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How You Can Get the Most Out of Your Students

The best learning environments are those where the students seek to be part of their learning. Find out how you can create that environment today.


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Tavian jean-pierre

2 years ago | 5 min read

Photo by Taylor Wilcox on Unsplash
Photo by Taylor Wilcox on Unsplash

I will never forget sitting in classrooms where the teacher was showing signs of distress. All the students had no desire to take part or take an active part in their learning.

We have all experienced dead silence after a teacher asks the class to participate. That may be in answering a question or asking for a volunteer to show something.

It can be hard to understand why this happens. And a lot of the time, the focus is turned to the students. Maybe they were tired that day or too nervous to answer the question.

On the flip side, I hope we have all been in classrooms full of energy and participation. All the hands go up when the teacher asks a question and people are involved in their learning.

In these environments, students are more willing to learn and take an active approach. That way, they are more likely to remember the lesson and act upon it.

When the learning environment is interactive, the focus always turns to the teacher. Maybe the teacher is doing something to pull the interaction from their students, or the activity is engaging.

Well, whether the lesson is full of engagement or lacks it, the teacher must self-reflect. After all, they were accountable for the environment created.

I have found that the best teachers always create environments that are engaging. Even if we were tired or not looking forward to the lesson, people seemed engaged and willing to share.

So, here are some of the things these teachers do differently from the rest. It is all about activating the students seeking system.

Learned Helplessness

In the classroom, the learning environment does not happen immediately. Yes, in the first lesson of the year, the teacher can excite and encourage their students. But, comfortable learning environments take time to build.

The good thing about this is that teachers have time to build environments that are a win-win. It also means that one lesson gone wrong does not change the attitude of your students forever. Of course, it depends on how terrible that lesson is.

However, problems that go unnoticed can lead to repercussions in the future. These subtle things affecting the good environment could lead to poor results in the long term.

Martin Seligman in 1967 showed the concept of learned helplessness. The experiment consisted of a dog, two plates and a barrier between.

In a nutshell, the dog was placed on one plate, and Martin would then shock the plate the dog was on. It would lead to the dog jumping over the barrier to plate number 2 to get to safety.

They did this a few times until Martin had a great idea. He wanted to see what happened when he shocked both plates. Would the dog keep jumping from one side to the other, or would it give up?

Well, the latter was true. The dog, after a couple of tries, stayed put and gave up. The dog decided to take the shock and sit in the same position crying.

What is even more interesting is that this led to a permanent change in the dog’s behaviour. When Martin only shocked one plate, the dog still sat there helplessly because it felt there was no solution. So, what does this have to do with learning?

How Learned Helplessness Shows up in the Classroom

When the dog was shocked on one side of the plate, it initiated the dog’s seeking system to find a way out. That is why it had the energy to respond and find a solution.

However, once there was no solution, the dog no longer wanted to participate. Instead, it learned to be helpless and accept its problems.

Although you would hope teachers do not create this environment, I have sat in classrooms where this is the case. Unfortunately, the teachers lose participation from their students because they feel helpless.

There are three main ways I have seen this environment occur:

Teachers Rushing the Lesson

I remember being in a class where the teacher always seemed to have more to teach than the time permitted. It led to the teacher not asking many questions, and the students were drained trying to keep up.

In the odd case where she did ask for participation, students were silent and felt scared to answer. They did not want to waste her time or waste their own by getting it wrong.

Teachers Shutting Down Wrong Answers Quickly

I once had a maths teacher that would say no very harshly. He would often ask for our answers and then say “wrong” or “nope” before we even finished our explanation.

Instead of taking a slow approach to hearing how the student arrived at their answers, he rushed around the classroom. There is no wonder that he had to start picking on us because we all stopped raising our hands.

Teachers Not Being Open to Ideas

Whilst I was in school, ideas from students did not come too often. A lot of the time, students were willing to sit there and soak up the curriculum. But, I remember a time where the teacher asked the students for ways to improve the school.

For the first 5 minutes, we were all up for it. However, there was a massive problem. Every idea we had was quickly counteracted with, “that would be difficult” or “not sure that would work”.

In his defence, he put all our ideas down. But we stopped coming up with ideas after 5 minutes. After all, none of them seemed to be particularly useful anyway.

You will find that students are a product of their environment, just like most people. And when students feel like their contribution is not going anywhere, they learn not to take part.

Creating the Right Environment

To create an environment of participation, teachers have to activate the seeking system. When students feel the urge to seek out an answer, classrooms are full of active learners.

Yet, to create this environment, there must be an incentive to do so. Like the shocking plates, teachers must create an environment that pushes students to want to control their learning.

When I look back, my best teachers always activated this seeking in me. They made sure they brought the problems from their teaching curriculum to life. And they made it their duty to encourage us to take control of our learning.

Here are a few things my teachers did to activate our seeking systems:

  • Built a genuine connection with each of us by asking us about our personal lives
  • Encouraged us to get things wrong by telling us funny stories of when they did
  • Made learning relational by focussing on the real-life application of the lesson
  • They took us on unique school trips outside of the curriculum to spark our curiosity
  • Delivered lessons outside of the regular environment to engage our other senses (On a field, On a walk)

The best teachers know how to activate their students seeking systems. So, take some time and think about the environment you are creating for your students. Are you shocking both plates, one or none?

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Tavian jean-pierre

I am a Visionary and Writer who seeks to enrich society by challenging how we do business today to lead to a world of better leaders and opportunities tomorrow.


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