I had just finished teaching my class of fifth-graders a math lesson, and it started to rain -- not just rain, downpour. The kids were working quietly and really trying to concentrate, which was difficult since the rain was hitting the roof and window with gusto. I could tell it was hard for them to look at their papers and not out the window. What would it hurt if we took a little break to watch this wonder of nature? Could it actually help my students?
Any teacher can tell you that there's a definite difference between a kindergartner’s excitement about school and a fifth-grader’s. Somewhere between the very first days of school and those last months of elementary school, many kids lose their love of school. How can we boost the excitement of those older students while still educating them?
Let their curiosity take over and exploration guide their learning! Here are a few tips that rainy day inspired.
Validate their answers. Rather than brushing off answers that don’t match what we're looking for, respond with “I love the way your mind works” or “That’s an interesting way to look at it.” Not only will students feel validated but they'll also develop confidence. You are much more likely to have them continue to explore with you when they are confident and validated.
Put them in the driver seat. Learning is not a straight line to one correct answer. Let students communicate and take a winding road. As long they end up in the right place, they have accomplished the goal. If they feel in control of their learning, they will be more apt to push themselves to be successful.
Don’t be satisfied with one answer and don’t let them be either! Dr. Seuss said in his book Happy Birthday to You, “Today you are You! That is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.” Individuality is very important, and students need to know that you value it, too. Sure, two plus two is always four, but in many cases, kids can find many solutions to problems. Celebrate this possibility and let their answers be colorful. Their answers give you a peek into their minds, personalities, and backgrounds. Incorporating open-ended questions or journaling time gives kids a safe way to tell you more about who they are, which can help you better motivate and teach them.
If it doesn’t really matter, don’t say no! Over the past decade, school life has become more and more about test scores, and teachers often feel that they can’t veer off the path that leads to the test. If students are curious about something, take advantage of that teachable moment. These little moments might just be the moments that students remember most.
Live in the moment. Back to that rainy day a few years ago: The awe on their faces as they gazed at the power of nature could not have been duplicated by any book, video, or simulation lesson. That moment was theirs and they really owned it. Beyond observing the wonders of nature, the students also learned that it’s important to appreciate the moment -- and that’s an important life skill that isn’t covered on any test.