Engaging Learners

I recently went to a really interesting CPD event that was presented by Peter Marshman.  The course was about delivering my subject, computing, more effectively but some of the insights that he shared should be used far more widely.

We often design tasks with a particular objective in mind.  We decide what we are going to teach during a series of lessons and we make this very clear to our students – communicating the objectives.  Then we will get our learners to understand how to put this objective into practice – using commas correctly or manipulating the equation, speed = distance/time.  Finally we might focus on why this is important and how it can be applied in wider contexts. In fact, too often this step is missed out because the objective has already been (apparently) achieved.

Too often we hear children saying, “Why do we have to do Shakespeare?  It’s boring!”  Or, “Quadratic equations, why do we bother with them?”  I am sure that they either haven’t experienced the why part of the sequence, or it hasn’t registered.  The learners have not connected the learning experience to anything that they care about and so the learning is not valued and is shallow at best.

Learners and their needs have to be at the centre of our planning and it must always be learning must informs the way that we choose to teach the young people in our classes.  Certainly, in the examples above, teaching has taken precedence.  The teacher has looked at what needs to be taught and how can I put it across to the students.  Little thought put into why the learners should engage with the material.  I know that I’ve fallen into this trap too often.

I have previously argued in this blog, that if teachers can tap into their learners’ emotions they are more likely to be successful than if they only tap into their learners’ intellect.  Turning the sequence of what, how, why on its head will make it far more likely that learners’ emotions are aroused and they will care about their learning.

Pete was an advocate of starting from why.  If there is an initial stimulus that outlines a situation and students have to work through this scenario and decide on a way forward then they are likely to become immersed in the task.  This initial stimulus needs to be carefully thought through so that it leads naturally to the how and the what that the teacher would have been aiming for anyway.  The chances are that the learners will be more engaged in their learning because they have a real reason to learn the new material as it will help them with the situation that they have been confronted with.  The actual objectives for the series of lessons will be exactly the same as they would have been but the engagement of the learners will be different.

Engaging Learners