Engaging the students to learn part 2

As teachers, we all have a limited time per class for the students to learn so class time is precious. If we lecture too much, we get tired but students also get tired of listening too. We need to give them the knowledge then let them process and learn from it. That is why I believe the class discussion is more important than lecturing. As teachers, we also need to give them a chance to express their understanding so we can monitor their learning and correct their misunderstanding or confusing as they are the ones that should be learning.

There is no better place to learn than the classroom and we should give students as much time in class to learn so they do not have to learn somewhere where they can be distracted or from friends who may confuse them. Today students are easily get distracted and cannot sit quietly for more than ten or fifteen minutes so it would be best to keep our lecturing to that limited time and facilitate the learning by let them discuss what they have learned.

When students must sit for a longer time, most become disengaged. Their mind wanders on something else, not on our lecture. Particularly students who often had problems in class may start to misbehave then we will have a disciplined issue to deal with. I often call out names of specific students first during class discussion to keep them stay focus. By asking them questions that they can answer, we can get them feel that they have accomplished something and eventually engage in learning.

How do we know whether our students are learning? We can use the traditional testing approach which may be given at a later time when learning has faded or let students discuss the class subject immediately after our lecture then identify who understand or who are confused. If a majority of the students has learned the materials well, then we can challenge them to work on something more profound for deeper learning. But to do that, you have to find out what your students already knew by monitoring their discussion during the class conversation.

I often give a short quiz at the end of each week to make sure my students learn well enough before moving to the next materials. A short quiz that summarizes this week materials can give them some foundational knowledge for further learning next week. I believe a weekly quiz should be part of all classes to measure and monitor students’ progress. Most students told me that they prefer weekly quiz than a big test at the end of the semester where they may be overwhelmed by so many materials and “pass or fail” create more anxiety and lead to the fear of learning.

If we only use a “Big test” at the end of the class, students will consider testing as something to get through to pass a class then they will disengage from learning and just doing enough to pass the test. Many teachers also do not like this type of test but they do not know the alternatives, because the “Final test” is the tradition of the education system to determine who will pass or fail. My question is if we do not like certain things then change it. If grading a big test is a problem for us, then think of how it feels for the students. We need to bring new ideas and passion into the classroom to help students to learn better. Afterall, they are there to learn and we are there to support them.

As teachers, we may experience certain days where students are not learning as we hope. We should not get disappointed because if we step back and look at the larger picture, we may realize that there are more good days than bad. There are more days where students are learning, engaging and raising more questions than before and meaningful learning is happening.

Teaching should NOT be a routine job where we continue to do the same thing every year. Each year, I always learn something new to apply in class for my students. As students are learning something new, so do the teachers because learning should never stop. Even if we have done well, there are more things to do because teaching is always a challenging job.

The teaching job is challenging because we have to deal with many issues, from heavy curriculum dictated to us from the school administration to the time required to grade students’ works. Many of us feel that we are not appreciated by the society, the parents, and the students. Some teachers feel depressed and consider whether they are making the “right decision” in choosing this profession.

However, I believe when selected this occupation, we are all driven by one main idea of developing a better next generation for our country. We know that the future and the defense of our country is depending on how well the next generation is educated. Most of us DO NOT take the education of our students as a “JOB” but a “MISSION” by giving them the best education possible.

If someone says something negative about the teaching profession, I would answer:“If you can read and write, you better thank your teachers, without them you are just an ignorant person.”


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University

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