Why Does It Matter: An analysis of the need for variety in teaching methods

During my sophomore year of high school, I had a math teacher named Mr. Hildreth who proposed a compelling view of the significance of an education. He taught me that one does not come to school to learn hard facts. One comes to school to learn how to learn. Teachers have a responsibility to not only teach a subject, but to teach the information in a way that is accessible for the student. This idea has stayed with me for years, as I believe that teachers need to reevaluate their priorities. I am certainly not saying that history teachers should teach less history and that math teachers should focus on subjects other than math, but rather, I am saying that teachers should expand their own horizons. Teaching should not simply consist of talking at students. Teach using alternating methods, and the students will listen.

This problem with education aligns with the critiques of the American education system described by Cathy Davidson in Now You See It. She states, “The real issue isn’t that our schools are too challenging. It’s the opposite…Kids aren’t failing because school is too hard but because it doesn’t interest them. It doesn’t capture their attention” (75-76)

Ask any student if he or she has been tempted to fall asleep in class. You will most likely get a “Yes,” and there is a very good chance you’ll get an, “Are you kidding me? On a regular basis.” Teachers are failing to capture our attention, not because we do not care, but because we don’t understand why we should care. If we understood why it is important to care, falling asleep during class might not be such a prevalent issue.

School provides us with opportunities to take ideas, apply them and when necessary, execute them. We are presented with facts and opinions, and we can either memorize them or interpret them. From my own experience though, students resist these facts and opinions when they do not see the relevance of the information to their everyday lives or future profession. I constantly hear classmates moan, “Why does this matter? Why do I care?” With this disinterest comes a lack of motivation. If they think the topic is irrelevant, they do not bother to try. I myself have experienced the feeling. For example, why am I learning astronomy if I want to be a fashion publicist? Every time I struggle to keep my eyes open in a class, whether it be astronomy, geometry or Earth science, I think back to Mr. Hildreth’s belief that we need to engage in topics that we do not find interesting. We cannot simply ignore those that seem irrelevant. If we gain that sort of close-minded mentality, we are doomed to a life of ignorance.

Davidson supports that three “key factors for education success—rigor, relevance, and relationships—have been dubbed the new three Rs” (76). The work must be challenging in order to be worthwhile, but in order for students to embrace the time and expend the effort, they must find relevance in the subject. Teachers demonstrate the relevance of subjects by forming relationships with the students. These relationships do not form through traditional methods of teaching, such as lecturing. Relationships form through engagement. Teachers bring about relevance to the subject category through enacting teaching methods that will progress the individual student’s learning abilities. Instead of talking at students, ask for a show of hands on who agrees with the teacher and who does not. Then ask why. Ask students to contribute their opinions in response to other students’ opinions. This dynamic engagement can happen in both small class and lectures. In AST 101, a lecture class of hundreds of students, Professor Duncan Brown had us hold up cards to gauge students’ responses to questions. He provided physical demonstrations and acted out situations relating to astronomy at the front of the class. This interactive environment allowed the students to feel like they were involved in the class.

Davidson declares the need for these interactive and engaging teaching styles: “Part of our failure rate in contemporary education can be blamed on the one-size-fits-all model of standards that evolved over the course of the twentieth century” (77). Teachers continue to talk to the class as they are talking to a wall rather than students with voices, thoughts, opinions and most importantly, questions. I think that any student can agree that PowerPoint is a significant culprit. Listening to professors talk at you while reading off of a PowerPoint presentation has become the norm. Where is the variation? We are not all auditory learners. What happened to kinesthetic learning, or intertwining auditory, visual and kinesthetic? Students with different personalities and varying strengths respond differently to different teaching methods. Davidson attests to this in stating, “Even on a neurological level, brain researchers have shown that kids improve with directed, special attention to their own skills and interests, the opposite of our move toward standardization” (76).

In order for teachers to teach well, they must understand their target audience, just like a marketing professional. Select whom you are speaking to, and then interact with them. Sell the product, or in this case, the idea, to the selected demographic, or in this case, the student, in a way that engages.

Educational institutions need to seriously consider Mr. Hildreth’s view of formal education. What if the teachers shifted the focus from the subject to how the subject is taught? Getting the message to the student should have priority over the message itself. Emphasize the process, engaging the audience, rather than the subject. Providing variety in teaching methods will eliminate monotony and allow students more ways to learn. For example, a teacher could split the course up into multiple units according to multiple sections of the subject. With those multiple units, the teacher could introduce a new way of teaching the topic, PowerPoint and lecture for Unit 1, student teaching for Unit 2 and interactive games and contests for Unit 3. I propose that when the teacher emphasizes the value of learning before the value of the subject itself, students are more likely to understand the relevance of the course as a whole. Teachers might have more success engaging students on a particularly dull subject if they focus a new approach to the subject, rather than the subject itself.

Davidson provides examples of two teachers that engage in revolutionary methods of teaching to reach students in a more effective way. They are engaging the students while simultaneously teaching them how to learn. The students, essentially, forget they are learning.

Through allowing students the opportunity to embrace a new style of learning, teachers will enable students to more easily see the relevance of the course. If the students find value in the course, they then may be more likely to grasp the content of the subject. Accordingly, Davidson states, “Tie what kids learn in school to what they can use in their homes, their families, and their neighborhood—and vise versa—and not surprisingly, that relevance kicks their likelihood of staying in school up a few notches” (76). Furthermore, she believes that relationships with teachers have a fundamental influence in keeping kids in school (76). Teachers understand their important role in the lives of students. I have no doubt about that. There is a lack of understanding though, in the importance of interacting with students in various ways. Students possess different learning styles and different interests. They need to understand how a seemingly irrelevant subject can be of value, because they can learn how to learn.

By: Lindsay Cameron

References

“Afternoon Shuteye” by Briak K (By My Silent Side), Creative Commons 2.0. Retrieved from http://www.flickr.com/photos/my-silent-side/2631057984/

“Interaction + Sales” by Mark Smiciklas (By Intersection Consulting), Creative Commons 2.0. Retrieved from http://www.flickr.com/photos/intersectionconsulting/3348598229/

“Sign: Get Social” (By the waving cat), Creative Commons 2.0. Retrieved from http://www.flickr.com/photos/thewavingcat/138657496/

“Students study the Malay language as one of ths subjects of Thai Hong Primary School in Johor Bahru on 26 July 2011. Children in Malaysia begin promary schooling at around 7 years old.” By Asian Development Bank (By Asian Development Bank), Creative Commons 2.0. Retrieved from http://www.flickr.com/photos/asiandevelopmentbank/6980558842/

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