8 Things your students would like you to know but may never share
Part of your role as a teacher is to know your students well in order to be able to offer them enabling environments to learn and grow, the most personalised learning experiences and to offer accurate evaluation or assessment. Children constantly provide us with precious feedback on our work and on their unique needs. The key is to learn how to collect information that comes from children’s behaviour and recognise and appropriately interpret the signals they are sending. This is possible when we move beyond our own assumptions, judgment and bias and engage in Child-centered Observation while at the same time offering children most diverse contexts to learn and demonstrate their strengths.
While observing children, whether it’s from the distance, when facilitating the classes for them, planning or discussing with them you may collect very detailed and truly precious information about individual children that will most definitely help you support their unique learning journeys for them. However, there are some universal things that will be applicable to all children that are worth having in mind to inform your positive and mindful practice. Your children will want you to know them but some of them but may be too shy or afraid to share:
1. “I need more time but I can do it”
Some children need more time to complete certain tasks than others. This is especially true for those students who do not feel particularly strong or passionate about some areas while at the same time they can perform exceptionally in others. As a teacher you need to make sure you do not judge or label your students as weaker or inadequate for the fact that they need more time to complete certain tasks or activities.
It’s best not to compare them to others as this may negatively affect their confidence and may lead to emotional trauma. It is unlikely that one person will be performing equally in all subjects. Usually a student will be gifted or more excited about certain aspects of their learning journey and not other and they should never feel bad about it. They should be just offered more time and positive support to understand and complete what is expected of them.
Ideally, especially in the early years, children should be encouraged to explore variety of learning areas and activities and choose those which they feel particularly drawn to. This helps them channel their energy into their natural strengths which later on may lead to mastery. For each aspect of the curriculum that you need to cover make sure you offer many different ways for children to grasp and explore the concept so that all children have equal chances to work through their strengths. Hands-on experiences and using their bodies is always the most effective way for children to learn.
2. “I have other talents that I am happy to use”
Similar as the above, your students should never feel bad or guilty for not being good at something other students are better at as it might negatively affect their confidence. As a result they may not be so willing to participate in certain activities for fear of being criticised, rejected or not appreciated. Whilst they will certainly have other talents they will be happy to use, the very fact they are never asked to do so nor offered opportunities to demonstrate and use their skillset might affect how they perceive themselves as individuals.
As teachers, and this is particularly important in the early years and early primary, we should send a message that all talents are equally valid and can help make a change when shared with the world. Therefore it’s particularly important to offer children a wide spectrum of opportunities for demonstrating their talents whether it’s through physical or artistic expression, through communication and language, construction or role play, project work, music or rhythm etc.
3. “I find it hard to sit still”
As teacher you shouldn’t expect your students to sit still for longer periods of time and definitely not all students will be able to do so. Stationary learning does not support children’s holistic development and significantly reduces their attention span and as a result their retention of information. Children of all ages are active by nature and need dynamically changing environments they can tune into and actively interact with. Some children, however, need more movement than others and asking them to be still and concentrate is a task way beyond their abilities and will power. They will definitely perform much better if they can channel their energy into more active tasks that are more suited to their individual energy profiles.
Make sure you offer your students enough space and time to move around by organising activities based on Experiential Hands-on Learning that will help them learn through play and promote natural interaction with the world. Keep study sessions short and offer individual students extra support.
4. “I’m really tired and I need a break now”
When you are tired you can’t do much about it and your students feel exactly the same. Consider it and instead of putting too much emphasis on completing tasks or even covering your intended topic, be flexible and sensitive towards the way your students feel. The more tired they are the poorer their performance. It’s important to offer appropriate sensory stimulation as both under and over stimulation will lead to fatigue.
Make sure you keep appropriate balance – that lights are not too bright/not too dark, the classroom is spacious enough and airy, that it’s not too loud, that you offer enough visual and auditory stimulation and that there is a wide spectrum of activities of different types that your children can engage in, for example: experiments, constructions play, project work, messy play, physical activities, outdoor play, free self-directed learning etc.
The easiest way to make sure your learning environment is balanced is to offer as much hands-on and multi sensory experiences as possible. Additionally, encourage refreshing breaks to help introduce more dynamics and provide opportunities for student-led activities, which empower children and help them take the lead and ownership of their learning.
5. “I learn better when I can touch things”
Not everyone learns the same way. In fact, we all differ in the way we best learn. This means offering the same methods of teaching to all your students will not help all of them in the same way. This is one of the reasons why some students might underperform, struggle, feel bored or cause discipline problems.
Make sure you offer variety of ways to present your content, topic or learning contexts to cater for everyone’s needs. The easier thing to do is to plan activities that will appeal to multiple senses – touch, vision and hearing and to offer plenty of hands-on learning opportunities. Having a choice of Play & Learning Stations is the most effective way for the early childhood and early primary providers offer diverse cross-curricular learning contexts that help personalise learning processes for children.
6. “Your positive feedback really motivates me”
Even when some of your students do not perform as well as you would expect them, finding something positive about their work and their process will most certainly motivate them to keep trying and will boost their confidence. Try to focus on individual students, offer feedback based on their unique traits, skills or performance without comparing their efforts to others. Praising children for who they are helps them understand the value of their work, appreciate their assets and the unique contribution they bring. Offering guided and constructive feedback also helps children improve and strive towards mastery and is the pillar for the Entrepreneurial Education.
7. “I don’t remember it now but it doesn’t mean I don’t know”
The fact that some of your students are not able to give you correct answers right away does not mean they do not know them at all. They might have simply forgotten having so many other things to remember, they might not feel well that day, be distracted or under pressure. The way you elicit information from your students matters a lot – having to answer in front of everyone or being in the centre of attention is not a child-friendly way.
Luckily, there’s plenty of effective and positive ways to evaluate progress. Depending on their age and stage of development, observing their work, engaging in meaningful discussions, building your students’ portfolios, informally asking probing or guiding questions either one-on-one or in a small group helps you evaluate your students’ understanding and their progress in a positive way. Giving your students more time and letting them find their best ways to demonstrate their progress will definitely bring better results.
8. “I’m not disruptive, I just need more attention”
Disruptive behaviour does not always mean your students want to intentionally ruin your lesson. Instead of blaming your students for misbehaviour it’s best to investigate the true reasons behind it. Disruptive behaviour might be the answer to your teaching style which might not offer students enough time, space and tools to engage and express themselves. It may also be related to students’ individual issues such as low self esteem, emotional problems, abuse at school or at home, too much stress, learning delays etc. For underperforming students who hardly ever receive positive feedback from teachers misbehaviour might be the only way to attract their attention.
There always is a reasonable explanation for your students’ behaviour. Becoming more sensitive to their needs, understanding your students as individuals without judging them on the basis of their behaviour only helps build positive relationships with them that may support them in opening up to you more, sharing more about their struggles and build more trust. Offering more opportunities for hands-on learning helps eliminate disruptive behaviour as it keeps children busy, excited and supports them in directing their energy through movement and multi sensory interaction. This should definitely be your starting point.
Offering diverse learning contexts is your best starting point
There are many ways to getting to know your students and since children are constantly sending us meaningful signals the best way to make sure our observations are objective is to offer diverse learning environments. The easiest way to do this is provide opportunities for Hands-on Experiential Learning on a daily basis. This way you’ll make sure you see your students in different contexts, using different skillsets, you will be able to notice what excites them and what kind of activities are more challenging. You will be able to observe communication and natural interactions between children more effectively. This will help you spot more serious issues that needs to be addressed, identify your students strengths and eliminate factors directly contributing to certain behaviour, which may be related to your teaching or facilitation style.
What to do next
To help you learn how to apply Active Experiential Learning in your setting, Natural Born Leaders has launched a new teacher support programme ACTIVE LEARNING BOOSTER.
It’s a self-paced hands-on online training programme for Early Years and Primary Teachers who are ready to offer Future-Oriented Education based on Active Experiential Holistic Learning and Development.