What if We Asked Them?

TeenagersNot long ago, I shared a video about “How Youth Learn,” a clever treatise on the teenage brain and the environments in which youth learn best. If you haven’t seen it, have a peek, then come back. I’ll wait.

Cool, right?

So, I also shared this resource with some colleagues in the English Department at Burlington High School where I teach. Eve Berinati, a good friend and colleague who for years has been quietly championing student-centered learning approaches in her classroom, showed the video to her students and invited them to respond by considering what resonated with them and what they would do about what they learned. She shared some of their responses with me and I was so struck by them, I asked her (to ask them) if their wisdom could be shared here. Consent having been received, I’m excited to spread the good word and begin learning from their perspectives.

At times I have excerpted the students’ comments for brevity, but I have not interfered with their meaning or intent, even when strong or critical. Hearing the hard stuff is part of the learning process.

“I totally get how you learn better if you’re interested. It’s why I’ve always done better in my more creative classes as opposed to math and science where I often fail to see the point. I think something that’s helped me this year has been choosing my classes so I do have an interest in what I’m learning.”

“Your Mood Matters. Sleep before school, take care of yourself. In order to eliminate distraction, the learning itself needs to be more appealing to the adolescent mind than any other available alternative.”

“This time of year is (can be) pretty depressing; not enough sunshine, gets dark early, and that has an effect on me and how I’m feeling and if something is wrong and I’m not okay, I can’t concentrate.”

“I like to learn information that is relevant to the world around me. There is no sense spending a whole bunch of time learning something if it isn’t something that will be helpful to me in the future.”

“I can try to talk to my teachers about projects/assignments and see if I can make them grab my interest more. Or suggest a few topics I’d like to learn about.”

“The work should definitely be challenging but not impossible to do. The only real way for this to happen is to go and talk to teachers about the work they assign.”

“I tend to hesitate before asking questions because I’m afraid of saying something that may sound “dumb” or I get nervous how they’ll react.”

“If you never fail you’re never going to learn how to cope with not being perfect.”

“I can sense it when my teacher isn’t in a good mood. I’m like a dog, their emotions affect mine.”

“I realize that if I care about it, I put in more effort. There needs to be that real world connection. If it has to do with me then I can reflect on it. It needs to matter.”

“I need to make time for my own learning, even if it has nothing to do with school. I also want to be more comfortable giving teachers feedback, whether if it is positive or constructive.”

“Sitting down taking notes all day is boring, I need action. A thing I could do to improve my learning environment is talk to a teacher about doing more hands-on active learning. Or by making little hands on projects at home so I can learn the material better.”

“I have to stay interested and not stressed out which is hard for me to do with loads of homework and two jobs and caring so much. So I think what I’m going to do is care less about anything that doesn’t matter and won’t make me feel successful in life.”

“I could talk to some of my teachers about how fast we are moving in class. When I’m rushed, not only am I not really learning, I have a harder time when working on it at home.”

“Not be scared–focus on having the opportunity to learn, not the fact that the teacher is trying to scare me and make me feel inadequate. Remember that that teaching style works for others but not for me, and that there is nothing to be scared of except feeling scared and like a failure…which I can avoid by not being scared.”

“Just like a language, you have to use it and speak it outside the classroom.”

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