10 Ways To Make Your Lessons More Student-Friendly
Have you ever planned a lesson you were completely excited about and then other people told you it was a bad idea? Or it just flat-out bombed?
Sometimes, I think we come out with ideas that sound great on paper, but, in reality, they don’t work or we forget elements that might have made a difference.
From my experience, I know things I have done that made my lessons less accessible, but I wanted to get ideas from students, too. (Luckily, I have access to students through my kids.)
How to Make Your Lessons More Student-Friendly
Here are my notes on ways to make your lessons more student-friendly.
Remember, Lessons Won’t Always Work Everywhere
When I moved to a new school, I wanted to do a special holiday lesson that we had done at our old school. I mentioned it to my room mom, who looked at me in horror. She said, “That will not work in this community.”
That is something to consider when planning a lesson. Her point was that, in the community, too many students did not have a home with the means to participate in the activity. That had not been an issue at my former school.
Always consider your student community and their culture and access to supplies outside of school.
Students Always Need More Time Than You Do
Rule of thumb, if a task takes you 5 minutes, expect kids to need 10, especially if it is the first time you have done it.
For example, many teachers avoid interactive notebooks because kids take so long to cut and glue. However, I found that students got faster as they got better at cutting and understood the time expectations. After a few weeks, students did not take nearly as long, but I had to monitor my time expectations for a few weeks.
Depending on the age level, students often need a lot more time than we think. It helps to just pad time into your lesson plans until you get a feel for how long activities should reasonably take to complete.
Some practice is too little, others are too much, and then some practice is just right.
My informal survey found that lack of or too much practice was a huge reason that lessons failed. Teachers sometimes thought students had the needed skills to do a lesson when they didn’t. Without more support in the beginning, students were unable to complete tasks successfully.
Other times, students are given a ton of practice – and it either isn’t needed or it is too much at once. For example, teachers might have them practice a concept for days, but they already knew the material. Another example is giving students a giant page of math problems, but they really did not understand what to do – so they either did the problems incorrectly or just didn’t try.
Use Effective Assessments
Connecting to the previous subtopic, teachers could assess students’ needs better with effective pretests and formative assessments. It can be hard to find pretests, but they can help you see if students have already mastered a topic.
Formative assessments are a terrific “pitstop” in a unit. You use a fast activity to see what students understood or misunderstood.
I know I once felt things were going so well in a unit – until the test. When the students bombed, I was so surprised because they seemed to understand things during class discussions. From that, I learned not to skip formative assessments.
Provide Materials For Assigned Work
If students need supplies for an assignment, teachers need to make sure they have access to them. I loved doing projects with students, but it never occurred to me that some kids may not be able to afford posterboard or other supplies that I considered pretty routine.
One time, I asked one of my students why he hadn’t done his work. He said they did not have pencils or pens at home. They also didn’t have scissors.
Don’t take for granted that your students have supplies at home.
Plan to Provide Class Time For Projects
Again, adding on to the previous topic, always plan to provide some class time for students to work on projects in class.
One, many students have not developed their executive functioning. They need your help to break the project into manageable pieces. If they have class time, you can check-in and see who needs more support.
Two, students may not be able to work at home. Some kids go home and babysit while family members work. Others might have unstable home situations. You never know if a student can’t really work at home.
Group Projects Shouldn’t Be Graded Entirely On Final Project
As a Type A Planner, anxiety-prone deadline worrywart, group projects were a nightmare for me. Some kids wouldn’t work until the last minute – others never did. But my grade depended on them. I never thought that was fair.
Students like me end up doing the whole project, yet everyone earns their grades.
I structured my projects so that the group wasn’t punished if someone didn’t work. On the first day, I made groups discuss the project and decide who was in charge of different parts. They had a paper they filled out, explicitly stating which students were responsible to find information on specific topics and complete parts of the project. They all signed it and turned it in to me.
That way, if a group member wasn’t working, the group could speak with me, and I could verify that they had done their work. We would try to conference with the nonworker, but it wouldn’t always change things.
The final project was only worth a few points. Instead, I scored students on participation and completion of their part of the project, as well as their presentation. That way, although their grade was affected by the nonworker, it was only a few points and did not change their overall grade.
Doing the same thing over and over again can be boring. Using the same assessment format can also make it hard for some students to show what they know. Students might do poorly on a test but shine in an essay
By varying assessments, teachers can keep the class interesting and also give students a chance to use different strengths.
Note: Reusing assessment types is not a bad thing – it is good when students are familiar with the assessment formats. Just don’t always use the same one.
Set the Bar High, But Provide Scaffolding
Students, regardless of ability, are expected to meet grade-level standards – that is always the goal, although we know sometimes they have a long way to go to get there. However, when we set the bar high, students can surprise us with what they can achieve.
Again, with pretests and formative assessments, you can see what students know and what they need. By using the assessment data effectively, you can help students achieve at higher levels by providing scaffolding.
Realize Students Have Different Needs
Students can do well but still have hidden difficulties. Many learning issues go undiagnosed, even through high school.
My students commented they felt teachers sometimes wrote them off and gave up on them too quickly. In some cases, they didn’t understand the work, while other times they didn’t have the skills needed to be successful. They felt teachers assumed they were lazy when they were actually struggling.
As a parent of a student with vision-processing issues, this one hurts. My boy did well in school, but the truth was he could barely read. He needed intensive phonetic lessons and tutoring on how to visualize and remember what he read.
It is easy for us to assume kids are just lazy and that is why they don’t work when it is possible they can’t do it or their self-esteem is so low that they have given up. Some kids really need a cheerleader.
Kids who have given up on being successful are hard to win over. They have to learn to believe in themselves again. Teachers have to just keep trying and offering support.
I hope these ideas give you some ideas for your lessons. Do you have any others to add?
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