By Alex Scott, author of Labyrinth Learning’s Microsoft® Excel 2019 & 365 Comprehensive
Engaging students is one of the biggest challenges that educators face. In an age of instant gratification, getting students to spend the time necessary to master a skill is an art form. If you’re teaching a topic that students aren’t particularly interested in, then you have an even bigger mountain to climb!
Highly diverse classrooms present an even greater challenge. In my classroom, I often have 30 students that have widely different backgrounds in terms of age, experience, and culture. Students can range from young adults fresh out of high school to 50-somethings who are looking for a career change. There are students who have a great deal of experience using computers and those who have never touched a computer before. There are also students from diverse cultures, many of whom are still learning English as a second language.
So, the question is, how do we create a positive and motivating learning environment? Here are three ideas.
First: Be passionate about what you are teaching.
You can’t expect someone else to be interested in a topic that you aren’t excited about teaching. When I first started teaching, the subjects I taught were primarily Microsoft Excel, Accounting, and Keyboarding. From the beginning, I decided that I was going to be enthusiastic about whatever subject I was teaching; and no matter how “boring” the students thought it was, I would find ways to get them excited. I have expanded my teaching ability and moved through teaching many different courses, but I always maintain that whatever I am teaching must be the most interesting thing I could be talking about!
Over the years it has almost become a game. Some of my students wonder if I’m a bit crazy when I say that I love Excel, or if they see my computer desktop is a picture of a mug that says “I ❤️ Spreadsheets.” But if you tell yourself something over and over it becomes reality, and enthusiasm is infectious; I really do love what I do every day.
Second: Listen, then customize.
Listen to the students, and they will tell you what they need. Then you can customize aspects of the course to better serve them. For example, engaging computer-savvy students often means giving them more challenging work. Engaging beginning students often means keeping them from being overwhelmed with an unending amount of new information.
Third: Make it personal.
Have conversations with students about their lives and their interests outside school and then find ways to bring those things into the classroom and lessons. For example, when I create spreadsheets that use the features they are learning in class, I will choose topics that are fun and interesting to them.
In my Excel class, I have created poker and simple “guess the number” games, evaluated basketball stats from favorite local teams, and helped them create personal budgets. Sometimes all the students want to do is make it to Friday, so I even created a fun “Friday Calculator” using Excel.
Ultimately, we can look at students as customers, and working with customers is all about connecting and building relationships. To connect we need to be positive and passionate, listen to what the students are saying, and find new and interesting ways to integrate learning and make it fun. Showing genuine interest in the students, and enthusiasm for the subject, can go a long way in overcoming the challenges we all face in the classroom.