by Ish Stabosz
Center for Creative Instruction and Technology
Delaware Technical Community College
The reading sucked.
That’s my favorite line from this TED Talk by science teacher Tyler DeWitt, who is quoting one of his students. In this presentation, Tyler shows that technical jargon and overly specific details don’t captivate students. Stories do. While he focuses on problems with science education, his essential message—that learning should be fun—is important for all disciplines.
I teach writing, so I struggle with the same sort of problems in a different way. One example I can think of is grammar instruction. A lot of textbooks and web-based publisher content place so much emphasis on the nitty gritties—such as identifying subjects, verbs, and sentence patterns—that students can get too bogged down in the basic skills. Once they’re confounded by the technical details, it’s hard to get them to focus on what matters: writing effective sentences. One of the ways that I try to counter this is by anonymously displaying student sentences (the good, the bad, and the ugly) on the board. For the good ones, we discuss why they demonstrate effective style and grammar. For the bad ones, we talk about what they need to do to become stronger.
Once students can see the benefits of correct grammar, they are better primed to learn the technical terms and basic rules.
How do you make your classes fun? If you are stuck with a textbook that’s less than student-friendly, how do you compensate? Leave a comment and let us know.