Take a moment to think of your earliest memory, the first thing that happened in your life that you can remember. I do not know you, but I already know something significant about that memory. It was emotionally charged in some way. It was a memory filled with bliss or deep sorrow. It may be terrifying or you may have been furious. I know this because I know about the brain and memory. Our brain stores information that it finds to be significant, and strong emotions are one way to signal significance. So what does this mean for educators?
One way to help ensure that children actually remember the content is to move past simply covering standards and think about creating experiences for children grounded in them. Too often we are asking ourselves why students don’t know something. We know we covered it. We can see it on our lesson plans; it’s been checked off of the chart. But they still don’t get it. The problem may be they didn’t experience much.
Reading a passage, hearing something being read, being lectured to or filling in a worksheet are typically not very emotionally charged.
In designing a lesson, yes, it is absolutely important to have the standards in mind, but it is just as important to think about the lesson from the perspective of the child. Will she be excited and engaged, or will it be just like everything else that happens? Does the lesson take into account something specific about the children in the room, such as their interests, something that has directly affected their lives or an issue that they have been talking about? Is the lesson the same one you’ve always done, regardless of the students, year after year, or maybe it came right from the curriculum book with no modifications? It is easy to see how the answers to the questions above lead to quite different experiences for the students.
The next time you’re working on your lesson plan, go beyond including the standards and be honest with yourself about what the students are going to experience. If that experience will not likely lead to a memory that is kept long-term, try something else instead. Besides, the more engaged your students are the more fun you’ll have as a teacher too!