An Age Old Question
As most teachers know, each student is unique. One of the biggest challenges that every teacher faces at one point or another is how to reach every student and help them succeed. This is exactly the question TeachersConnect asked several teacher YouTubers recently. And while their backgrounds varied widely – from CJ Reynolds, who teaches High School students – to Elizabeth Coller, who teaches kindergarteners – some consistent patterns emerged in their answers to this age-old question. Here are some of the top 7 takeaways for how teachers can reach every student.
1. Invest in Your Students
One crucial way for teachers to reach students is to invest in building a solid relationship with learners. As human beings, all of us want to feel valued and cared for by the people in our lives – students included. It’s important to know, therefore, the power that we wield – as teachers – over our students. When students understand that you care about them and you take the time to build a relationship with them, they are more likely to be invested in their relationship with you and less likely to want to disappoint you. (See Melissa’s video at 8:05)
At this point, you might be wondering: What are some good ways to build a relationship with my students? Well, there are many ways, and if you’re a teacher you probably know how, but some of the unique ways that some of the teacher YouTubers mentioned included using Team Building and/or Getting-to-Know-You activities regularly in the class. In these activities, students are free to share their feelings or talk about things they’re going through. Look at it as a time for bonding with your students, as well as students bonding with each other. This can help to eliminate some problems before they start. And again, it can help students feel that they have someone that they can talk to. (See Shelley’s video at 4:50)
2. Empower Students Through Choices
Another way to motivate students is to empower them by giving them choices. Remember that old adage “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink?” Well, asking all students in your high school class to write a 20-page essay about Shakespeare may not work for every student. Instead, you could give your students a choice of several topics to choose from, or you can allow them to choose a topic of their own. This way they get to write about something that they’re interested in. It’s win-win for everyone! (See Shelley’s video at 1:50)
3. Use Humor
Let’s face it, many students are natural comedians, and they love a good laugh. Not only that, when teachers share a joke with students, it helps to put everyone at ease and brings about positive feelings. Even if you don’t consider yourself a naturally funny person, you can still keep things light in the classroom. One way to do this is to write some humor into everyday things such as tests, writing assignments or homework. Also, once a week you can have something like a Funny Friday, where you start your day off by asking students to talk about a funny movie or TV show or share their favorite jokes with the class. If you’re not funny, bring another passion or part of yourself to the classroom. Do you love music, art, theater, movies? Are you a great storyteller? Baker? (See CJ’s video at 1:00)
4. Vary Your Delivery
No two teachers ever teach the same way, just as no two students learn in the same way. And while it’s not the teacher’s job to keep students entertained, it is important to understand that one of the roles of an educator is to engage their students in the learning process in the best possible way. This means selecting the delivery style which works best for each lesson while at the same time addressing the diverse needs of each student. But how does an educator take on the mammoth task of teaching to each learning style in the classroom? Well, one way to do this is first to consider the delivery method which works best for each lesson and plan lessons in a variety of formats; this may include text, charts, interactive groups, drawing, 3-D modeling, speeches, interviews, videos, etc. For example, a lesson on climate change may include having your students watch a documentary, do interviews, write a report and create 3D-models. Students need a wealth of experiences to cement their learning. And constructing multi-sensory lessons creates an atmosphere where students are engaged and excited about learning. It also makes it much more likely that each student will experience feelings of confidence as well as moments of intellectual and social challenge. (See Megan’s video at 4:30)
5. Use Behavior Contracts
Even if you’ve incorporated all of the above strategies and more, you probably know that at one point or another, you will have to deal with student misbehavior in class. One of the great ways that Shelley Coates one teacher suggested dealing with this is by using behavior contracts (see Shelley’s video at 3:10). A behavior contract is a written agreement that you draw up with your student where the both of you identify the inappropriate behavior that the student is engaging in and the appropriate replacement behavior that you’d like to see. Including some rewards, as well as some consequences, in the behavior contract is also a good idea. By using a behavior contract you will hopefully be able to reach students through a positive intervention that will nip poor behavior in the bud before it becomes a bigger issue.
6. Get to Know Your Student’s Backstory
Most all of the teacher YouTubers who responded to this question agreed that getting to know your student’s back-story is important. By taking the time to get to know a bit about each student – even the ones who are misbehaving, you may be able to get a handle on any classroom behavior that may be challenging you. Not only that, it lets the student know that you care. (See LaTawnya’s video at 5:57 and See Elizabeth’s video at 2:07)
7. Use Rewards and Incentives
Lastly, one of the most discussed ways on how to reach students is to figure out what they enjoy and use these things as incentives for the appropriate behavior that you want to see. Rewards and incentives can range anywhere from special activities, privileges or small prizes. Many teachers said that they use classroom economy programs, behavior programs, group incentives and individual incentives as rewards in their classrooms. For example, if your fourth-grade boys enjoy video games, then you might be able to use that as an in-class or group reward for doing homework or completing an assignment on time. Another example, Fernanda Sandoval, a first-grade teacher rewards her students with colorful little notes home for their parents. She also gives out golden tickets that they can accumulate to earn free play time and prizes from her prize box (See Fernanda’s video at 1:00) Another example would be to reward your elementary students after they have mastered all their multiplication tables with something they like.
Thank You Teachers!
We want to thank the following teacher YouTubers for participating in this vital discussion, and giving all the useful tips and insights that we learned through their videos:
- Shelly Coates is a fairly new 3rd-grade teacher documenting her teaching journey on her Youtube Channel called Early EDventures.
- CJ Reynolds is an experienced high school Literature teacher from Philadelphia, who tells it like it is. He takes on all the difficult issues with candor, thoughtfulness, and a great sense of humor. He started Real Rap with Reynolds to inspire new and veteran teachers.
- Megan Forbes, Too Cool for Middle School, is an experienced middle school History & English teacher in California who is passionate about social justice and takes on some of the most difficult questions facing teachers today. She also enjoys giving tips about classroom organization, lesson plans and more.
- Elizabeth Coller is an inspiring kindergarten teacher from California who started The Kinderhearted Classroom to talk about all things teacher related.
- La Tawnya Robinson established Smartie Style, a Youtube channel created to build a community of current and aspiring teachers.
- Fernanda Sandoval is a first-grade teacher who is documenting her second year of teaching and sharing it on her channel, That One Happy Classroom.
- Melissa Clark has been teaching for 12 years and started her channel, Teacher Inspiration Station, to share inspirational ideas with other teachers.
- Devontae Kelley began his channel to document his first year of teaching first grade. His channel is called aptly enough, Devontae Kelley.
- Kate Steimle, The Sleepy Teacher, offers tips and tricks based on 15 years of teaching experience. Her goal is to share teaching tips based on her many years of teaching.
- Moira Doman teaches ESL in a public school in Chicago and gives viewers a glimpse into her life as a teacher on her Channel, Kind Kindergarten.