When Kids Don’t Care
I believe that there is some truth to the statement that kids today just don’t care. As I am sure you have heard time and again, the latest generation of kids is the most hooked in to the latest technology and pop culture. Things, like your lesson plans, have to be quick and entertaining to keep their attention. If your lesson plans are supremely boring, the kids check out fast.
Last time I posted, I talked a bit about juggling teaching duties while facing a classroom of apathetic students. It can be very hard for a teacher to find the energy to “wake up” kids and get them interested in learning. Some days I just want to throw in the towel rather than try and get through to all of those blank faces.
Finding a Balance
I do think we do kids a disservice by constantly feeding in to their “need” for everything to be fast and exciting. How are they going to be able to sit through long lectures and read dense textbooks in college? How are they going to be able to sit through a long, dry board meeting when they’re adults?
On the other hand, how can “boring” textbooks compete with the latest video games like Grand Theft Auto IV? There has to be a way to find a balance, to add some excitement and sensationalism to learning.
Getting Their Attention
One of the things that I do – and I fully admit this – is play up the lurid details of the stories we read. I am a fairly young teacher and my students are teenagers and we are comfortable in discussing human relationships – without crossing the boundaries of good taste. The more shocking something is in the story, the more excited the students get.
For example, in the fall in American Literature, we read The Crucible, a story of how a young woman scorned starts the Salem Witch Hunt. In one scene toward the beginning, Abigail reminds John Proctor of how he clutched her back like a sweating stallion. In every one of my classes, my students were practically leaping out of their seats yelling “No way!” After that, we referred to John Proctor as the Stallion, and any time someone was to read his part in the play we all called him the Stallion.
Creating Meaningful Activities
Of course, not every subject will be able to take advantage of the “sex sells” scenario and it is tough to play up such literary naughtiness day in and day out. What you, and your students – yes, they can help – is create meaningful activities that connect the reading or the lesson in with their own lives.
One way to make connections is to tap into current events. When teaching Robert Frost’s poem “Mending Wall” (i.e., good fences make good neighbors), my classes talk about actual walls like the Berlin Wall or the border fence along the southern United States. We talk about hypothetical walls like racism and prejudice. Then, to tie it all together, I show them a video clip from the Comedy Central website of Carlos Mencia, a Latino comedian, ranting about the border fence and racism. Chances are good that most of the students have seen his show on TV and are familiar with his rantings.
Another way to make connections is to tap into students’ own thoughts and feelings. When we read The Catcher in the Rye, I have students create personal scrapbooks inspired by elements from the novel. For instance, the main character Holden has a red hunting hat that he uses to show his individuality. The students have to select an article of clothing or item that represents them as a person, that makes a statement about who they are.
Make Learning Relevant
Whatever you choose to do, it has to be relevant to the students or you will lose them. Yes, there will have to be days of lectures, of reading out of the text, of writing essays. Neither you nor your students can get out of them. Not every day can be a lively party. I think you can find a balance, to space out the activities among the lectures so that you can keep the momentum going.
The most important thing, however, is to stay positive and interested – interested in your students and interested in your subject. Kids can tell when you don’t care and they can tell when you do care. If you earn their trust and respect by showing you care, it is much easier to get them to go along with whatever you are trying to accomplish.