How Do I Keep My Students Learning?

This article is part 4 of the series Questions That Will Save Your Career. Please read the other articles in the series.

  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?

1126740_studying_for_a_test_2What do you do to keep students learning?
We have come to the central part of why we entered into the educational field. Sometimes amidst the classroom management issues, paperwork, extracurricular assignments, professional development, and all sorts of other considerations, we can easily lose sight of this.No matter how good your discipline management plan is or how entertaining or engaging you are, if the students do not learn, you are wasting their time. So let’s look at some keys to keeping the actual learning happening in your classroom.


  1. Know your subject matter
    If you are teaching math, then you better know at least as much math as you expect the students to know. When I started teaching, I was assigned beginning flute, clarinet, and saxophone classes. I had played clarinet, but not flute or saxophone. I had to go home at night and figure out how to play the notes that I was going to be teaching the next day. The odds are pretty much in favor of you being able to pick the material up at least a little bit faster than the people in your class. So make sure you know what is supposed to be learned. The more thoroughly you know the information, the better.
  2. Know how to teach
    Thought I don’t advise spending all of your time studying teaching methodologies, it is important to be sure that you vary your teaching style a bit to ensure that more students are able to learn more comfortably and with greater ease. One of the easiest and most effective ways to do this is to ask your students. Ask individual students what you can do to help them learn better. They usually don’t know, but occasionally you’ll hear an answer that you hadn’t considered, but that would work better. Do it and see what happens.
  3. Know when not to teach
    We have to have enough awareness of what is going on around us to know when our teaching is ineffective. Especially when dealing with elementary and middle school ages, there are just some times when nothing we can do will work to get them on task. If we are unaware of that or if we ignore that, we run the risk of training them that it is acceptable to tune us out. One that has been taught, there is a huge struggle unteaching it. My recommendation when that happens, and it does happen no matter how hard you try, is to simply change the activity. Let them talk about what just happened or what is going to happen. If immediate focus is not necessary (ie. a looming performance, a major exam quickly approaching, etc.) then invest the time in getting to know the students better.
  4. Know what to teach
    This goes along with knowing your subject matter. Have a clear understanding of where you need to be heading and be sure that everything you try to teach directly applies to your goal. This doesn’t mean teaching to the test as much as it means preparing the students for success. Some concepts are clearly tested, but others are essential and yet remain untested. That doesn’t make them less necessary, it just means that perhaps they could be saved for a later time. Whatever you decide, know why it is that you do what it is that you do.
  5. Know what not to teach
    Some concepts that are contained in the book do not need to be taught. If it makes you feel better for the sake of completeness, you may briefly address the concept and mention that chapter 7 covers it. How many great classes have you had where the teachers guide you straight through the textbook in an orderly fashion, teaching from every single page? I know for me, it was not many at all. We skipped around all the time. Just because it is in the textbook does not mean it is essential. Just because it is in the curriculum does not mean that it is vital. You could also teach things informally. For instance, I use who and whom correctly in class all the time. I make it a point often to point out the differences. But I’ve never handed out a worksheet on it or given a formal lesson or anything. Similar to Timothy Ferris’ concept of a low information diet, the less we teach, the more effective that material will be.
READ  5 Killer Classroom Management Tips

If all of these elements are in place, you will be well on your way to being the best teacher in the world. Tomorrow, we begin looking at the non-classroom aspects of being an awesome teacher.

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.

2 Comments on How Do I Keep My Students Learning?

  1. That article was a fantastic point of view. But in terms of knowing the subject matter, I still have some questions. What if one or more student raised a question beyond our expectation or knowledge and we couldn't answer on the spot? How to deal with this spontaneous challenge? That frustration feeling really kills me if I encounter this difficulty.

    • I just tell them the best I know and then let them know I'll look it up and get back to them. Or even better yet, let some of them look it up…maybe even have a race.

      Admitting our own ignorance in a situation is difficult, but it also shows the students that we are doing the best we can and when we are able to come back with an answer, it shows them that we continue to learn.

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