do more. I feel like there are so many time constraints that I don't always have the time to do lessons the way that I would like to. I try to find what my students are interested in and bring that into the classroom as much as possible. I also try do a variety of activities so that the students don't get bored with doing things the same way every day. Group work also seems to get more students motivated. I teach 2nd grade and love when the students are all engaged and excited about a lesson and want every day to have many moments like this so that my students always leave feeling satisfied with their day and excited about something new that they learned.

JillianME's picture

I can totally relate to your post, not only as a teacher, but an Aunt. I ask my niece every time I pick her up from school how school was and of course I receive the one word response, "good". So frustrating! As an educator I know I work my hardest to make some lasting impressions on my students everyday so that when they go home and someone asks them what they have done in school today they actually have an answer. Something that sparks a conversation. Just like you said, I have hands on activities in the classroom to provide students with not only a learning experience, but something they can classify as fun!

When I was student teaching, I made word problems up and had my students solve them. After they were finished, I thanked them for helping me with some of my real life problems. I told them that the people in the word problems and the problems inside of them were real. When I met with my mentor after the lesson she told me, "this is what is talked about around the dinner table." I think making those real life connections, and showing students that education is more than just school, is really what sparks that curiosity and love for learning and sharing.

Rebecca Majors's picture

I am a first grade teacher and find it difficult to constantly find engaging activities for my students, but it is essential to their learning. I find that the students love being in a classroom where the teacher is actively involved. A lot of the time I pretend to be the student and have the students be the teacher. I am able to check for understanding, but also see the students interpertation of me as a teacher. Another way I engage students is allowing them the freedom to select projects to work on. I offer all students 3 choices and they choose which one they would like to do. The more engaged my students are the more satisfing I see school to them.

Dean Phillips's picture

I agree with much that has been previously said, however, I do also believe that motivation is not just strictly school based. Students need to hear from parents how important their education is. Students need to observe parents who read at home, who continue to learn about what they do as a profession. Students need to become lifelong learners just as their parents are. Is it solely the responsibility of classroom teachers to motivate students? I don't believe so. It is the responsibility of all that are involved. The students, the parents, the teachers, the administration all play a role in student motivation. To simply point a finger at a teacher and say you are not motivating my child is unfair and narrow minded. How have you played a part in motivating your child to learn?

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