Confessions of a Paper Chewer
In 1988 I was a 5th grader in a typical Ohio elementary school. It was a day like any other and my cousin and I were bored. The teacher had decided to teach social studies that day by reading to us out of the 8th grade textbook since there was more detail than our 5th grade text. Now, you may ask how I remember this… He used the 8th grade book a lot. Without any words exchanged I can remember he and I engaging in the super bowl of paper eating contests. The goal of course was to see who could get the most sheets in our mouth. He quickly took a two sheet lead, not due to his athleticism, simply because I started laughing. And that’s when it happened. My laughing induced a chain reaction causing him to get the uncontrollable giggles, which forced the paper out of his mouth and onto the poor female student in front of him. Thus, quickly ending our training to become world-class paper chewing champions. We ended up in for recess.
Twenty years have passed since that 5th grade year and now I find myself trying to solve the same problem that forced me to chew paper. Student engagement has become a passion for me as an educator and administrator. In my experiences I have become certain of one thing. Students who do not feel entertained or challenged to learn, will entertain and challenge themselves in any way they can. Kids don’t naturally look to adults for wisdom and knowledge. There must be something about the adult, the environment, or the challenge that entices the learner to be engaged in the experience. If that “it” factor is not available it is near impossible to sustain the attention of the student.
A great example of this is grand kids heading over to grandpa and grandma’s house. The moment they walk in they know exactly where to head for entertainment. My son knows exactly where every model tractor and toy farm implement is located and that is immediately where he heads after entering the house. That is until grandpa says the magic words, “I’ve got a job in the woods that I could use help with.” Like a lightening bolt my son is up and getting his shoes on. I know what you are thinking, what 5 year old doesn’t like being in the woods with grandpa. Exactly, and grandpa knows that the woods serves as the engaging environment, the job the challenge, and the relationship the entertainment. Because of these 3 necessary factors my son is able to learn from the experience. At 5 he can identify more plant and tree species than his father.
Improved student engagement is a goal for any educator at any level. Although I can’t always take students to the woods to learn about plants, I can still be cognizant of the learning environment, the challenge, and the relationship. Keeping these three pieces of the puzzle at the forefront of planning will greatly improve the experience for both the teacher and the learner.
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