During the final meeting with one of my speech classes, I asked each student to give a few parting words to the class. I found a similar message resonating from many who spoke. Soon after, I received an email from an advisor at our school asking me to share some tips on fostering learning in the classroom. Since I had recorded that final speech class, I decided to use my students’ comments as the basis for my advice.
Tip #1. Build a community of learners.
Many students mentioned that it was rare that they have a class where they learn everyone’s name and really get to know one another. They mentioned the word “family” when they talked about how they viewed the class, and how they felt safe and supported by each other. One student said he would be having a really bad day and then he would walk into the class and find the stress of the day melt away. One student recalled a morning she woke up late. She said, “I felt awful that I had missed class…not that I don’t feel bad when I miss other classes, but I felt I had let my classmates down by not showing up that day. I’ve never felt like that in another class.”
Tip #2. Make learning relevant.
I have my students write down a goal they want to achieve and then create a plan of action. For the rest of the semester all of their speeches relate to their personal goal. Several students commented that they had never written down their goals before and they liked how I “made” them do it. One student summed it up by saying. “What I really loved is that we were talking about our goals in our speeches, stuff that actually mattered to us. It made us want to listen to each other when we knew the speaker’s topic was something they really cared about…we didn’t judge their speaking qualities…we wanted to just listen to their message. I liked that we talked about things that mattered to us.”
Tip #3. Let students know you care about them.
In my speech classes I ask my students to stand up on the first day and rate, on a scale of 1-10 (10 being the highest), their fear level of taking a public speaking course. Many students later reflected back to that first day and how they rated themselves as a 10, only because the scale didn’t go any higher. They shared how they were “terrified” to learn that I was going to make them give lots and lots of speeches, and that they would be expected to speak in class every day. Many of them confessed that they wanted to drop the class immediately and one student reminded us all of my words at the end of that first class. She laughed as she parroted my voice, “Don’t even think about dropping this class, because I will come and hunt you down.” She continued, “I remember thinking, wow, you must really care about us!”
Tip #4. Incorporate active involvement for all students, along with high expectations.
“More of them and less of me.” This is a mantra I have adopted in my teaching. Research says that the students learn more if they are actively involved in the learning. Several students commented that they liked how I put them in charge of their own class, and kept encouraging them to reach higher. One student said that he was asked by a friend if this was an easy class. He responded, “Are you kidding, Mrs. Spencer makes us do all of the work. We could totally have class, even if she didn’t show up!”
Tip #5. Make learning fun.
I have a quote at the bottom of all my emails that says “If you love what you do and think that it matters, what could be more fun!” One of my student’s parting words began with this. “I’m not going to lie to you, I loved this class. I didn’t actually think about it as a class … it thought about it more like a recess. Time to have fun!”
So there are my five tips on fostering learning in the classroom: Build a community of learners, make learning relevant, let students know you care about them, incorporate active learning with high expectations, and make learning fun.
By the way, I feel that I have a tremendous advantage over some teachers because of the courses I teach. It’s so easy to make communication relevant to our students… and after all …who doesn’t love a public speaking class!
Karen Spencer is a professor of Speech Communication and Education at Arizona Western College.