In the past eight years that I have been working in the education sector, I have always been confronted with the challenge of making a meaningful learning experience for my students. That is, creating connections between students’ learning journey and their lives.
A few years ago, as I was teaching an introductory course in psychology, I asked myself: ‘In what ways could learning about Freud’s theory help them with their future career?’ Answers are not always straightforward since psychology is arguably more theoretical than practical.
Later on, I realised that to be an effective teacher, I should not focus too much on getting the lesson across without addressing the ‘why’… Failure to offer a compelling reason may equal a lack of meaning and without meaning, students may lack the motivation needed to learn.
Here are five points to help you infuse meaning to your lessons:
- Make the content as meaningful as possible – This can be achieved when students are offered the opportunity to link their classroom activities to real-life experiences. It is important to bear this principle in mind, especially with rigorous content. You might want to adapt innovative activities such as storytelling, arts, graphic, and mnemonics. Meaningful content should also follow meaningful assessments.
- Adopt a student-centred approach – When students are more involved in designing their learning experience, they end up having better grasp of the goal of the lesson and are more attached to the learning outcomes. Ask them open-ended questions, encourage student collaboration and group projects, and give them assignments that will allow them to reflect and synthesise what they have learned. But also consider the factors that could influence this approach.
- Promote self-knowledge – The overarching goal of learning, as opposed to education, is to help learners function well in the future. A knowledge ecosystem model might be useful, this can be in the form of offering additional courses, organising school events, and integrating the use of social media. Nonetheless, it is important to let students realise that above all, learning is a personal process and there’s only so much a teacher can do.
- Bring the real world to your classroom – Each time we attempt to solve a problem creatively, or think about something in a novel way, we produce physical connections in our brains. And what more fun way to achieve this than to ponder on problems that we come across with in our daily lives. You can acquaint students to real-world research, show a documentary, listen to podcasts, or even encourage them to ‘publish’ their works (i.e., through blogposts, creating a YouTube video, or taking part in events similar to TED talks).
- Share knowledge and resources – As a teacher you won’t be armed with all the answers on how to engage your students. You might want to ask colleagues for strategies that work for them. Always scout for resources to help you. In the UK, TES is ‘home to a vast library of teaching materials all created and uploaded by teachers. With separate subject channels for every type of teacher from nursery through to post-16, there are all kinds of classroom materials including lesson plans, videos, PowerPoint presentations, games, puzzles, quizzes, worksheets and tutorials.’
Hopefully, these tips will help you better navigate the classroom and provide a more meaningful learning experience to your students. But more importantly, seize every opportunity to have conversations with your students about what matters to them. Observe them more intently and take note of their interests and aspirations and make sure to take these into account when preparing your day’s lesson.
And as to how I explained Freud’s theory to my students – I invited them to reflect: Psychoanalytic theory has a special place in psychology. Examining this theoretical paradigm teaches us critical thinking. And whatever career choice you may have, that kind of thinking will always come in handy.