Each student has preferences for how he likes to learn, what kind of classroom makes him feel the most comfortable, and how his teacher likes to teach. Many times, students are in classrooms that do not match up with their learning preferences. For example, a very creative, free-spirited student may be in an extremely structured algebra classroom with student desks carefully lined up in rows. Or, a student who is structured and likes step-by-step instruction is taking history from a teacher who mostly holds Socratic seminars in class. Students who are mismatched this way often come to me to find out what to do. They say things like, “I don’t know what is going on in there! What am I supposed to be learning?” or “I can’t stay awake in that class. It is so boring!”
Students must be able to learn in settings that are different from what they prefer. It is important for them to learn how to learn in all kinds of classrooms. Here are some suggestions that may help.
- Encourage your daughter to communicate with her teacher when she has concerns. I have met with many students who were sure they could not succeed in a class. I always encourage them to talk to their teacher about it and find out if they have suggestions for ways to study and prepare for class. For example, teachers who use Socratic seminars normally base them on research the students are doing or on reading in their text. To be successful, students must do the research and reading. Doing the homework matters more than it did before!
- It is helpful to form study groups with students who do well in the class. See if your son can help a friend in algebra if his friend will help him in history.
- Talk to your daughter about staying open-minded. Sometimes, it is a fear of the unknown that is the problem rather than a true mismatch in learning/teaching styles. She may not have been in classes where her teacher asks open-ended questions with more than one correct answer. It is uncomfortable for her to express her ideas in class and to be graded on whether she participates. Once she goes through it a few times, she may find that she enjoys it and does learn in that environment, after all.
There are all kinds of teachers and students. Students have to learn to do well in classes they might not like. To do so may require kids to talk to their teachers about their struggle, form some study groups where members of the group can help one another, and hang in there long enough to figure out whether or not their early fears are warranted. School is preparing students for their future. They will find they work with people who think differently than they do. Having these experiences and learning to be successful in a variety of settings will help them to be successful later on the job.