So, what has this got to do with the classroom? If you want to engage your learners then you really should try to engage their emotions. Imagine a lesson about nuclear power. Imagine that the teacher has put the objective on the board: to understand the advantages and and disadvantages of nuclear power. I bet that more than 50% of the class would turn off as soon as they read that. Now imagine the next door classroom where the teachers has put up a headline: “Permission to Build Nuclear Station in [insert name of the next town] Granted,” along with a photo of a nuclear power station. I bet there would be a buzz in the room straight away. Suddenly, the learners have a stake in the lesson. The lesson could be constructed to look at the advantages and disadvantages and next lesson there could be a full blown debate about the issue. I am certain that, in their research, learners would unearth most of the hard facts required in this science lesson.
Recently a colleague started a Year 10 lesson by telling the class that Facebook would be enforcing a strict minimum age limit of 16, and that all the accounts of those under this age would be wiped. As you can imagine, the learners were engaged from that first moment. The only problem was containing and channeling the students’ reaction effectively. I am sure that the lesson was far more memorable than, objective: the advantages and disadvantages of social networks.
A few days ago I taught a lesson about copyright. I put up on the board a series of scenarios for the students to consider. Is it alright to copy homework? Is is alright to copy a cd to listen to in the car, or to give it to a friend, or to sell it? What about downloading music? Or using a photo you have found on the internet on your Facebook page? All the questions were designed to be issues that the learners deal with themselves. I put the questions up and let them talk. I did not intervene, I just let the discussion develop and it was very interesting hearing the different points of view that the learners expressed. Eventually we came round to the idea of copyright and why it exists. Again, the learners’ reaction and engagement was far better that if I had started with, objective: understanding copyright.
If you really want to engage your learners in their learning, you must engage their emotions. You must provoke a reaction so that they really think about what you are presenting them with. this is especially important if what you are teaching is very factual. It is a bit like poking a stick into a wasps’ nest; you get a reaction, you get emotional involvement, and you get engagement.