Don’t Assume Your Students Know…Anything: Teach Them
I know, I know…that sounds insulting and in way, I guess it is. But it’s true. Hey, I remember being in the position of a clueless college student. I thought I knew everything but then that professor started spouting off fancy terms that I’d never heard of and I felt like shrinking back in my chair in embarrassment since everyone else in the classroom seemed to know what he was talking about. Don’t be fooled! When I was brave enough to ask, usually the rest of the class joined in.
So, as a professor I don’t assume that my students know anything. And by anything, I literally mean anything.
Here’s an example: I was teaching my class about the legislative branch and stated that certain policies were passed. Now, I remember as a student, learning the simple fact that policy IS law! So, I paused and then asked the students if they knew what “policy” meant. No one (in all four classes) could answer. But I caught their attention! And then they learned something new. I did two things at once.
I engaged them and brought them into the conversation, thereby keeping them on their toes.
I taught them something new. They now know one of the most basic and fundamental terms in political science and will be able to know it the rest of the class! (I do remind them on occasion)
So, don’t think that this type of educating should be limited to relevant terms, sometimes words you use to describe things or explain things, are words students don’t know. Ask them if they know. If they say they do know, then have one of them tell you what the word in question means. (Again, by doing this you’re keeping them incredibly engaged and not simply droning on and on while also challenging them to learn new things).
Recently, while lecturing on John Locke at the beginning of the semester and said that he was “reticent” to say that the “state of nature” equaled a “state of war” (Don’t worry about trying to understand this theory). I realized, my students probably don’t know what “reticent” means. I asked them if they knew what it meant, …and they didn’t. Yet another good student/teacher learning opportunity. I’m not assuming they know everything and also engaging them. (Reticent means hesitant, BTW)
Making sure that your students understand the terms, concepts and the words that you’re using is so fundamental to teaching. It both engages and teaches!
Do you see how all three tips work together? Passion, engagement and teaching? You first engage the students by being passionate. As you are passionate yourself, you demand that your students respond in kind and speak during class, setting a standard for the whole class that they must pay attention and engage with the material and with you. Finally, after you’ve engaged them with your passion, you help them learn and understand what they don’t know. Never humiliate them, but gently direct them and coach them. Teach them! Trust me, they’ll catch on and they’ll appreciate you for it!
I hope these tips have helped you some. I’ve found these techniques to be incredibly rewarding and have loved watching my classes respond and grow with me and I hope your classes do the same with you!
The Liberty Belle