I will never forget the excitement that I had when I started student teaching. My assignment was with 11th and 12th grade students, which meant that I would be teaching Shakespeare, Dahl, and Wollstonecraft…JOY!!! (Not to the students, but certainly for me). As an English major in my undergrad, I was so excited to share my knowledge with the students. From my many hours of observations prior to my student teaching, I watched many English teachers sit around in a circle and read to the students while they took notes and afterwards answered random questions about what they just read. So I walked in there – like a boss – thinking I got this – they are totally going to love me.
We were reading Macbeth, and I did as I thought was the “formula” for reading with students. As I began to read, I looked around the room, and a few of my seniors were staring out of the window, but a greater number of them were sleeping, like actually dead to the world; however, I cannot blame them, as I was just as bored teaching it as they were to learn it. I went home wondering what I could do the next day to redeem myself. I started researching various ways to make learning about Shakespeare fun.
I came back into the classroom the next day and apologized to the students. The next thing I did was hand them strips of paper that would place them in groups to analyze different Acts in Macbeth. Some cards said things like: Interview Banquo for a talk show, or perform a rendition of the three witches in Act I for a reality show or various other tasks that had them to associate the play to their genre. The key was to analyze a key literary device that was being used while at the same time to create something that would allow them to understand what they were reading. The spin was that the groups would then have to teach their Act to other students in class after they made a plan as to how they would perform their assignments for their peers. They could accomplish this by using the dialect that Shakespeare used or by using modern language.
My classroom came alive that day, and we were all changed as a result. The students were so creative in their interpretations of Shakespeare, and their level of understanding began to deepen as each group performed for the class. From that day on, we did this for every story that we read. The students went from dreading coming to my English class and Shakespeare to coming in excited to see what we would be doing next! What transpired over the course of that semester was a group of students began to love Shakespeare, and love literacy as a whole, which is an anomaly all in itself, but only possible because I adapted the curriculum!
The Teaching Center provides three ways to adapt curriculum to increase student participation:
- Shaping the Environment: The classroom environment should be conducive for learning. This not only means that the space should be a learning environment, but also that there are well established norms, and classroom management present for learning to take place. When we shifted the curriculum, the use of the classroom environment changed as well, as we were moving around more and becoming more active in the space we had.
- Planning: I often say that if you fail to plan you can plan to fail. Changing up the curriculum required for me to study research-based strategies that would allow my students to want to be in the classroom. I had to make a plan and follow it through. There were times when my ideas were not always good, but I had to spend more time planning on how to make it better. Although it may take time, it is time well spent!
- Listening and Responding: It is great to think about students and how we can facilitate active listening and speaking in order to increase their desire to participate. We can use oral and non-verbal cues, and also give students feedback on how to maintain or improve. We should also allow for the conversations to be student-led. (The Teaching Center, 2017).
As I started my teaching career, I vowed to never get locked into mundaneness, and to always be willing to adapt and change based on the needs of my students. A wonderful tool that I also use to facilitate this is Flocabulary (www.flocabulary.com), which allows me to create culturally responsive strategies when introducing subjects that are aligned to the standards. I hope that you will help your students develop a passion for your content as you adjust your teaching, acquire new skills, and adapt your curriculum.
The Teaching Center. (2017). Increasing Student Participation.
Kelisa Wing is an 8th grade Language Arts Teacher and AVID site team member for Faith Middle School in Fort Benning, Georgia. She is a 2016 ASCD Emerging Leader, the 2017 Department of Defense Education Activity State Teacher of the Year, and a Flocabulary Master Certified Educator. She is also the Continuous School Improvement Chair for her school. She is an Army veteran, a proud graduate of the University of Maryland University College, and the University of Phoenix where she earned her Educational Specialist degree. In her spare time, she enjoys volunteering in the community and spending time with her family. *All thoughts are her own. You can follow her on twitter @kelisa_l2teach.