Teaching Methods for Inspiring the Students of the Future | Joe Ruhl | TEDxLafayette

{“en”:”Translator: Tanya Cushman Reviewer: Queenie Lee I have one of the best jobs in the world because I get to work with people who are fun, funny, energetic, creative and insightful. And they happen to be 14 to 18 years of age. I really do think kids keep a person young, and I think that’s probably why, when I’m in the presence of adults, I sometimes don’t know how to act, so you’ll forgive me. So, inspiring the students of the future. What really works? 37 years of teaching experience have taught me that two things are needed: research-based teaching techniques and relationship. Relationship is huge, but we’ll talk more about that later. What I’d like to look at first are the techniques. I think probably most of us remember the teacher-centered classroom; this is probably what we are familiar with from our youth. You remember the teacher was up front in the center, the students were in nice neat rows, not allowed to talk to each other, and the teacher, the source of authority, downloaded information to the kids, who regurgitated it back up on a test designed to measure how much content they could remember.

Now, I have to admit, I love lecturing, but my students don’t always love it; it does not always inspire. So I was thinking, what really inspires? Years ago, I was doing lunch duty at school, standing in the lunchroom, being visible, watching kids go through the cafeteria line, and as I watched the kids going through the line, it occurred to me they love having choices. And so I said to myself, “Self, maybe that would work in the classroom. Let the kids have choices.” And so that’s what I did. I converted my classroom to a situation where student choice was a big part of the room along with four other Cs: Collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creativity. Actually, over ten years ago, the National Education Association identified those last four Cs on the list as essential 21st century skills that kids should learn, and I agree wholeheartedly. I’ve added choice to the top of the list not as a skill for kids to learn, but rather as a characteristic of the classroom. By choice, I mean a situation where many learning activities are available to students, designed to meet the many diverse learning styles that they have.

And the kids love it as much as they love choices in the cafeteria. Now, I think we’re made for learning this way. Imagine our early hominid ancestors out looking for food. Don’t you know that finding and tracking that woolly mammoth required critical thinking and problem-solving? It definitely required collaboration, teamwork. I mean, you wouldn’t want to do this by yourself. No way. And collaboration required communication. And then I imagine those people sitting around the campfire at night, reliving the adventures of the day’s hunt.

They must have had smiles on their faces when they were retelling the story of the hunt. And I know they smiled when they put those cave paintings up on the wall because creativity is a uniquely human, pleasurable, satisfying activity. So I believe our brains are wired for the five Cs. And since they’re wired for the five Cs, that authentic learning will happen when kids are allowed to engage in the five Cs. And not just learning, but I think kids will enjoy a classroom setup like this and even be inspired in this way.

Now, this requires – A classroom setup based on the five Cs requires a shift from a teacher-centered classroom to a student-centered classroom. And this requires the teacher to remove him or herself from front and center, becoming more of a guide on the side rather than a sage on the stage. But this opens up opportunities to not merely teach, but to coach, to mentor, to nurture and inspire, and that’s why I love it so much. Now, time out. It’s important for me to mention these are not my original ideas; I stand on the shoulders of giants. Remember Plutarch? He said it a long time ago: “The mind is not a vessel that needs filling, but wood that needs igniting.” And more recently, Albert Einstein: “Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think.” All right.

You’re going to have to bear with me. I’m going to get real goose-bumpy for a minute. One of the absolute, most exciting moments of my life, my professional life was meeting Albert Einstein just a few years ago. (Laughter) Changed my life, bumping into him in that wax museum. (Laughter) What a moment it was. So I stand on the shoulders of giants, giants like Montessori and Piaget, and Dr. Sam Postlewait, who was doing a lot of these things in his biology classes at Purdue University, back in the 1960s. I’m a product of the Purdue Biology Department; that’s where I fell in love with biology. I stand on the shoulders of giants, like Tom Watts and Steve Randak, who were doing this back in the 1970s in their high school biology classes.

I stand on the shoulders of many giants called elementary school teachers and special ed teachers. So, I’m a product of all of those mentors. So, collaboration, communication, critical thinking, creativity and student choice, what’s it look like? If I could just share with you briefly the experiences that I’ve tried with this: I’ve taken my ninth-grade biology classes and divided the school year up into two- to three-week units. At the beginning of each unit, the students are given a menu of all the smorgasbord activities that are available on the menu. Now, this has been challenging because I’ve had to write all of these activities so that no matter what combination of activities a student chooses to do, based on their learning styles, and no matter what order they choose to do them in, they’ll still achieve the required objectives for the unit.

It’s been fun; it’s been a challenge. But the kids love it. They love having the choice, and there are many times when they forget that I’m even in the room, and that’s okay. One of the things that is not required – There are two activities normally in every unit that are not required: One is the test at the end of the unit, and the other one is the computer tutorial. I’ve taken several summers and written these self-paced, interactive computer tutorials that the kids work through. They’re designed to take the place of the stuff I used to lecture on. Kids have told me in private, “Mr. Ruhl, we like the tutorials better than your lectures.” And that’s okay, that’s perfectly okay, because it’s all about them. And so if you came to visit my class on a typical day, you would see some kids working through the computer tutorials. You would very likely see some kids working on some website activities online. It’s possible you would see some kids in a corner of the room with headphones on watching a video related to the unit, writing out answers to questions that accompany the video.

I’m sure you would see students doing laboratory activities. You would probably notice some kids tending to their ongoing science fair projects, and I know for sure, you would probably find a group of kids off in another corner around an educational game designed to teach them about some biological concept related to the unit. And you would likely see some kids doing some hands-on, minds-on simulations, learning about some other biological phenomena. I know you would see some kids off in a corner filling out what are called “reflection sheets,” that are designed to get them to think about their learning, self-evaluate their efforts, take past knowledge and connect it to new knowledge. And there’s one other activity on the menu that a lot of kids really enjoy. It’s called “Arts and Entertainment.” It’s on the menu in every unit, and this is where the students take any concept they’ve learned in the unit and at home, develop some kind of a project presentation and then present it to the rest of the class on the last day of the unit.

Arts and Entertainment has to be nontraditional; it’s only limited by their imagination. So they can come in and perform a song, a skit, present a movie, present a model that they’ve built, poetry, any nontraditional way of demonstrating their knowledge of something they’ve learned in the unit. For example, these two young ladies in our biochemistry unit took it upon themselves to build a model of a chlorophyll molecule using gumdrops to represent the atoms. These two young ladies – they’re sisters – they happened to decide to demonstrate in a very creative way the fact that they each inherited half of their genes from mom and half of their genes from dad. (Laughter) Got to love them. This method of teaching, for me, I have found – 37 years experience – is not only effective, but it’s fun because it allows me to sit down with small groups of students while I’m team-teaching with that fleet of ten computers; it gives me the opportunity to sit down with a group of two, three or four or five kids and respond to questions that they initiate. It allows me the opportunity to listen to their thinking, and, teachers, when you do this, if you do this, the whole situation creates somewhat of a teacher paradox.

Because by removing yourself from front and center, you seem to become less important, but paradoxically, in reality you become more important because when working as a guide on the side, you’re freed up to use the most powerful teaching techniques I have ever run across in 37 years. They’re as old as the hills; it doesn’t matter what techniques are used, these two always work. I’m talking about two loves. First, the teacher’s love for the subject and passion for the subject. And secondly, the teacher’s genuine love for the kids. First, let’s talk about the passion. You know what I remember about third grade? I remember Jenny on the bus.

I’m not kidding. Third grade. No, the thing I remember most about the classroom in third grade is I remember our teacher every day after lunch would read to us for 10 to 15 minutes; she would read to us “Tom Sawyer.” What an adventure! We had black-and-white TV, we had cartoons on TV, but this was different. It was obvious to us that Miss Hershey loved reading, and she was passionate about reading to us. Tom Sawyer! What an adventure! At the end of the 10-minute reading period, I couldn’t wait until the next day to find out what would happen to Tom and his friends. I don’t know if Miss Hershey realized it or not, I should have written her a letter a long time ago. She inspired me to be a reader. But you see, she wasn’t saddled with state-mandated standards and state-mandated, high-stakes standardized testing, and so she was free to teach and inspire. I’ll never forget her.

She means the world to me. I should have written her a long time ago. Then for that other love. Teacher’s love for the kids. If there are any teachers in the audience, don’t get nervous. I’m not talking about warm, fuzzy, emotional love. I’m talking about genuine, decisional, put-the-other-person-first kind of love. It motivates; it inspires in a powerful way. I’m talking about the kind of love that – C.S. Lewis wrote about it in his book “The Four Loves.” He described it as “agape love,” the highest level of love known, a self-sacrificial kind of love, a love that’s passionately committed to the well-being of the other. This kind of love is not always emotional, but it is always decisional. So, teachers, great news. This means you can love your kids even when they’re not likable. Does that ever happen? Because this kind of love is not emotional, it’s decisional, and it motivates and inspires in a powerful way, and it’s as old as the hills.

So, teachers … an airtight lesson plan is important. A well-organized, consistent discipline plan is important. Effective use of technology is important. The standards are important, but, please, don’t let them stifle your creativity. All these things are important, but what the kids are going to remember most of all is you. Don’t forget that sixth C: Caring. That is the most effective, most powerful, most inspiring way of teaching: getting their attention, motivating them, inspiring them. What they’re going to remember most is that you looked them in the eye and asked them about their extra-curricular activities and their part-time jobs. What they’re going to remember most is that you just asked them in the hall how they were doing. What they’re going to remember most is you worked really hard in the first couple weeks of school to learn their names in the first couple days. What they’re going to remember most is that you went to their athletic events and their concerts.

What they’re going to remember most is that you led the class in loud, off-key choruses of “Happy Birthday.” What they’re going to remember most is that when they made the newspaper, you put their newspaper clippings up on the wall in the classroom, and you told them to autograph them, and you told them to do that so that some day when their autographs were worth lots of money, it would fund your retirement. (Laughter) What they’re going to remember is that you were transparent, and that you were real, and that you had the ability to laugh at yourself and laugh with them. So, what’s really important? How do we motivate? How do we inspire? Allow kids to involve themselves in the classroom in student-choice collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creativity. But don’t forget that sixth C. It’s probably the most important one because the greatest of these is love. Thank you. (Applause). “}

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