Teaching Methods for Inspiring the Students of the Future | Joe Ruhl | TEDxLafayette


Translator: Tanya Cushman
Reviewer: Queenie Lee
I have one of the best jobs in the world
because I get to work
with people who are fun, funny,
energetic, creative and insightful.
And they happen to be 14
to 18 years of age.
I really do think
kids keep a person young,
and I think that’s probably why,
when I’m in the presence of adults,
I sometimes don’t know how to act,
so you’ll forgive me.
So, inspiring the students of the future.
What really works?
37 years of teaching experience
have taught me that two things are needed:
research-based teaching techniques
and relationship.
Relationship is huge,
but we’ll talk more about that later.
What I’d like to look at first
are the techniques.
I think probably most of us remember
the teacher-centered classroom;
this is probably what we
are familiar with from our youth.
You remember the teacher
was up front in the center,
the students were in nice neat rows,
not allowed to talk to each other,
and the teacher, the source of authority,
downloaded information to the kids,
who regurgitated it back up on a test
designed to measure
how much content they could remember.
Now, I have to admit, I love lecturing,
but my students don’t always love it;
it does not always inspire.
So I was thinking, what really inspires?
Years ago, I was doing
lunch duty at school,
standing in the lunchroom, being visible,
watching kids go through
the cafeteria line,
and as I watched the kids
going through the line,
it occurred to me
they love having choices.
And so I said to myself, “Self,
maybe that would work in the classroom.
Let the kids have choices.”
And so that’s what I did.
I converted my classroom
to a situation where student choice
was a big part of the room
along with four other Cs:
Collaboration, communication,
critical thinking and creativity.
Actually, over ten years ago,
the National Education Association
identified those last
four Cs on the list
as essential 21st century skills
that kids should learn,
and I agree wholeheartedly.
I’ve added choice to the top of the list
not as a skill for kids to learn,
but rather as a characteristic
of the classroom.
By choice, I mean a situation
where many learning activities
are available to students,
designed to meet the many
diverse learning styles that they have.
And the kids love it as much
as they love choices in the cafeteria.
Now,
I think we’re made for learning this way.
Imagine our early hominid ancestors
out looking for food.
Don’t you know that finding
and tracking that woolly mammoth
required critical thinking
and problem-solving?
It definitely required
collaboration, teamwork.
I mean, you wouldn’t want
to do this by yourself.
No way.
And collaboration required communication.
And then I imagine those people
sitting around the campfire at night,
reliving the adventures of the day’s hunt.
They must have had smiles on their faces
when they were retelling
the story of the hunt.
And I know they smiled
when they put those cave
paintings up on the wall
because creativity is a uniquely human,
pleasurable, satisfying activity.
So I believe our brains
are wired for the five Cs.
And since they’re wired for the five Cs,
that authentic learning will happen
when kids are allowed
to engage in the five Cs.
And not just learning,
but I think kids will enjoy
a classroom setup like this
and even be inspired in this way.
Now, this requires –
A classroom setup based
on the five Cs requires a shift
from a teacher-centered classroom
to a student-centered classroom.
And this requires the teacher to remove
him or herself from front and center,
becoming more of a guide on the side
rather than a sage on the stage.
But this opens up opportunities
to not merely teach,
but to coach,
to mentor,
to nurture and inspire,
and that’s why I love it so much.
Now, time out.
It’s important for me to mention
these are not my original ideas;
I stand on the shoulders of giants.
Remember Plutarch?
He said it a long time ago:
“The mind is not a vessel
that needs filling,
but wood that needs igniting.”
And more recently, Albert Einstein:
“Education is not the learning of facts,
but the training of the mind to think.”
All right. You’re going
to have to bear with me.
I’m going to get real
goose-bumpy for a minute.
One of the absolute,
most exciting moments of my life,
my professional life
was meeting Albert Einstein
just a few years ago.
(Laughter)
Changed my life,
bumping into him in that wax museum.
(Laughter)
What a moment it was.
So I stand on the shoulders of giants,
giants like Montessori and Piaget,
and Dr. Sam Postlewait,
who was doing a lot of these things
in his biology classes
at Purdue University,
back in the 1960s.
I’m a product of the Purdue
Biology Department;
that’s where I fell in love with biology.
I stand on the shoulders of giants,
like Tom Watts and Steve Randak,
who were doing this back in the 1970s
in their high school biology classes.
I stand on the shoulders of many giants
called elementary school teachers
and special ed teachers.
So, I’m a product of all of those mentors.
So, collaboration, communication,
critical thinking, creativity
and student choice,
what’s it look like?
If I could just share with you briefly
the experiences that I’ve tried with this:
I’ve taken my ninth-grade biology classes
and divided the school year
up into two- to three-week units.
At the beginning of each unit,
the students are given a menu
of all the smorgasbord activities
that are available on the menu.
Now, this has been challenging
because I’ve had to write
all of these activities
so that no matter what combination
of activities a student chooses to do,
based on their learning styles,
and no matter what order
they choose to do them in,
they’ll still achieve
the required objectives for the unit.
It’s been fun; it’s been a challenge.
But the kids love it.
They love having the choice,
and there are many times when they
forget that I’m even in the room,
and that’s okay.
One of the things that is not required –
There are two activities normally
in every unit that are not required:
One is the test at the end of the unit,
and the other one
is the computer tutorial.
I’ve taken several summers
and written these self-paced,
interactive computer tutorials
that the kids work through.
They’re designed to take the place
of the stuff I used to lecture on.
Kids have told me in private,
“Mr. Ruhl, we like the tutorials
better than your lectures.”
And that’s okay,
that’s perfectly okay,
because it’s all about them.
And so if you came to visit
my class on a typical day,
you would see some kids
working through the computer tutorials.
You would very likely see some kids
working on some website activities online.
It’s possible you would see some kids
in a corner of the room with headphones on
watching a video related to the unit,
writing out answers to questions
that accompany the video.
I’m sure you would see students
doing laboratory activities.
You would probably notice some kids
tending to their ongoing
science fair projects,
and I know for sure,
you would probably find
a group of kids off in another corner
around an educational game
designed to teach them
about some biological concept
related to the unit.
And you would likely see some kids
doing some hands-on, minds-on simulations,
learning about some other
biological phenomena.
I know you would see
some kids off in a corner
filling out what are called
“reflection sheets,”
that are designed to get them
to think about their learning,
self-evaluate their efforts,
take past knowledge
and connect it to new knowledge.
And there’s one other activity on the menu
that a lot of kids really enjoy.
It’s called “Arts and Entertainment.”
It’s on the menu in every unit,
and this is where the students take
any concept they’ve learned in the unit
and at home, develop some kind
of a project presentation
and then present it
to the rest of the class
on the last day of the unit.
Arts and Entertainment
has to be nontraditional;
it’s only limited by their imagination.
So they can come in and perform a song,
a skit,
present a movie,
present a model that they’ve built,
poetry,
any nontraditional way
of demonstrating their knowledge
of something they’ve learned in the unit.
For example, these two young ladies
in our biochemistry unit
took it upon themselves to build
a model of a chlorophyll molecule
using gumdrops to represent the atoms.
These two young ladies – they’re sisters –
they happened to decide
to demonstrate in a very creative way
the fact that they each inherited
half of their genes from mom
and half of their genes from dad.
(Laughter)
Got to love them.
This method of teaching,
for me, I have found –
37 years experience –
is not only effective, but it’s fun
because it allows me to sit down
with small groups of students
while I’m team-teaching
with that fleet of ten computers;
it gives me the opportunity to sit down
with a group of two,
three or four or five kids
and respond to questions
that they initiate.
It allows me the opportunity
to listen to their thinking,
and, teachers, when you do this,
if you do this,
the whole situation creates
somewhat of a teacher paradox.
Because by removing yourself
from front and center,
you seem to become less important,
but paradoxically,
in reality you become more important
because when working
as a guide on the side,
you’re freed up to use
the most powerful teaching techniques
I have ever run across in 37 years.
They’re as old as the hills;
it doesn’t matter
what techniques are used,
these two always work.
I’m talking about two loves.
First, the teacher’s love for the subject
and passion for the subject.
And secondly, the teacher’s
genuine love for the kids.
First, let’s talk about the passion.
You know what I remember
about third grade?
I remember Jenny on the bus.
I’m not kidding.
Third grade.
No, the thing I remember most
about the classroom in third grade
is I remember our teacher
every day after lunch
would read to us for 10 to 15 minutes;
she would read to us “Tom Sawyer.”
What an adventure!
We had black-and-white TV,
we had cartoons on TV,
but this was different.
It was obvious to us
that Miss Hershey loved reading,
and she was passionate
about reading to us.
Tom Sawyer! What an adventure!
At the end of the 10-minute
reading period,
I couldn’t wait until the next day
to find out what would happen
to Tom and his friends.
I don’t know if Miss Hershey
realized it or not,
I should have written her a letter
a long time ago.
She inspired me to be a reader.
But you see, she wasn’t saddled
with state-mandated standards
and state-mandated,
high-stakes standardized testing,
and so she was free to teach and inspire.
I’ll never forget her.
She means the world to me.
I should have written her a long time ago.
Then for that other love.
Teacher’s love for the kids.
If there are any teachers
in the audience, don’t get nervous.
I’m not talking about warm,
fuzzy, emotional love.
I’m talking about genuine, decisional,
put-the-other-person-first kind of love.
It motivates;
it inspires in a powerful way.
I’m talking about the kind of love that –
C.S. Lewis wrote about it
in his book “The Four Loves.”
He described it as “agape love,”
the highest level of love known,
a self-sacrificial kind of love,
a love that’s passionately committed
to the well-being of the other.
This kind of love is not always emotional,
but it is always decisional.
So, teachers, great news.
This means you can love your kids
even when they’re not likable.
Does that ever happen?
Because this kind of love
is not emotional,
it’s decisional,
and it motivates and inspires
in a powerful way,
and it’s as old as the hills.
So, teachers …
an airtight lesson plan is important.
A well-organized, consistent
discipline plan is important.
Effective use of technology is important.
The standards are important,
but, please, don’t let them
stifle your creativity.
All these things are important,
but what the kids
are going to remember most of all
is you.
Don’t forget that sixth C:
Caring.
That is the most effective, most powerful,
most inspiring way of teaching:
getting their attention,
motivating them, inspiring them.
What they’re going to remember most
is that you looked them in the eye
and asked them about
their extra-curricular activities
and their part-time jobs.
What they’re going to remember most
is that you just asked them in the hall
how they were doing.
What they’re going to remember most
is you worked really hard
in the first couple weeks of school
to learn their names
in the first couple days.
What they’re going to remember most
is that you went to their athletic events
and their concerts.
What they’re going to remember most
is that you led the class
in loud, off-key choruses
of “Happy Birthday.”
What they’re going to remember most
is that when they made the newspaper,
you put their newspaper clippings up
on the wall in the classroom,
and you told them to autograph them,
and you told them to do that
so that some day when their autographs
were worth lots of money,
it would fund your retirement.
(Laughter)
What they’re going to remember
is that you were transparent,
and that you were real,
and that you had the ability
to laugh at yourself
and laugh with them.
So, what’s really important?
How do we motivate?
How do we inspire?
Allow kids to involve themselves
in the classroom
in student-choice collaboration,
communication,
critical thinking and creativity.
But don’t forget that sixth C.
It’s probably the most important one
because the greatest of these is love.
Thank you.
(Applause)

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