According to a survey of 508 K-12 teachers in Minnesota conducted during the summer of 2016, teaching is more enjoyable when student learning happens in ways that are memorable. Approximately 72% of the teachers surveyed reported that teaching in ways that make learning unique, such as through the use of classroom trunks, field trips, and inviting guests into the classroom, increased teacher satisfaction. These same teachers also indicated a perceived relationship between memorable learning and increased student performance on assessments related to material that was taught in memorable ways. While the data does not prove or disprove that this general notion of learning may or may not increase student achievement in any academic sector, it does provide us with a unique opportunity to discuss the results.
Memorable teaching and learning may be done through a variety of ways and in diverse contexts. Teachers, when designing their courses, planning their lessons, or constructing learning experiences, may consider new, innovative, and/or creative ways to produce an environment that will yield best learning results. Holistic and interdisciplinary learning are good pedagogical approaches that teachers may wish to pursue as a way to enhance their teaching practice and provide better learning experiences. While student learning is not the sole responsibility of the teacher only, it is her/his responsibility to form an environment conducive to learning itself. It is clear that this is a goal of teachers who participate in professional development sessions, citing the desire to better inform their teaching practice with the aim of increasing student academic achievement. To better illustrate this desire: out of the 1001 teachers I have worked with through in-person professional development over the past year and a half, 87% say they want to improve their craft so students are provided with better opportunities to do well.
The challenge, though, for 68% of the teachers in the survey referenced above is finding the support to continually build memorable learning experiences. This lack of support includes financial resources, professional development opportunities, and other forms of continuing education. About 56% of these same teachers relate this perceived lack of support to decreased education funding along with policymakers “playing politics” with the “future of America.” On the one hand, it is easy for private citizens to understand and accept this perception. These teachers may be correct; that funding is more political now, which is reflective of the current tide of anti-intellectualism spreading throughout the country. Of further note is that 61% of the teachers responding to this survey are located throughout the Minneapolis-Saint Paul metro area, where politics and society are more progressive and support for education is higher than many other places across the United States.
In an interesting twist, about 23% express concern that their subjects are not as well respected as others and that this is the reason for the general lack of support. Among those subjects are various humanities (literature, music, art, languages, writing), some social science, and environmental education. This may likely be the case because of our emphasis on standardized testing along with the needs of the job market in the United States, which tends to favor subjects in mathematics and reading comprehension. Regardless, there is great value in learning about history, the fine arts, civics, human behavior, and the environment. It is these fields, after all, that perpetuate culture. Based on the survey results, it also is these fields that seem to have the most teachers actively involved in making learning more memorable.
Some teachers, administrators, and even parents may ask, how would one make learning more memorable and, therefore, more valuable? With such a diversity of content to be covered over the course of an academic year, where would one start? While there are many ways teachers and parents may be more involved in making the learning process more memorable inside and outside the classroom, it can be difficult to determine what will work for specific teachers and students. As we all possess different talents and abilities, this will be a discovery process for each of us. In a subsequent post, we will explore ways in which teachers can make learning more memorable by infusing environmental education within their curriculum.