A lot of focus in education is put on the curriculum, teaching methods, the ability of the student and behaviour management. However, what is often neglected is teaching kids how to actually learn. We go straight into teaching the content, without thinking about how the students are actually going to learn.
Learning is the infinite superpower that we all have. Amazingly, our brain is able to continually absorb new information, no matter how old we are. We can learn even better when we put the magic COAT on! Every year there are different buzz words in education – critical thinking, 21st-century learners, pedagogy, grit, agile, bloom’s taxonomy, high-order thinking. All of those phrases have worked in various ways, I have tried to condense many of those aspects into COAT. The acronym that I have put together that will guide my teaching in order to ensure that my students learn!
COAT: Connection, Open-mind, Attention, Teach-it
The teacher needs to connect to the content and their students. Put the time and effort into actually creating a relationship with your students. Know their story, who they are, where they are from, what their interests are and why they would want to learn what you are trying to teach them!
Also, the teacher must be enthusiastic about the topic. Enthusiasm is infectious! Your students don’t know that you’re only one step ahead of them! Become the expert! Absorb yourself in the content – research and educate yourself so that your students are also able to connect with what you are teaching them.
Next, the learner needs to understand the relevance of their learning. Show them how it links to the real-life world and their learning goals. Why is it important that they learn this?
Students need to have an open mind when learning. Understand that there are different mental models and why there are. Being able to understand that there are always different opinions about things is a vital skill of critical thinking. When we look at “analyse” and “compare” types of questions, we are asking our students to think from different perspectives. When teaching a new topic, it is important to show the different sides to the story and have them think about why there are. For example, why were there Stolen Generations? What were the various government policies trying to achieve?
We grow up being influenced by various stakeholders – our family, friends, the media. A lot of the times these people can feel quite passionately about where they stand and therefore their “Connection” to the topic ensures that it bleeds through to the listener. A perfect example of this is the 13-year-old girl that Adam Goodes pulled up for calling a derogatory term. The mother even came out in the media and called for Goodes to apologise, further emphasising who is influencing the young girl. Displaying a terrific understanding of different mental models, Goodes didn’t blame the girl at all and even showed empathy for her.
When learning, we need to forget about previous knowledge of the topic and start off in a neutral emotional state. This is why it can be easier for young people to learn, they have less “baggage”. However, we need to ensure that we set-up the class, so that they understand the importance of being in a neutral mode.
Having an open-mind will allow us to understand other perspectives, even if we still do not agree with them. Adam Goodes understood that there were reasons why the young girl called him an offensive name. In this scenario, the unfortunate thing is that many of those people with opposing views have not entered the conversation with an open-mind as you can see in the documentary The Final Quarter.
Set up the learning environment so that the learner can focus on the new content and there are no distractions. Some ways to manipulate the learning environment are:
- Seating plan
- Table arrangement
- Rules about respecting the learning space
- Outside noise
- Comfort levels
Think about the language that you use. Try to simplify your message. Your students will switch off as soon as they hear or see too many words that they don’t understand. Can everyone see what is one the board? Is the size of the font big enough?
What sort of mood are your students entering the learning environment in? Are they stressed and anxious? Have they just completed an exam or do they have an assessment task due? Have they had enough sleep and food? This will also inhibit their ability to pay attention to your lesson. You definitely don’t want to try to teach me when I’m hangry!
Also, in this technology-driven age, young people are so used to being constantly entertained, it is even more important that our lessons are engaging, relevant and taught in the right environment.
To have both sides of the brain firing, students need to be thinking creatively as they learn. This can be achieved by thinking about how they would teach it to someone else.
- Have them create their own lesson.
- Use the jigsaw technique recommended by education expert John Hattie. Listen to his interview with Dan Jackson here.
- Blog/vlog about what they have learned, also a great form of formative assessment.
- Make the task meaningful. Whether it is a part of a Project-Based Learning task, STEM or if they need to create something, go that next step and have them present it or produce it for real. Bring in external experts in the field, have big presentation days and have them give feedback.
Support and guide them as they become the teacher, remember how hard it is to teach something! Give them feedback and the ability to act on that feedback. If you have created the right learning environment, they will be receptive to the feedback.
Hopefully, the students are so excited about what they have learned, that they go home and can’t wait to teach their parents and carers! Parents and carers just make sure you pay attention!
So, next time you need to teach something, make sure you put the magic COAT on first!