“I am sorry for this, but this post is probably going to be boring and very difficult to understand, but I want you to read it anyways and we will just get through it…”
How many times have you been in a class where the teacher begins by apologizing for the content? Although these apologies may stem from well intentioned empathy, consider the effect they may have on students.
Remember as I discussed in part one of this series the the 3 key messages we want to send to students regarding expectations:
- This is important.
- You can do it.
- I will not give up on you.
In this post, I will mainly concentrate on the importance of working to get students to “buy in” to the importance of content. I will cover a few ways teachers tend to inadvertently apologize for content then address a few strategies and tips that will help avoid those pitfalls while teaching.
Here is what “apologizing” may look like in the classroom:
- “Okay guys – this may not be very interesting today, so we are going to have to work extra hard to pay attention..:
- “This is on the test, so we have to cover it.”
- “They say we are supposed to do this project, so we are going to go ahead and get it over with.”
- “This might be too hard for some of you, but I want you to try anyways.”
It is important to avoid these types of statements as they can become self-fulfilling prophecies. If you tell students it is going be difficult and they may not get it; the chances are they won’t. If you tell them it is boring; they will be bored. Regardless of whether or not we agree with the curriculum, we have to find ways to make sure it is engaging for students. These statements are counterproductive to that end.
There is always value in the knowledge and skills we teacher. For many of us that value is why we became teachers in the first place. While we won’t be equally passionate about every topic we teach, we need to make sure students understand the content has value. Maybe it seems idealistic, but we need to make kids believe that there is no such thing as boring content.
Below are some general tips you can use to avoid apologizing for boring/difficult content.
– Reflect on the rationale for content yourself.
– Research why others think it is important.
– Make part of your daily routine to discuss the rationale for content with students.
– If you have trouble rationalizing content, consider what thinking skills are required to apply the content and stress the importance of those thinking skills.
– Try, if possible, to relate content to something authentic, or real world.
– We have to do better than “It’s on the test,” or “You might be on Jeopardy one day.”
– If you are not passionate about topic, find someone who is and see how they teach it.
– Make difficult content more accessible when introducing it to students then increase the complexity.
Some examples of phrases you might use.
“The language in this is difficult for some adults to read, but once we get through it, you will have this down!”
“There are many people who don’t know how to do this; once you have mastered this you will be ahead of the game!”
“It no big deal if you get caught up by some of this, I am going to help you get through it. ”
“One of these days when you are in college, you will be able to show your professors you can already do all this.”
Please comment below with any comments/questions/insights.