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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

mckenzie mckean's picture

I am a student in college pursuing a degree in education. I totally agree with your comments regarding the techniques to totally engage students in the learning process as well as create a learning environment that is unbelievably satisfying! I hope to remember these little tips and encorporate them into my classroom and into the way that I interact with my students.

Ashley Allen's picture

Ben,
You are absolutely right about engaging students and giving them encouragement. As a teacher, I try to do that every day because students needs to be able to depend on their teacher to keep them motivated and challenged. I like to think of my students as sponges, and I pray the more information I give the more they will soak up that knowledge. However, I can't expect them to soak up knowledge just by sitting in their desks day after day doing worksheets. The students need to learn through collaboration with their peers and by physcially being able to manipulate what they are learning. I also like to assign my students "jobs" every week. This way they can learn a little responsibility and feel special doing it because they are the "teacher's assistant." My students actually argue over the jobs that are assigned. Children are a blessing, and teachers need to never take their jobs for granted because the future is in our hands.

Carol Bryan's picture

This post affirms what I believe is true...motivating students is absolutely the job of the teacher. I have always felt much more powerful in knowing I can make a difference in feelings toward school and the students motivation toward work. With my son in Middle school I have heard one too many times that he is just not "motivated". I have not heard one teacher attack the issue and take it on. I have never been told that they are willing to do anything or take any responsibility for this motivation (or lack of). This experience has made me even more committed to taking on the responsibility for the atmosphere that I create in my classroom.

Andy Goldstein's picture

Ben,

As a Technology Education teacher, I try to structure experiences for students to take them through the creative process, brainstorming ideas and experimenting with them, modifying them, seeing their ideas to completion, and then sharing it with others. Students are engaged because they are working with their own ideas. They see them as important enough to commit their energies, creativity and time. Projects we have created include Claymation, e-books, Flash animations, engineering challenges, video productions, PowerPoints, websites, a classroom blog and others.

You can view an example of a Claymation at: The Best Band in the World

An example of an ebook at: Alien Farm

An example of a Flash animation at: David Wars

An example of video production at: The Study-O-Matic 3000

Our classroom blog at: Classroom Blog

Sincerely,

Andy Goldstein
Technology Education Teacher
Omni Middle School
Boca Raton, FL

C.S.'s picture

I am a teacher and a graduate student. In one of my recent papers, I researched why students lack motivation. I teach a middle school reading remediation class and most of my students are reluctant readers. One of the key things that I found was that students lack intrinsic motivation-the motivation and eagerness to learn which most students begin school with. Often times as educators we fall into the trap of offering extrinsic rewards (candy) or focusing on extrinsic motivation (deadlines) and this can actually hinder our students' motivation. To try and spark my students' intrinsic motivation, I am trying a few things:
1. I am trying to get to know each student personally and incorporate the uniqueness that they bring to my classroom into my lesson and activity planning.
2. I am trying to make real-life connections, so that students' can see what we are learning has an application outside of the classroom.
3. I am allowing my students to be a part of the decision making process for lesson planning by offering suggested activities.
4. I am drawing more on student background knowledge prior to each lesson and allowing students to share what they know, so they feel that their contributions are important and valued.
5. I am trying to incoporate various types of learning activities to engage my students in learning, and show them that learning is fun!

I hope that learning in my classroom is memorable for my students!

Amber Melvin's picture

I am a graduate student and Kindergarten teacher. I am sometimes the first face a student sees within a school setting, and it is my job to make sure their experience is exciting and worth their while. Having a class of twenty-seven 5-6 year-olds can be somewhat draining, but this young age is what makes my job so interesting and rewarding. Each morning it is my goal to greet each of my students with a morning welcome and smile. Not only does this make the day seem welcoming but it lets my students know I am interested in them. Throughout the day I try to keep my energy level high, and again with a smile. I believe my students can sense when I am feeling tired or upset and in return they too start to feel that way. I also make sure my students are engaged in many hands-on activities during our learning centers (language arts block). I have to be sure to carefully chose each activity so my students stay active for the time frame they are in there, in addition to learning from their peers within their group. During reading groups, I strongly encourage laughter and guidance among all so they feel comfortable reading and learning in front of each other. Kindergarten is now the "new first grade" and they are expected to be able to read fluently, etc. by the end of the year; this can be scary and overwhelming for some. I am sure to build a strong relationship with my students so they too feel comfortable when I give them criticism and in return I see them work even harder than before. Again, I expect a lot out of my students, so in order for them to work hard I have to make sure I make my classroom exciting and engaging to keep their interest level and work habits high.

Carol Bryan's picture

I think the critical thing is embracing what each child can bring to a class. I just read an article about having them take responsibility for their learning. Allowing middle school age students to make choices and decisions about how they learn. In saying this we can only embrace this if we truly spend time getting to know each child.

Jill Capozzoli's picture

I am an 8th computer teacher and new graduate student. I am constantly looking for ways to keep my students motivated and engaged. The other teachers in my department have been at this for awhile, and they are not as willing to try new and different techniques. I feel like I'm still teaching computer in the 90's and haven't broken out into the new and up-to-date technology. After teaching 4 rotations (one to go) this year, I am even more convinced that I am not providing enough creativity and stimulating activities to motivate my students. I am ready to turn the corner and begin a new and improved class of current activities.
So, unfortunately, I don't feel like I'm offering the satisfying learning experience to my students, but I am beginning to make the switch. Thanks for the advice.

Shauna Massucci's picture

I am a new teacher and a graduate student and I see so many educators not doing the best they can to engage their students. I have been in a few classrooms where the teachers have the students reading quietly in their textbooks and answering the questions at the end of the chapter. BORING! I walk into these quiet classrooms and think to myself if I were sitting in this classroom would I go home and say I had an unbelievably satisfying day? Probably not. I try to provide my students with hands-on learning experiences that require the students to work together to solve problems or create projects. My graduate studies are focusing on how to integrate technology into the classroom. This generation of children are very technologically literate and I feel that one way to really engage them is by bringing technology into the classroom. I hope that this and the advice you gave will help me to over that satisfying experience to my students.

Shauna Massucci's picture

I am a new teacher and a graduate student and I see so many educators not doing the best they can to engage their students. I have been in a few classrooms where the teachers have the students reading quietly in their textbooks and answering the questions at the end of the chapter. BORING! I walk into these quiet classrooms and think to myself if I were sitting in this classroom would I go home and say I had an unbelievably satisfying day? Probably not. I try to provide my students with hands-on learning experiences that require the students to work together to solve problems or create projects. My graduate studies are focusing on how to integrate technology into the classroom. This generation of children are very technologically literate and I feel that one way to really engage them is by bringing technology into the classroom. I hope that this and the advice you gave will help me to over that satisfying experience to my students.

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