LESSON 1: DO THIS AND YOU’LL HAVE THEM EATING FROM THE PALM OF YOUR HAND
What is the difference between ordinary teachers
and great teachers? The mo...
LESSON 1: DO THIS AND YOU’LL HAVE THEM EATING FROM THE PALM OF YOUR HAND
What is the difference between ordinary teachers
and great teachers? The most important difference, above all else, is
the ability to engage students in learning. It’s the
teachers who know how important this is and who go to extra efforts to
learn how to do this, that ultimately make the greatest teachers with
the best teaching practices.
The thing is – you already knew that didn’t you.
The other thing – I knew you knew that. I wrote this article for
teachers who know that engaging student learning is important and feel
that they want to learn more about ways to engage students.
It would seem logical therefore, that telling
someone something they already know is a waste of time right? Wrong.
In actual fact, telling your audience (or students, customers,
congregation, victims etc.) something they already suspected was true
is a great way to initiate ‘engagement’ by establishing rapport. Why?
Because confirming someone’s suspicions triggers
off a little emotional buzzer in the brain that says “Ooohhh…yes,
that’s exactly what I thought too…..hey this person thinks like me….”
By confirming someone suspicions, you’re effectively sliding your
‘initiate engagement’ ticket into the machine, opening up the boom gate
which regulates the ‘critical minds’ flow of traffic – thus, allowing
you to drive your lesson in past the first barrier.
Confirming suspicions by the way is different to
stating the obvious. If you state the obvious, the effect is lost. So
think of it this way: the aim is not to tell the learner what they
know is true as much as it is to tell them what they WANT to be true
(regardless of whether it actually is or not).
ENGAGE STUDENTS IN LEARNING - LESSON 1:
CONFIRM THE LEARNERS SUSPICIONS – IT ESTABLISHES RAPID RAPORT BY MAKING
THEM FEEL SMARTER AND MORE CERTAIN OF THEMSELVES – TWO THINGS ALL
LESSON 2: DO THIS AND THEY’LL TRULY ‘GET IT’.
Does it kind of feel like I just messed with
your mind a bit there? Did it feel like you kind of walked into a trap,
just so I could prove my point about innovative teaching methods?
Well…..good. Your feelings towards me are probably a bit more
defensive now that it feels like your mind was violated. The point is
that you felt something. Getting the learner emotionally involved is the first step to engagement.
And even though I threw the words “congregation”
followed by “victim” in there as though it was no big deal – you still
picked up on it didn’t you? What did you think when you read that?
Depending on your personality, it may have even appealed to your
naughty side a bit. Did you think: “Hang on….did he just say…. “
before you forgot about it and continued reading?
Let me ask you another question……are you
smiling….even if only mentally….because it feels like I’ve anticipated
every thought along the way? Perhaps you’re frowning because you don’t
like being tricked. Either way, I got your attention didn’t I? And
that’s the whole point though isn’t it. You came here looking for ways
to create engaged students. Well guess what? There’s
no better way of teaching someone how to do something than by getting
them to experience the effects of it first.
ENGAGE STUDENTS IN LEARNING - LESSON 2:
PROVE YOUR POINT BY GETTING THE STUDENT EXPERIENCING THE EFFECTS OF IT
BEFORE YOU TEACH THEM HOW DO TO IT.
LESSON 3: LEARN FROM THIS TRUE STORY
To give you a memorable example of this, in my
first year of being a year 9 science teacher, I attempted to murder a
boy to test an idea I had about engaging activities for students.
The learning objective was to understand that a hormonal response to
stimuli lasts longer than a neurological one. This is because the
hormone floats around in the blood stream for a while, whereas nerve
transmissions are instantaneous.
Anyway, after having them all record each other’s
heart rate and breathing rate, I started getting very irritated with
one of the more ‘naughty’ boys sitting up the back of the class named
Matt. I attempted to exert my assertiveness by verbally warning him,
only to receive a sarcastic reply from him. This verbal ‘back and
forth’ continued to escalate, as did my obvious frustration. I appeared
visibly angry, so much so, that I suddenly snapped. I grabbed the
first item I found (a stapler from my desk), and charged up the back of
the class shouting uncontrollably “I’m going to kill you” over and
over. I proceeded to lay into Matt with the stapler, belting him
senseless whilst screaming my desire to murder him.
Suddenly I stopped. I smiled, as did Matt. I
turned to the class and announced that everything was okay - it was all
a big joke, and that Matt was in on it. I calmly walked back to the
front of the class whilst Matt had a good chuckle at everyone else’s
expense. I then explained to them the purpose of the demonstration.
“Right now” I explained “your brain knows that
you are safe. It knows that Matt is safe, and that it was all a big
joke. No part of your neurology feels threatened any more. Whilst your
nervous system fired up when you felt threatened, it has now returned
to normal. The hormone adrenalin however is still flowing
through your blood. It’s no longer being pumped into your blood, but the
adrenalin that was pumped into your bloodstream a moment ago is still
there now. Measure your heart rate and breathing rate now to see what
I mean.” They did this, most of them laughing about the humour of the
prank, yet admitting that whilst they found it funny, they were still
physically shaking from the effects of the hormone.
The purpose of telling you all this is not to demonstrate an example of engaging activities for students, nor
is it to demonstrate the effectiveness of getting the student to
experience your point before you make it – I already did that with the
previous lesson. The purpose of this lesson is to demonstrate the
effectiveness of telling an interesting anecdotal story as a means to
stimulate engagement. If you were not a teacher however you probably
couldn’t associate with the anecdote above quite as well. You are a
teacher however, which is why I picked a story that you would find
ENGAGE STUDENTS IN LEARNING – LESSON 3:
TELL STORIES THAT THE STUDENT CAN PERSONALLY ASSOCIATE WITH WHICH
DEMONSTRATE YOUR POINT.
LESSON 4: WHAT’S YOUR OPINION OF THIS?
There is of course a good possibility that even
though the story above was a very interesting one to associate with
when it comes to effective teaching methods, it was a very reckless and potentially unethical thing for me to do just for the sake of student engagement. There is also a good chance that you’re probably thinking critical things towards me now about my different teaching methods,
such as “he should not be advocating such reckless behaviour as a
person of responsibility – this guy is advocating irresponsible student engagement strategies.” Well…..I got you again.
The story above may be a true one, it may be
completely made up, it may be an exaggerated version – I’m not going to
tell you. But it made you generate an opinion didn’t it? It got you
thinking something – whether you thought it was a great thing to do or
thought it was terrible. If I stimulated enough of an emotional
response to generate some kind of opinion about it (even if it’s one
that provoked a critical response)......well…..guess what – you’re
engaged! The media does this all the time – it’s called ‘controversy’.
In fact, talk back radio presenters specifically are the king of
controversy. If they can’t get their listeners engaged enough to want
to phone in and join a debate - they go broke! So if the media uses
this strategy for commercial gains, why not use this with your students
to generate an engaging learning environment?
ENGAGE STUDENTS IN LEARNING - LESSON 4:
STIMULATE ENOUGH EMOTION TO GENERATE OPINONS, DEBATE OR CONTROVERSY,
AND YOU’VE CREATED INSTANTANIOUS INTERACTION.
LESSON 5: I HOPE YOU WANT TO LEARN THE MOST POWERFUL TRICK
Whether it’s in the media, salesmanship or any
kind of persuasive art; the most powerful way of getting someone to do
something you want them to do is this: Plant thought into their mind in
a way so that they actually believe that it is their idea.
Similarly, when we are planning strategies for engaging students in learning, we need to manipulate the situation to ensure that the student’s mind WANTS to be involved in the learning process.
Imagine you could get your student’s to WANT to
learn what you have to teach, every single time! In fact, everything I
have been discussing with you so far has simply been setting the stage
for the number one most powerfully influential trick I’m about to
expose, when it comes to how to engage students in learning. I guarantee, this will change the way you teach, and therefore change your life.
Are you ready for it?
Only kidding, there is no such trick. Now if you
felt a bit of disappointment there…..then good! It means you were
engaged. You actually wanted to find out what was going to happen next.
I presented you with an exciting idea about the future. This is called
‘hope’ and humans love it. It’s like holding a juicy piece of stake in front of a hungry dog.
Remember; the stick is only for people who don’t know how to master the carrot.
ENGAGE STUDENTS IN LEARNING - LESSON 5:
TALK UP SOMETHING THAT’S ABOUT TO HAPPEN IN A WAY SO THAT THE STUDENT
WANTS IT TO HAPPEN.
LESSON 6: WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT BEING DIFFERENT?
Let me ask you something – does this read like
an ordinary article? Was it exactly like you expected it would be when
you read the title? Chances are; probably not. There is every
possibility that I’ve taken your mind on a bit of a roller coaster ride
throughout the entire article. There may have been times where you
thought I was brilliant. There may have been time you thought I was a
complete wanker. There may have been times you got excited,
disappointed, argumentative, etc. Let me ask you this though – why do
you think I went to such effort to disrupt your expectations? Why did I
intentionally set out to be different?
ENGAGE STUDENTS IN LEARNING - LESSON 6:
(FILL IN THIS PART OF THE LESSON FOR YOURSELF – IF I’VE BEEN SUCCESSFUL
IN PROVING MY POINT YOU SHOULD KNOW EXACTLY WHAT THIS LESSON IS.
LESSON 7: WHAT IS THE ANSWER TO THIS QUESTION?
The lesson above of course is to think outside the box when planning activities to engage students.
Disrupt the norm a bit and cause the student to feel something and
think something they weren’t expecting. Do these things, then BAM – you
have them engaged. (The only exception is to make sure they don’t feel
like they are overloaded with too much information or information they
will struggle to understand). Now I could have just worded that for
you in the brackets above rather than asking you to fill in the answer
for yourself. So why do you think I did that?
Well I actually don’t care what you think to be
honest. But I do care that you are thinking something. That’s what I
must do if I am to engage you in this article. To engage a learner, you
must kick start their brain into thinking mode, by getting them to explore a concept. This is very different from listening mode where they simply observe you explaining it.
So, if you think back about your past experiences
both in a teaching role as well as in a student role…..what do you
think were the best ways to get someone to think about something? Go
on….have a guess. Have you thought of any ideas? Say it out loud….I’ll
give you a clue; it’s one word…..it starts with a Q……figured it out
Before I tell you – let’s explore this a bit. Tell
me - why do we think? We think to find solutions to problems. A
solution is therefore, an answer. And what precedes an answer? Got it
That’s right…..you got it…..Questions! (You did
get it right?) Unless our mind can find a reason to answer a question,
it’s like an engine just waiting for someone to turn the key and fire
it up. No question - no problem. No problem - no need to find solution.
No need to find solution - no need to think.
Why then did I ask you to fill in the brackets to
lesson 6? The answer is because asking engaging questions is necessary
to stimulate thought. Why do I keep asking you questions even if I
don’t care what you think about them? The answer is because if my aim
is to keep you engaged, then I am only concerned that you are thinking,
not what you are thinking. The important part here is to ask the right
questions, and by right questions, I mean questions that will stimulate interest.
A students mind can be like a car with an incredibly powerful engine. If you rely on explanation
and passive listening; you might as well be pushing the car downhill
whilst steering and hoping for the best. If you can get the student’s
mind to explore (analyse, evaluate and
synthesise) ideas - you’ve just turned a key to fire up an engine
capable to powering up the steepest of learning hills (see Higher Order Thinking Skills). The key to your learners ignition (and therefore engaging students in the classroom) then becomes how you can get them to explore ideas by thinking for themselves.
ENGAGE STUDENTS IN LEARNING - LESSON 7:
ENGAGING STUDENTS IN ACTIVE LEARNING MUST REQUIRE THEM TO THINK FOR
THEMSELVES. THE BEST WAY TO DO THIS IS TO ASK ENGAGING QUESTIONS.
LESSON 8: SNEAKING PAST THE BARRIER TO THE MOST IMPORTANT THING YOU WANT
The reason I want you to think about these things for yourself before I dump an explanation on you, is because exploration is a big part of creating engagement in your students learning environments. Want to know the number one mistake most teachers make? They place more emphasis on explanation than they do on exploration.
Explanation requires listening. It’s a passive process for the
learner. Exploration however is an active process for the learner
because it requires them to think.
Explanation means delivering a wheelbarrow of
information to the minds yard, dumping it on the grass and leaving a
mound of it there to blow away in the wind. Exploration however means
that the learner is going to get out there with the shovel and dig a
great big hole. This way, when the wheelbarrow comes along to dump the
explanation - it goes right in the hole that was already dug for it –
and stays there. I have been spending a large portion of this article
trying to get you to dig that hole in your mind. If I’ve done my job
right, the explanation I’m offering here will fit in there a lot better.
Is it working?
What is the importance however of creating an explorative experience before delivering the explanation?
And then, when the explanation does arrive, what’s the most important
trick for making sure it fits in snug and tight? Well firstly, to know
how to deliver our message the most effectively, we need to know what
barriers stand in our way so we can know exactly how to sneak around
them. There are numerous theories about this and I suggest you have a
think about this for yourself – but here’s what I think:
I think that our mind can only make sense of new
information by fitting it into familiar experiences. Like a game of
Tetris – if the mind can’t connect the new piece with the pieces it
already has, it tends to reject it, or just squeeze it in awkwardly. If
our mind is bombarded with too much unfamiliarity at once; it’s too
exhausting, and our mind will reject it. We don’t like the unfamiliar.
Unfamiliarity is instinctively bad to us, even if only at the
unconscious level. Even right now I suspect you can think of examples
of human nature where we instinctively fear that which we cannot
understand or cannot associate familiarity with.
Whilst this instinct is designed to protect us,
in modern times however, our instinctive anxiety towards unfamiliarity
prevents us from having new and productive experiences. On a global
scale, our fear of the unfamiliar it’s the cause of racism, cultural
discrimination, religious hatred, sexism, homophobia and intolerance in
general. Pretty big barrier then isn’t it? In the classroom however,
the same human instinct we’re talking about here is also going to be
the number one barrier preventing your students from learning
everything you want to be able to teach them.
So it would seem that this instinct to reject
the unfamiliar is a crucially important barrier. It’s not very easy
to overcome this barrier, but there is an easy way you can sneak past
it. That’s precisely what I’m going to show you how to do in the next
lesson. You’re going to read on, because you want to know how to get
your students to learn more, thus making your job easier and more
rewarding aren’t you. The fact that this same knowledge could help
contribute to solving many of the world’s more serious issues is great,
but it’s less of an incentive than the effect it will have on you
directly, isn’t it. Does this make you a selfish person? Yes. Is this a
bad thing? Depends on how you look at it – I think it just makes you
The lesson here:
ENGAGE STUDENTS IN LEARNING - LESSON 8:
REGARDLESS OF HOW IMPORTANT YOU THINK IT IS, YOUR STUDENT MUST SEE SOME
KIND OF PERSONAL CONNECTION TO BE INCENTIVISED TO LEARN.
LESSON 9: PAINTING A FAMILIAR PICTURE
So you want to know how to sneak past the barrier
of unfamiliarity? To do so, we need to understand that our conscious
mind and our unconscious mind are separated by a thick, solid door
protected by heavily armed security guards. This door is called the
‘critical’ mind, and is there to protect the unconscious mind from the
harshness of reality. The unconscious mind is very scared and very
vulnerable – it thinks just like a 5 year old child. Just as a parent
would protect their 5 year old from traumatic experiences by filtering
their exposure to them, this is the role your critical mind plays in
making sure you don’t experience a reality that is too hard for your
inner child to deal with. An overload of too much unfamiliarity will
cause that door to lock even harder and the guards to stand to
attention. Only information with the right security access is allowed
through the door. Imagine you knew a trick that could make you
invisible to the guard, allowing you to sneak right past the door with
The catch is; I’ve been sneaking past yours on
numerous occasions throughout this article. Although I took you on
numerous ‘explorative’ journeys, each time I had to explain something
to you, I had to sneak past your armoured guards a bit to creep
undetected inside your unconscious mind. The explorations were designed to manipulate you into digging just the right hole. The explanations however
were delivered in a way so that they would fit right in. You don’t
even feel like your delicate little ‘inner child’s mind has been
affected do you.
Tell me (okay, tell yourself seeing as I’m not
there with you right now) – you’re looking at text on a page right now,
yet you’ve been seeing many other things throughout this article
haven’t you? Not with your eyes, but in your mind. Did you see a
ticket sliding into a machine? A boom gate opening up and a car driving
through? Did you see a car rolling down a hill, only to have a key
turned and power uphill after firing the engine on? How about the wheel
barrow and the hole in the ground or the security door with the
armoured guards standing by? What did they look like to you?
The lesson here is not just to use visual
imagery as powerful explanatory tool either, even though the ability
get your students mind to translate words into pictures is important as
well. It was the specific use of metaphors and analogies which, if
successful, snuck past your barriers. I didn’t need to be too specific
about what the hole in the ground, the wheelbarrows contents, the car,
the engine, the key, the boom gate, the ticket or the guarded door
represented. I gave you just enough of the puzzle so that your
unconscious mind would join the pieces to paint the picture. Why did I
do that? The reason is this: so that you would not just understand the
concepts I wanted you to understand, but so that you would experience
them by constructing them yourself based on what you already understand
about the world.
The unconscious mind just loves analogous
representations by the way. After all, when we have no conscious
control over our mind, the unconscious mind spends most of its time
processing the world around it by using analogous projections – aka
Let’s say you wanted a simple fisherman to join
your team of disciples and you give them a detailed explanation of the
job description. Unless your explanation involves something that the
fiishermans past experiences can associate with, they’ll probably
reject the job offer even though it would be a fantastic learning
opportunity. Instead, it would be far more effective to describe the
role as being as “fishers of men.”
Analogies and metaphorical representations form
the basis of dreams, and are used to sneak past the critical minds
‘unfamiliarity’ barrier as they allow the unconscious mind to connect
with experiences it is already familiar with. Analogous representations
are used heavily in advertising. Analogous language forms the basis of
hypnotic suggestion. Most importantly however, ever since the days of
‘parables’ - they’ve been used as incredibly effective teaching tools
to help learners form new associations with otherwise unfamiliar
concepts. (See Constructivist Teaching).
ENGAGE STUDENTS IN LEARNING - LESSON 9:
WHEN TEACHING NEW CONCEPTS, DO SO BY LINKING THEM TO CONCEPTS THE
STUDENT IS ALREADY FAMILIAR WITH. USING ANALOGIES AND METAPHORS ARE
ESPECIALLY IMPORTANT WHEN MAKING NEW INFORMATION FIT COMFORTABLY.
LESSON 10: DO WHAT YOU LOVE BY LOVING WHAT YOU DO
Right now I’m feeling pretty proud of myself
knowing that I’ve been getting your mind actively involved in this
article. I know full well I’ve taken you on a mental roller coaster
ride. I’ve probably even annoyed you at times. Well…..sucked in. I like
making you think….it’s fun. Want to know the absolute most effective
way to become a more engaging communicator?
Remember playing “dirty chook made you look” as a
kid (or some kind of variation)? “Hey is that guy bleeding from the
eyeballs?” I’d say to my friends who would instinctively turn to look
in the direction I was pointing; only to realise they were duped as
they hear “ha ha, dirty chook made you look!” Engaging students in
learning should be one big game of “ha ha made you think!” That’s right
- it should be a game. At every available opportunity, the objective
of the game is to ‘trick’ your student’s into thinking something. Most
importantly, you should have fun whilst doing it. Why? Because if you
enjoy doing something; you’ll do it automatically. It will become deeply
engrained into your unconscious habitual behaviours.
In fact, can you remember a time where you did
get your students to actually stop, and think about something you were
trying to communicate? Do you remember a time when you did this and, as
a result, you were able to change the way they understood or thought
about something you were trying to communicate to them? It feels good
to have that kind of impact on a person’s mind doesn’t it?
Not all people feel good about having this
effect by the way. But if a) you’re a teacher (or workin a training
role of some kind) and you pride yourself on being good at it, or b)
you’ve read this article all the way to this point, then there’s a good
chance that you have the kind of personality type which enjoys having
some kind of impact on the way other people think. If you’re a teacher,
you probably feel that the way you do this is a noble skill. Far
nobler than the way that say, a salesman, a politician, a cult leader
or a con artist uses the same skills. And yet, did you know that all
these professions share similar personality traits?
Actually I have no idea if they do or not, I’m
just firing your brain up again. Haha…dirty chook, made you think!
ENGAGE STUDENTS IN LEARNING - LESSON 10:
TRAIN YOURSELF TO BE AN ENGAGING COMMUNICATOR BY ALLOWING YOUSELF TO
HAVE FUN IN THE PROCESS OF MAKING OTHER PEOPLE THINK