I’m never going to use this in real life!
Every student has made this claim at least once before. As students make their way through their academic career, they often question the importance and applicability of their lessons. It is not only evident in this common statement, but also in the many blank stares and falling heads as students fall asleep. Is our content doomed to boredom? How can we present it so that students are excited to learn?
Below, I will share with you some questions to ask yourself to help you create a curriculum that students will not be able to get enough of!
1. If I were a student in this class, what questions would I have about the topic?
When we have been teaching for a while, sometimes we forget what it is like not to know what we know. Take a step back. If you had never taken your class before, what would you be clueless about? For example, I taught a class on planning a mission trip to some of our Bible college students. While I may have done this several times, they have no clue where to start. They may be wondering how to even find an organization to work with or how to determine lodging and food costs in other location. I can’t start with the details of what to plan with organizations and the importance of cultural sensitivity. Think step by step and make sure you are adequately equipping your students with the knowledge they need.
2. If I were a student in this class, what would I want to walk away knowing?
Our content is dictated to a certain degree by particular government expectations, but this should not limit us from asking what our students truly want to know. Again, step back. Try to think from a student’s perspective or maybe even poll a few students from your school. What do they want to feel confident in as they leave your course? Coming back to my example of working with my Bible college students, they wanted to walk away knowing how to plan a community service event. Therefore, I included lessons focused on how to build and maintain relationships with local organizations, the importance of serving from the perspective of the community’s needs rather than individual ideas, and more. I was even able to give them a chance to practice running an event by leading a community service initiative for our student body.
3. How can I make the content engaging?
How can you get your students involved in what they are learning? With society becoming more and more media driven and attention spans getting shorter and shorter, I believe we need to incorporate kinesthetic opportunities into the classroom as often as we can. How can you involve them in the learning process? Can you ask a thought-provoking question in class? Can you have them create a quick illustration of a principle you just shared? Can you create a hypothetical critical-thinking scenario they discuss? Can you bring a visual?
4. How can I make the content applicable to them?
Try to help students understand why your content is important. If you are teaching statistics, perhaps use a current example of a shocking survey or a study on social media usage. If you are teaching English, maybe allow students to discuss how the principles recognized in ancient writings can still be recognized or applied in today’s world. If you are teaching geography, consider using current events in your lessons or bring in a few people from other countries to share with the class. Show them their awareness of the world allows them to interact better in their everyday encounters.
5. How can I teach them this without using a textbook?
A textbook is easy to turn to and should certainly not be forsaken, but what are some other methods you can utilize? Can you take a field trip to a museum? Can you discuss an example from your own life to illustrate a particular principle? Can you show a YouTube video? Can you have students teach one another, by divvying topics and assigning presentations? Can you have professionals from other fields come in and do an in-class workshop? Think outside the box. Use Google. Get creative!
6. What assignments can I give instead of a paper?
Papers and other writing assignments are certainly valuable, but can get monotonous when they are the only measurable outcome used. Again, get creative here. Utilize media such as video or song. Create in-class scenarios or presentations. Assign out-of-class interviews or research. Have students bring in pictures or items for assignments. Ask for students to produce real-life documents, such as a professional email or a personal budget, to allow the opportunity for hands-on practice.
7. Who can help me?
Not that creative? Don’t worry! There are plenty of people who can help. The internet is certainly a great place to start, but don’t be afraid to reach out to those around you as well. Students really are a powerful source of creativity and innovation. Gather a few of your pupils and ask for their input. Maybe bring up some ideas to your fellow teachers or principal and get their thoughts. Some of your friends may even be able to help. Don’t be afraid to ask. Even if someone does not give you a home run suggestion, they may inch you closer to your own inspiration.
Our curriculum will only be as engaging as the effort we dedicate to developing it. So, let’s be eager to look through the lens of our students and create a classroom experience where they no longer ask why it matters, but develop an insatiable appetite!
Feature image adapted from image courtesy of Flickr, Neil Conway.