Have you ever heard “I don’t like English” or even worse “I don’t like the school”? That is a sign that the things go wrong. Ask your students why they don’t like school, and you’ll get answers like “it’s too hard”, “All the classes are boring” and “When will I ever use this in real life?” The real answer is, of course, more complex than that.
Do you remember the first you’ve ridden a bicycle? It felt great, great like the winds touching your face and yes, of course, the feeling of motion and speed. We got a sense of satisfaction and achievement, due to a small dose of dopamine that the brain released as a reward. A task that initially takes a great deal of thought, with practice becomes a task that requires little or no thought. But, we don’t find it pleasurable to work on a problem with no sense that we make progress on it.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter released by the brain that plays a number of roles in humans and other animals. Some of its notable functions are in movement, memory, pleasurable reward, behavior and cognition, attention, inhibition of prolactin production, sleep, mood, and learning. – Dr. Ananya Mandal, MD, Associate Professor at West Bengal Medical Education Service
Contrary to popular belief, human brains do not naturally and easily think. Although people’s mind is poor design for thinking, we actually like to think. Curiosity prompts us to explore new ideas and problems in order to pursue answers. Without curiosity, Albert Einstein would have never written the theory of relativity or Alexander Fleming probably wouldn't have discovered the penicillin.
People are naturally curious, but we are not naturally good thinkers; unless the cognitive conditions are right, we will avoid thinking. - Willingham, D. T. (2009). “Why don't students like school?”
The key difference between something that a student considers interesting or boring will depend on teacher’s ability to arouse his or her curiosity to learn something new. To maintain his or her interest, it’s important to choose the difficulty level of problems based on his or her learning needs, because if the problem is too easy or too difficult, he or she will get little or no pleasure to solve it.
Memory works as the residue of thought. We usually think of memory as store personal events (memories of your childhood) or facts (the elephant is a mammal), but memory also store strategies and procedures to guide what we should do, such as how to pronounce a word, what to do when it starts to rain, how to divide 20 by 5, and so on. This is how the memory helps us to solve problems. So we don’t have to think through these things each time we encounter them.
The memory system works much reliably than your thinking system, and it provides answers quickly and with little effort. When you learn a new language by studying it, you are able to speak it by using your memory, a process where your brain retrieves the words that you have learned.
Also, the knowledge stored in the memory provides the framework to links the prior knowledge with the new one. These connections are the bridge between the old and new information. This step is critical to applying constructivist theory in a classroom.
These strategies can help students make connections:
I) Written activating strategies
List: 3 things you already know about X, 2 things you’d like to know about or learn more about, and 1 question related to the key concept or learning.
Begin the lesson with a three-column organizer: What I Know, What I Want to know, what I Learned. Have students fill in the first two columns in advance of the lesson. Return to the last column as a summarizing strategy for the lesson.
3) Questions to the teacher
Have students list 3 (or any number) of questions they would like to pursue in relation to the focus of the lesson.
4) Carousel brainstorming
Chart papers containing several statements or issues for student consideration are posted at strategic locations around the classroom. Groups of students brainstorm at one station and then rotate to the next position where they add additional comments. As new thoughts and ideas emerge, the list grows. When the carousel “stops” the original team prepares a summary and then presents the large group’s findings.
Example: Topic: Body systems and subtopics: Muscular, skeletal and so on.
5) Concept map or word map
A great way to introduce and gather background knowledge about a complex topic or sophisticated concept: Have students use a graphic organizer to record what they know or believe about, 1) what the concept/term is (definition), 2) what it’s like (properties, qualities), 3) examples, and 4) non-examples. Be sure to return to the map at the end of the learning experience to revise with new knowledge and understanding.
II) Non-written activating strategies
1) Read and say something
Have students read a portion of text and then “say something” to their partners in response to their reading. This can also be done in the forms of questions, where students read a portion of the text and then pose questions about what they have just read.
2) Turn and talk
In response to a prompt or question, direct students to “turn and talk” to a shoulder partner (very similar to Read and Say Something).
3) Video clips
Use a brief video clip on a pertinent topic, theme, or occurrence to activate student interest in the focus of an upcoming lesson.
4) Photo sort
Provide/Project a collection of photographs about the topic of the upcoming lesson. Ask students to sort the photographs by predicted sequence or by subtopics (e.g., photographs of a historical period which students will be learning about might be sorted by what seems to be the logical sequence of events; photographs of various polygons might be sorted by common number of sides, etc.)
- Willingham, D. T. (2009). Why don't students like school?: A cognitive scientist answers questions about how the mind works and what it means for the classroom. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
- Buehl, Doug. (2001). Classroom strategies for interactive learning. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.