4 Keys to Engaging the 'Average' Learner
Is “average” a dirty word in our schools?
I believe it is, and I know this because I can only imagine what would happen if I were to sit down with parents and tell them, “face it, your child is an average learner.” Suffice to say the reaction would be not favorable.
I can’t hold this against parents; after all I am one. Our strong love and caring for our children energizes an innate desire to see them thrive as they grow older. Parents’ drive to help their children stay above-average is evident in just about all schools. Think about the travel-sports team for second-graders, SAT-prep classes for eighth-graders and all of the other ways (violin lessons, anyone?) we encourage our children to stay on top of the academic heap.
Unfortunately, despite this sea of high expectations, some students in your classrooms will fall into the “average” range. First, that’s not a bad thing — at least they’re not failing. Still, it is essential to foster a classroom environment that draws the best performance out of your average students.
Here’s how to make that happen, based on my experience:
Your classroom needs a lot of interaction. I have always found that average students respond very strongly when they are encouraged to join in as many activities as possible. Try to minimize lectures; instead, engage children in different ways and let them know you expect them to be active and engaged learners. Also make it a point to connect their final grades on classwork to their personal level of engagement in the activity.
Test for individual skills
I strongly recommend that you spend time at the beginning of the school year surveying your students for both their skill sets in your subject matter (via a comprehensive pretest) and for their personal interests. Students will excel in classes where they feel their teachers are genuinely interested in them as well as the subject matter.
Be sure to follow up with assessments throughout the year that can measure the progress of the children and find ways to modify your approach if it brings improvements.
Most teachers are familiar with “differentiated instruction,” an approach to learning which recognizes that students learn in many different ways and that quality teaching must be tailored to the students’ specific learning styles.
This is especially important for students who exhibit average academic skills, as very often their averageness happens because the teacher’s teaching style doesn’t coordinate well with the student’s needs.
Help students show their mastery
As a teacher, I was a big fan of letting students choose how to exhibit their mastery of the subject matter. As a language arts teacher, this was easy because I could have children write, speak, create or otherwise display their understanding (you haven’t lived until you’ve see two eighth-graders perform their own creation, “The Comma Dance”), but I’m sure that with a little effort and thought, any teacher could offer the kinds of choices that engage the average learner more deeply.
An educator for two decades, Brian P. Gatens is superintendent/principal at Norwood Public School in Norwood, N.J. Gatens has worked at the K-12 level in public and private school settings in urban and suburban districts. He has been a classroom teacher, vice principal, principal and now superintendent/principal.