Why Are the Students In Your Class?

With almost everything we teach, we are always toward two very different challenges. One, what are we doing to unlock the passion and skills of the 10% (or so) of the kids who either already are or could become so passionate about our subject that it becomes their course of study past their K-12 education, and two, what are we doing for the other 90% of the room? Why is it important that they are taking the class?

These goals often can feel at odds – both from a pedagogical and content perspective. But when we seek out goals that allow all students to engage in active creation of relevant, empowering meaning, we can honor the needs and interests of all of the students we teach.

When we look at the framework of backward mapped unit planning tools such as Understanding by Design, we can teach from the ideas of enduring understandings and big ideas. We get to ask ourselves – what will the students remember about this unit – about this class – twenty years from now? What are the concepts and ideas that are so important that everyone in the class has a reason to dive deep into these ideas?

When we take the idea of playing the whole game from David Perkins’ “Making Learning Whole,” we allow ourselves to stop seeing our subjects as atomized pieces of data to learn, but instead we see our students as junior varsity versions of the adult.

And yet, in most classrooms, the question, “Why do we have to learn this?” is seen as a challenge, not an opportunity. It is, after all, the first question a student should ask. It is a question that should be on the educational Bill of Rights. And the answers we give cannot just be “You’ll need this some day,” or “It is on the test.” We cannot continue – at best – to give facile answers and at worst – to tell lies – to our students. Our answers should, instead, give the students enough of an idea of the power and relevance and importance of the concepts of our classroom to set kids off on their own inquiry journey as they develop their skill and their ideas and then seek to, with us, create meaning in their own lives.

This is our challenge – to help every student we teach find the reason they are in our class. We must strive to ensure that the time we spend together will help every student become a better citizen and person, both today, and in the future. Our classrooms must then be lenses on the world, not just for the students who fall in love with the same content we love, but for every child.

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9 thoughts on “Why Are the Students In Your Class?

  1. Once in a while I dig out of all the bureaucratic management part of my job that I allow myself to be buried in because I assume it is important, and I am hit in the face with the massive responsibility we have. Our jobs as educators should never be treated lightly, especially by ourselves. “to help every student we teach find the reason they are in our class” I need to keep this at the forefront, because THIS is what is important. Thank you!

  2. “This is our challenge – to help every student we teach find the reason they are in our class. We must strive to ensure that the time we spend together will help every student become a better citizen and person, both today, and in the future. Our classrooms must then be lenses on the world, not just for the students who fall in love with the same content we love, but for every child.”

    Your challenge should be the first item listed on an educator’s job description. It is certainly a challenge that resonates with me. Imagine if we created classrooms in which all students were fueled by the relevance of the concepts we introduced to them. Such an environment would create curious, self-directed learners that continued their journey out of want rather than need – a utopia indeed.

    I have not read David Perkins’ “Making Learning Whole” (It is on my list now!), but I have done much reading on the dialogic classroom and Art Costa and Robert Garmston’s “Cognitive Coaching: A foundation for Renaissance Schools” which appear to share similar themes of creating an environment in which students develop understandings and skills by nurturing of states of mind rather than the other way around. Costa and Garmston focus on nurturing interdependence, flexibility of thought, craftsmanship, efficacy and consciousness in the learner to foster reflective, critical thinkers that understand that learning is infinite. What a gift we offer students if achieved. If classrooms fostered such thinkers, relevance and power would be sure to follow. This is a challenge I happily accept.

    Thank you for your posts. They make me pause and re-evaluate my pedagogy and own states of mind.

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  5. And we must be OK with the fact that, sometimes, their reasons might be different than our reasons. Hard to keep in mind that school is for them, not us.

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  8. It is a challenge to work with English Language Learners that come from a culture where formal education is not on the list of top priorities. First they must learn to speak English and then we have to motivate them to want to remain in school. I am working with a student that is exhibiting symptoms of PTSD. This makes the challenge to keep him in school even greater. I want to help this student become a better citizen first. There are many barriers for immigrant children. How do you fuel a concept with a student that has lived with trauma for years and is now trying to fit in to a new society and school?

  9. I think we have all heard this comment: “Why do we have to do this stuff?” whine, whine, whine. And I hope we all have a good answer ready. I have learned how important it is to make learning meaningful and relevant. I just complete a project with my 7th grade English class where they designed their own restaurant. It was interesting to show the kids how much they would use their language arts skills. They had a lot of fun and got to apply what they had been studying. In reflecting, a student suggested we learn how language arts relates to other careers…an interdisciplinary project is in the works : )