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12 Tips on Handling Hard-to-teach Classes

Posted by on September 30, 2013

classroomYou know the type. One student thinks it’s his job to entertain everyone. Another hates school so wants everyone to join him. Or how about that boy who enthusiastically shouts out questions no matter how often you ‘suggest’ he follow the class’s agreed-upon rules for joining the conversation.

This is a Hard-to-teach Class, one that makes you reconsider your academic career. Your Admin has good suggestions–give them big goals, authentic guidelines, moving deadlines. Make classwork student-directed and self-paced. Your principal promises these will shake up the student perception of class and turn them around. You’re willing, but how do you do it?

Here are twelve ideas:

  1. Teach programming–but the fun way. Try Scratch, Alice, robotics, Minecraft (visit Minecraftedu for ideas). These are novel, like the games students love, and teach the big themes of problems solving, data analysis, how to reason abstractly and quantitatively–practices important to Common Core standards as well as students ability to meet the demands of life.
  2. Flip the classroom. Provide resources to students on the topic (say, Scratch or robotics) via a screencast or a Google Hangout and then do a project using the skill during class time. Students will do the homework so they’re prepared for the fun project being done in class. 
  3. Monitor student involvement and understanding with backchannel devices like Today’s Meet or Socrative–even Twitter. These three are free (there are some fee-based options I won’t mention), easy to set up, and intuitive to use. Keep the feedback displayed throughout the lesson on the Smartscreen so you and students can track learning.
  4. Use domain-specific language as you teach. Don’t shy away from terminology like ‘backchannel’, ’embed’, ‘widget’. Let students feel the rush of understanding terms others don’t, the pride in being part of the Club that can use and make sense of tech terminology.
  5. Use every tech tool you can for every activity possible. Show students how tech is part of your daily activities, ingrained into your teaching. Use a digital online clock to track time. Take pictures with your iPhone. Scan art projects with an iPad app. Have students come up with more ways to use digital tools.
  6. Expect students to be risk takers. Don’t rush in to solve problems. Let them know you respect their cerebral skills and have complete faith they will find a solution. Don’t treat them like children.
  7. If a student doesn’t like one of the projects, let them come up with their own–as long as it satisfies the goals of the exercise. For example, if you suggest they write a story showing character development and they’d rather create a comic, let them convince you they can accomplish your expectations their own way. Be flexible, but focused. 
  8. In fact, any chance you have, differentiate instruction for students. Be flexible, open-minded, and adventurous. One of tech’s biggest pluses is that it differentiates well for learning styles. Use it.
  9. Collaborate with other 8th grade subject teachers on cross-curricular planners that involve technology. Always accept the challenge to take tech into education. After all, aren’t you the one saying how great tech ed is? Prove it.
  10. Consider a BYOD approach in your classes so students can use the devices they have easy access to and are comfortable with (if your school IT folks and infrastructure can support this approach). This way, students can work on projects at their own schedule, without constraints set by a school day. 
  11. Assess knowledge, but remember: Assessment isn’t static—nor is it ‘bad’. Be creative. Remember why you do this: 1) to see if students understand the lesson, 2) to see if what was taught can be transferred to life, 3) to help students prepare for college and/or career.
  12. Gamify your class by teaching with simulations. Use online (free) simulations like Mission US, iCivics, and History Mystery. Let students work in groups with specific goals to accomplish, but let them figure out their own path.

Add your ideas to comments. What do you do with that incorrigible class?


Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-8 technology for 15 years. She is the editor/author of over a hundred tech ed resources including a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum. She is an adjunct professor in tech ed, CSG Master Teacher, webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, CAEP reviewer, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, and a weekly contributor to TeachHUB. You can find her resources at Structured Learning.

updated 5-20-16

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