When I was in high school I had an English teacher who used a very simple strategy to interest and motivate students. It didn’t take much time or effort on his part and was just a simple thing, but it was enough to get me to want to attend his class every single day. What did he do? He simply put up a new thought-provoking quote, in large letters, in the same place, on the same side chalkboard every day.
He never referred to the quote. (I suspect that intuitively he knew that doing so might produce counterwill.) He never asked our opinions or started a discussion and most often the quote was not related in the least to the lessons of English Literature that he was teaching. Sometimes it was a lyric from a song of the day, sometimes it was the words of a famous person from history and sometimes it was simply a line or two taken from the newspaper or TV news broadcast of the previous day. He always noted the source beneath the quote. That was 40 years ago and I still remember his effectiveness at “inviting” us to, not only think for ourselves, but also simply show up for his classes and therefore learn the required material he was teaching.
When I became a teacher myself several years later, I began to use his idea and continued to do so throughout my entire teaching career. I developed the habit to always put something on the board each morning. Although when I was teaching intermediate grades, I often used quotes as Mr. Hlady had done, I also posted riddles or cartoons (made large on a xerox machine), pieces of art work, lightweight 3-D objects (like a small bird nest, some fall leaves or several interesting flags) that could be successfully taped down, and also simple messages related to the events of the day or season. Sometimes we would discuss what I had put there and other times, just like Mr. Hlady, I would allow the students to simply absorb whatever they chose from what I provided.
As I moved to lower and lower grades, I had to be more creative in my approach as Kindergarten and Grade One students naturally have limited or no reading skills. Just as I suspect Mr. Hlady found, I discovered that my students were interested to get to their desks or the carpet gathering area each morning so as to find out what was on the board. This naturally meant that many discipline problems were avoided altogether as students became internally motivated to get to their seats. With grade one, when getting down to the real business of learning to read well was essentially the main teaching focus for the entire year, I found that I could extend my students reading ability enormously through this pleasant activity. I taught the procedure of looking to the front board after first being seated each morning. After the first week, children were motivated to independently read whatever was on the board and so it was easy to give (review/introduce) a phonics lesson in a real life situation, whenever an individual child might ask me for some reading help. Students became invested in listening to the quick lesson I was offering because they were genuinely motivated to read whatever was on the board. They all wanted to be in on the fun!
These days, with SMART Boards, youtube and the Internet, it is even easier for teachers to find bits and pieces to spark the interest of their students in the same way that Mr. Hlady did all those years ago. In fact, what prompted me to reflect on Mr. Hlady and write this post today was a desire to share with you an example of just one youtube video that might be offered in a high school math class or art class—either as something connected directly to a lesson, or not. As is so often the way, I stumbled upon this little gem quite by accident when looking for something entirely different.
I hope, as a Discipline without Stress teacher, you might be motivated yourself to start a new teaching habit of promoting student curiosity, thus lessening the likelihood of classroom discipline problems first thing in the morning. (Apparently that’s the typical Japanese model of teaching, as explained here by Dr. Marshall in one of his e-zine articles (Look down for Section #3.)
I think this might grab the attention of most students and make a great start to a class!