10 Years of Teaching: How Do I Keep My Students Learning?

Five years ago, I wrote a series of seven articles called “Questions That Will Save Your Career” that still remain among the most visited articles on this site. When I wrote those, I had successfully completed my 5th year in education. This summer, after 10 years, I am revisiting some of these older concepts. Today, I revisit How Do I Keep My Students Learning?

  1. How Do I Keep My Students Quiet?
  2. How Do I Keep My Students Engaged?
  3. How Do I Keep My Students Interested?
  4. How Do I Keep My Students Learning?
  5. How Do I Keep My Students Away From Me?
  6. How Do I Keep My School Administration Happy?
  7. How Do I Keep My Sanity?
  8. 10 Years of Teaching: How Do I Keep My Students Quiet?
  9. 10 Years of Teaching: How Do I Keep My Students Engaged?
  10. 10 Years of Teaching: How Do I Keep My Students Interested?
  11. 10 Years of Teaching: How Do I Keep My Students Learning?
  12. 10 Years of Teaching: How Do I Keep My Students Away From Me?
  13. 10 Years of Teaching: How Do I Keep My School Administration Happy?
  14. 10 Years of Teaching: How Do I Keep My Sanity?

Just because you have now gotten your students quiet, engaged, and interested still doesn’t mean that they are learning anything meaningful. They could just be regurgitating information that they were previously taught. Sometimes this is exactly why they are so focused on the lesson! For the first time all year, they finally understand what you’re telling them! Unfortunately, it’s because some previous teacher has already paved the way for you. So how do you know that they are learning, and once they do, how do you keep them learning?

How do I know if my students are learning?

The first step to ensuring that your students are learning is quite simply to pay attention to them! In band directing, we have a habit when reading new music with the students to “bury our head in the score.” To focus only on the written notes that the students have and not even be aware of what they are actually playing, which sometimes has no bearing on what is written on their parts! Similarly, younger teachers have a tendency of conducting the band in their mind rather than the one that is on stage with them! If you are in the habit of making it through your lesson plan each day, but losing your students somewhere between “Open your…” and “…books to page…” then you need to get out of your head and get into reality.

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How do you ensure that happens? Almost think of your presentation of material as a musical performance. In music, when we want to highlight a particular passage, we can reinforce the melody by adding more people, we can emphasize the passage by increasing volume (or even reducing it), and we can emphasize the passage also by emphasizing the silence.

  1. Ask open-ended questions: Not yes/no questions; check for actual understanding
  2. Ask if there are any questions
  3. Occasionally check for understanding by asking as student to explain what you’ve just covered; I find that a lot of times they may be zoned out but hear what you said and learn it after they say it themselves
  4. Repeat important concepts
  5. Repeat important concepts
  6. Repeat important concepts
  7. Adjust your volume settings especially when you get to a super-important concept

So once I have taught the concept, then what?

Reinforce it like crazy! Most subjects have the luxury of a textbook or worksheets that will help you. But the textbook or worksheets left to their own devices (or the students given the textbook and worksheets and told to learn) often don’t do their job well. You as the professional educator must continually be checking for understanding. If the students are working on a worksheet, for instance, I might be moving around the room and dialoguing with individuals. As a question is raised, I will bring it up to the entire class. If I taught it, most of the kids can help. If most of them don’t know, it’s time for me to reteach that. This is true even for concepts they were supposed to have learned last year or even concepts I taught them earlier in the year. If you are counting on them to remember everything you have ever said, you are setting yourself up for disappointment! Big time.

Reteaching should really become the expected default behavior for you. If a concept is to be reinforced, it must be reinforced regularly. Do you think LeBron James practices free throws? Do you think Josh Hamilton goes to batting practice? OF COURSE! Why? So they don’t stagnate.

The next step

Are you continuing to learn? Are you modeling the thirst for learning that you want your students to develop?

Just some suggestions…

About Joel Wagner 522 Articles
Joel Wagner (@sywtt) began teaching band in 2002. Though he had a lot of information, his classes were out of control. He found himself tired, frustrated, disrespected by students, lonely, and on the brink of quitting. He had had enough. He resigned from his school district right before spring break of his second year and made it his personal mission to learn to be a great teacher. So You Want To Teach? is the ongoing story of that quest for educational excellence.

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