7 Ways to Make Learning Impossible in Your Classroom

Chad OstrowskiBlog, Class Management, Mastery Learning, Start Here, Survival

7 Ways to Make Learning Impossible in Your Classroom

We talk a lot about how to increase student achievement and improve learning in our classrooms.

A lot of these conversations are centered around what needs to be added or changed in a classroom, NOT what should be removed. Many of the practices that still exist in classrooms across the country are not only outdated, but they are making progress and growth nearly impossible for schools and districts.

Here are 7 ways that you might be making progress and learning impossible for your students.

1. Lecturing too much.

If you didn’t already know I’m not a huge fan of Lecturing. Not only does the research not support it (at all), but it is archaic, disengaging for students, and after only 10 minutes, you’ve lost over 50% of your students. Any longer and those numbers go up.

I truly don’t care how good you think you are at lecturing, this is simply an ineffective practice when used on a daily basis or as the primary means of instruction. If you do this more than a few times a week, please stop. Direct instruction and lecturing have their limited place, and I’m not saying they should never happen in a classroom, but they should come in the form of short, purposeful, and targeted discussions with learners, not the tired and broken “sit and get” model of instruction.

If some of this hits a little too close to home, it's ok. It is okay for us to recognize that our classroom, or instruction, or management is not quite perfect. We can always improve. Click To Tweet

2. Still relying on a textbook.

If there is one thing I have never heard a student say it is, “I can’t wait to get to page 35 or Chapter 7!” I would argue these words (outside of being used with some heavy sarcasm) have never been uttered in a classroom. To put it bluntly, textbooks are not only one of the least engaging resources you can provide your students, but most are extremely outdated, especially as the standards change year to year.

With the invention of the Internet (decades ago), as well as a multitude of more engaging and interesting resources, media, and content, relying on a textbook as your primary source for instructional material simply doesn’t make sense. There are much better ways to plan, implement, and design instruction to meet the needs, and engage your students!

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3. Not giving multiple attempts.

Whenever I talk about giving students multiple attempts, I hear rumblings about things like, “responsibility” or “preparing students for the real world,” and I’m sorry, but these are awful excuses for not allowing students multiple attempts to master content. What is more important, “when” a student learns material, or “that” they learn it? Isn’t the goal of any instructional environment to have students master the material before they leave? I would beg the question then: “If a students needs multiple attempts in order to master the content, why do we not provide them with those attempts?”

The idea that, if a student fails an assessment, assignment, or test, they will never be given another chance to show that they know that information, is absolutely ridiculous. It also creates a defeatist culture of fear in the classroom. This is outdated and unproductive in any classroom.

4. Being afraid to integrate technology.

If you are reading this, I’m hoping that you are at least literate with a mobile device, and or the laptop you are using. If it has been printed out for you, or for some strange reason you’ve converted this blog into a 1980’s overhead transparency page, you might not like what I’m about to say. If you have ever uttered the phrase “I don’t do technology” and you are an educator, you might need to do some soul searching.

The world we need to prepare our students for is being driven, created, and developed using technology. It is our responsibility as educators not only to model correct use of technology, but to allow our students to experiment, utilize, and learn with it. Now, I am not saying that technology should replace instruction (and I never would). In fact, good pedagogy is not reliant on technology. However, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t utilize it in our classrooms. Tech can enhance your lesson plans, make grading more efficient, and improve engagement with students and stakeholders. If you are not integrating ANY technology into your classroom, you are doing a disservice to your students and to yourself.

5. Having a lack of systems, routines, or general classroom management.

Management is probably one of the most important aspects of any classroom, but is often one of the most difficult things to improve and maintain. The truth is, if students don’t have a structured, safe, and organized environment, they are less likely to learn. This principal goes all the way back to Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs.

I would argue that more “open” and “free” learning environments are created through backend control, consistent systems, and strong classroom management. Regardless of the quality of instructions, a mismanaged classroom is doomed to fail.

6. Not focusing on student engagement.

If your students don’t know WHY they are learning the content you’re covering, or they aren’t being given a reason to care about it, they are going to be much less likely to master the content. Furthermore, even if they have a reason to care, if they aren’t engaged in how they are learning, they won’t take the time to find that reason.

In today’s world. there are so many ways to engage your students. From integrating collaboration, interactive tasks, and simulations, to utilizing stations, dynamic Teach Further units, and technology, your options today are 10x what they were 10 years ago. So, whatever you are covering in your classroom, make sure that your students are engaged and can see a reason to care, so that they have a reason to learn.

7. Utilizing an outdate, broken grade book.

I’ve seen some of the most innovative classrooms in the country, and some of the most passionate educators in the world, while working with schools and districts. Sadly though, even the best teachers sometimes don’t have grade books that truly represent their students’ learning.

Now, you might be thinking, if my instruction is awesome why does my grade book matter? I assure you, it still does. If you aren’t reporting student mastery effectively to students and stakeholders, it’s hard to measure actual student growth and knowledge. We could dive into a Standards Based Grading rant right now, but I will refrain and just say this: If your grade book doesn’t represent student knowledge and mastery, it is broken.  Student grades should not represent the completion of tasks, or whether they brought in tissues at the beginning of the year or not,  or if they sat quietly, or even if they “tried hard” in your classroom. Grades should represent and communicate what the student knows and does not know, so that their specific needs can be identified and supported.

If some of this hits a little too close to home, it’s ok. It is okay for us to recognize that our classroom, or instruction, or management is not quite perfect. We can always improve. We should always strive to improve. But if thee things they are present in your classroom, I would encourage you to take a few steps back and find ways to improve the learning experience your students have. This is the only way we can truly move education forward and start progress towards achievement for ALL students.