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How To Teach Students What They Really Need

I learned a great deal from my students in my four decades as a middle school and high school teacher. Once I became aware of and started practicing the concepts of Top 20 Training, my classroom became a different place. A learning environment replaced a teaching environment.

Parents, have you ever heard this sort of statement from your children when they are asked about homework or studying?

“When am I ever going to use [fill in subject area here] in my real life?” Tweet this

or

“This is stupid. What’s in [fill in subject area here] for me?”

Relevancy: What’s In It for Me?

Relevancy used to be assumed in school. There was an implicit understanding that what was taught in school mattered. High school diplomas got you into college; college diplomas got you a career or at least a job. The struggling economy in our country has drastically changed that implicit understanding, and students are acutely aware of that. They are rightfully demanding to see the Big Why behind what they are being asked to do in school.

A few students will probably benefit from the math content they learned from me during my career. I have seen some of these kids become accomplished civil engineers, architects, and scientists. A few others probably developed self-esteem due to their academic performances; grades were most likely a positive thing for a handful of my former students—probably those who got straight A’s.

I’m convinced, though, that content and grades were not very helpful to a majority of the thousand students I had during my 40 years in the classroom. What did I learn from my students? I learned that every single student developed Star Qualities in my classes! Not everybody will use the quadratic formula, but they will all use the persistence that it took to get that concept down. Not every student will graph another parabola in their life, but they will most certainly use the self-discipline it took to do that homework.

Once I became aware of the powerful impact Star Qualities made on the lives of these young people, my focus shifted as a teacher. I tried to emphasize what math was really all about (logic, willpower, focus) instead of lying to kids about how they would definitely need to multiply mixed numbers when they were older. Instead of concentrating on grades (how is a B- different from a C+?), I tried to teach children that they should disassociate their math ability from their own personal worth, identity, or purpose. Again, this was a complete paradigm shift for me and my students, and it had a dramatic positive impact on the learning culture in my classroom.

Here’s what I learned from my students about relevancy:

  • Katie was a low-functioning pre-algebra student in my class. I discovered that she is also a world-class equestrian. Once I re-framed math in “horse” terms, she started to feel smart again.
  • Maren struggled with senior math. She needed to raise her math ACT score to—get this one, folks—qualify for a college that specialized in dance, her special talent. She decided to re-name “senior math” (the content) “dance” (the real goal) and eventually achieved the ACT score she needed. Maren struggled mightily through that senior math course, sought help regularly and learned to deal with adversity. Through her senior math experience, she developed many of the star qualities (persistence, patience, self-discipline) she would eventually need to become a world class dancer. Cut to the end of the story: She is now a professional ballet dancer.
  • Dan, Randy, and Andy were three of the lowest-performing ninth-grade math students I have ever met. Yet, all three decided to cut their hair and shave themselves bald when a female classmate was dying of brain cancer. They showed Star Qualities of empathy, understanding, and compassion by demonstrating their solidarity with her. None of these three will ever use much of the math they learned in that class, but I’ll bet they will use those Star Qualities repeatedly.

Top 20 Training empowers students, parents, teachers, and coaches to develop their potential and make a positive difference in their lives and in the lives of others. Having worked with over 500,000 teachers and educational leaders nationwide, they have developed one-of-a-kind training seminars that are practical and immediately applicable. They also offer support materials (books, curricula, teacher’s manuals, and inservice kits) to help teachers effectively implement Top 20 content into their classrooms. Visit us at www.top20training.com or follow us on Twitter @top20training

Thought for the Week

Maintaining strong relationships with students is at the heart and soul of what teachers do.

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