Have you ever considered why so many grade-school students are stressed, bored or uninspired when it comes to learning? Perhaps they enjoy school, but it is often for reasons such as friendships and extracurricular activities, and rarely because of academics. Perhaps if teachers had a better understanding of the learning experience from the students’ perspectives, they might want to revisit how they approach teaching. One teacher, Alexis Wiggins, who works for a private American International School outside of the US, conducted an experiment that did just that – it put her in the role of a student as she shadowed two high-school students for two days. What she learned was shocking.
After 14 years of teaching, Wiggins had started a new position as a High School Learning Coach, who works with teachers and administrators to improve the outcomes of student learning. To train for the role, Wiggins shadowed a 10th grader for a full school day, and a 12th grader on another day, doing all of the work that the students were doing.
“I waited 14 years to do something that I should have done my first year of teaching: shadow a student for a day. It was so eye-opening that I wish I could go back to every class of students I ever had right now and change a minimum of ten things – the layout, the lesson plan, the checks for understanding. Most of it!”
Wiggins came back with the following key takeaways after her experience:
1. Sitting All Day Long is Exhausting
Most schools follow the traditional format of putting kids in chairs at a desk as the teachers lecture at the front of the classroom. All day long the students are expected to sit at their desks, aside from the short walks between classes and during bathroom and lunch breaks. Here’s how sitting all day made Wiggins feel:
“In every class for four long blocks, the expectation was for us to come in, take our seats, and sit down for the duration of the time. By the end of the day, I could not stop yawning and I was desperate to move or stretch. I couldn’t believe how alert my host student was, because it took a lot of conscious effort for me not to get up and start doing jumping jacks in the middle of Science just to keep my mind and body from slipping into oblivion after so many hours of sitting passively.
I was drained, and not in a good, long, productive-day kind of way. No, it was that icky, lethargic tired feeling.”
It is unlikely that students absorb much of the content that they are being taught if they feel lethargic and exhausted, especially towards the end of class and definitely by the end of the day. So what would Wiggins change, in addition to giving students the freedom to stretch and have some movement time at the start and end of class?
“I would… build in a hands-on, move-around activity into every single class day. Yes, we would sacrifice some content to do this – that’s fine. I was so tired by the end of the day, I wasn’t absorbing most of the content, so I am not sure my previous method of making kids sit through hour-long, sit-down discussions of the texts was all that effective.”
2. The Traditional Classroom Format Does Not Engage Students
It is unlikely that most students will have the chance to engage in the learning process during each class period. Wiggins found that during approximately 90% of each class, high school students were sitting passively and only listening and taking notes.
“I don’t mean to imply critically that only the teachers droned on while students just sat and took notes. But still, hand in hand with takeaway #1 is this idea that most of the students’ day was spent passively absorbing information.
I was struck by this takeaway in particular because it made me realize how little autonomy students have, how little of their learning they are directing or choosing.”
Learning happens in many different places and in many different ways. But in a traditional school, the reality is that students do not choose or decide what they learn or how they learn it. Teachers often plan the class around the material they are expected to cover, often outlined by a general curriculum and preparing students for standardized testing.
After her experience, Wiggins identifies the importance of using the students’ general questions and areas of confusion as a way of engaging conversation, increasing enthusiasm and collaboration, and encouraging autonomy. One of Wiggins’ suggestions about making the schooling experience less passive would probably really appeal to many high-schoolers sitting in classrooms right now:
“I would… set an egg timer every time I get up to talk and all eyes are on me. When the timer goes off, I am done. End of story.”
3. Students are Made to Feel Like a Nuisance
Considering that students are expected to sit and listen all day, it is only expected that they will get fidgety, talkative or distracted. In response, teachers are often reprimanding students, telling them to be quiet and pay attention…over…and over…and over. Wiggins also noticed that teachers are often sarcastic and even sometimes condescending, which is completely damaging to the experience of learning.
“…when I was the one taking the tests, I was stressed. I was anxious. I had questions. And if the person teaching answered those questions by rolling their eyes at me, I would never want to ask another question again.
I feel a great deal more empathy for students after shadowing, and I realize that sarcasm, impatience, and annoyance are a way of creating a barrier between me and them. They do not help learning.”
Teachers’ attitudes and interacts with students have a lot to do with the teachers’ personalities and desires for the types of relationships they want to create with their students. It is often difficult to have endless patience, especially when it comes to children and teenagers. But there are methods that can be implemented that may help teachers realize just how often they show annoyance and irritation.
“I would make my personal goal of “no sarcasm” public and ask the students to hold me accountable for it. I could drop money into a jar for each slip and use it to treat the kids to pizza at the end of the year. In this way, I have both helped create a closer bond with them and shared a very real and personal example of goal-setting…”
Wiggins’ on-the-job training turned into a very insightful experiment with insights that could lead to more productive schooling techniques. It is clear that if we don’t evolve the way we approach schooling, we will continue to limit the potential of blossoming minds and even diminish their desire for learning and discovery.
You can read the complete summary of Alexis Wiggins’ experience here: http://grantwiggins.wordpress.com/2014/10/10/a-veteran-teacher-turned-coach-shadows-2-students-for-2-days-a-sobering-lesson-learned/
About the Author
Sigmund Fraud is a survivor of modern psychiatry and a dedicated mental activist. He is a staff writer for WakingTimes.com where he indulges in the possibility of a massive shift towards a more psychologically aware future for mankind.