Challenging Our Students

What do you do when standing in front of a room full of students who have suddenly surpassed your knowledge level as a teacher with 45 minutes of class time left?

As teachers, we are not just disseminators of knowledge. We are leaders and facilitators of strategy.

This is a normal situation many teachers face. Some of the more common occurrences of this phenomenon is with computer, technology, and coding classes. After all, these are consumers that play a direct and significant role in our economy: they purchase things too. It is inevitable that they will know more than the teacher in some areas of knowledge. I know for me, using certain apps including SnapChat and Instagram is where students tend to easily exceed my knowledge. Another area was when I taught business technology, or BTT101.

For many, this scenario can easily arouse feelings of anxiety and tension. For me, I chose to come to the following realization:

As teachers, we are not just disseminators of knowledge. We are leaders and facilitators of strategy.

We don’t necessarily have to have every single answer and we’re not the be all and end all. With Google and the endless apps at everyone’s fingertips, knowing everything from A to Z does not carry the same value that it once did. Being able to navigate effectively through different social and intellectual environments and using different tools are the new sources of value in our world.

Student Motivation

How can we facilitate this love of learning?

We have a lot of options in our toolboxes. One of my favourites is the challenge. Challenging students can make for impressive and amazing examples of student motivation, creativity, resourcefulness and personalized learning at its best.

Challenge Students

…And get out of their way. Personalized learning can be tricky for students of any age—but in my experience, it’s especially true of ninth graders. After having mastered the elementary and middle school educational system, freshmen often feel confident that they know what to do reach whatever level they—and others—have set as academically acceptable. Personalized learning can muddy the waters as students (and their teachers) navigate through uncharted territory.

How could I motivate students to push their learning beyond set rubric requirements or specific targets? How do I get them to problem solve without relying on me to direct their thinking? And how do I equitably account for diversity in assessing student work?

Through challenge. Challenging students and not limiting them into rubrics and boxed-up-style thinking. Allow them to engage and become accountable for their own learning. Allow them to discover and to experience authentic learning.

“We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” – Walt Disney

Firing Up Internal Motivation

Setting high expectations – not through rubrics and curriculum expectations – but through realistic discussion and examples of what the world will expect of them. For my BTT101 class, I had the students design a website and showed them professional examples of what consumers would expect form their material. I was pleasantly astounded by the results! They took the open-ended style assignment as a competition with each other and strove for excellence with their work. Any issues or problems they had, they took it upon themselves to figure out. They were inspired to create the best website. They were empowered. They taught themselves and applied problem-solving to troubleshoot their errors. I was no longer a teacher; I was a facilitator and encourager.

The students in my class came from different backgrounds, ethnicities, and academic levels. Most of them had never touched website design, and they built their confidence and skills within that unit. Some of the keys that lead to their success are:

  1. Challenging them to do things they did not yet know how to do but had the resources to discover for themselves.
  2. Setting no limits on what they could do.
  3. Having high student engagement and buy-in through personalized learning.
  4. Creating a classroom culture built on high expectations, inclusivity, and a space where students can make mistakes and learn.

In summation, I’d like to shed light on a quote from Walt Disney, “We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”

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