Having engaged students is fundamental to any effective teaching and learning environment.
In May, the team of Donum Dei had the privilege of visiting two incredible classical Christians Schools in Southern California. It was a special time for me, as a teacher, to be back in the classroom and to have the chance to watch skilled practitioners engage with their students.
The majority of my time was spent with a class of twenty-two fourth graders. I was immediately struck by the positive and calm learning environment. It was one where the teacher constantly modelled kindness, affirmation and patience; one where students were not afraid to make mistakes; one where students would celebrate, encourage, and support one another; and one where there was a deep desire for all to succeed and to do their best. Essentially, it was an environment with a tangible sense of love, support and respect for all. What an incredible foundation for learning!
Below are some examples of the ways the teacher engaged with her class during a grammar lesson. Yes, grammar! And it was actually fun! The lesson never idled along, resulting in disengaged students; rather, there was an energy, pace and a variety of activities to bring the lesson to life.
1. Use of chants and songs: Chants and songs helped reinforce the rules of grammar and kept the students occupied with something constructive and relevant to the lesson while the teacher wrote different sentences on the board for them to dissect. If there was ever a need to get the students moving about, they could stand and do different actions or exercises as they sung or chanted. This strategy is particularly helpful for the younger grades.
2. Use of questioning: The teacher utilized both open and closed questioning. She allowed collaboration between neighbors by giving students time to confer thoughts with their deskmate. The teacher also built upon students’ contributions - for example, “does anyone have a thought to build on what ‘Sam’ has said?"
3. Use of class whiteboard: By having students come out of their seats in order to write on the whiteboard, the teacher was able to engage both the individual student’s attention and that of his or her classmates.
4. Use of games: These were both individual and as a class. For individual games, the teacher had the students write answers on their own whiteboards and then showing them to the teacher. This is also a great assessment tool for the teacher to get a snapshot view of students and their comfort with the material at hand. Alternatively, the teacher could have the whole class participate in a game. For example, towards the end of a lesson, the whole class played a relay game. This had a two-fold purpose: it both helped consolidate the learning objective, and had the students moving about -- providing a helpful conclusion to one lesson and transition to the next!
I am excited for the many wonderful ways the teachers at Donum Dei will engage with their students. What kinds of activities do you like to see in the classroom? When your elementary-aged students come home from school, what do they remember and recount most excitedly to you? We can’t wait to share these experiences with you and your family!
“A good teacher is like a candle - it consumes itself to light the way for others” - Mustafa Kemal Ataturk