Simple Ways to Encourage Middle School Students to Explore
To increase students’ engagement and learning, English language arts teachers can cultivate joyful classroom moments.
Teachers may sometimes feel like they need to rush through their curriculum to make up for lost learning time during the pandemic because of the pressures of the current reality. But stressful teaching situations can make it hard for teachers to plan fun, exploratory learning experiences for their students.
In short, students learn more when they are happy. For students in the middle grades, the following are a few easy ways that ELA teachers can increase their students’ capacity for learning by incorporating more joy and exploration.
Give students ample time to investigate, experiment, and make errors.
The classroom atmosphere is greatly influenced by teachers’ efforts. Teachers may establish a standard of explicit permission for students to explore and delight in their work from the outset. Protecting students from these feelings of urgency is essential in these time-constrained teaching and learning times when everything seems to be due yesterday. If true, deeper learning is going to take hold. Students require time to think and ponder ideas, formulate questions, and analyze arguments from multiple perspectives.
One way middle-grade ELA teachers can give students a chance to deeply and meaningfully explore various topics, text structures, writing styles, or writing purposes is to give them time for freewriting. Without having to worry about being graded, students ought to be able to write about whatever they want. This can also help teachers set authentic, differentiated writing goals for their students and provide insight into the nuances of their students’ various learning needs.
Students also gain stamina when they spend time freewriting, which is especially important given how few had real-world writing experiences during the pandemic. Taking a work of their choosing all the way through the writing process, from prewriting to publishing, can be powerful. Without these opportunities or if their writing purpose is always an academic extended response question, students will not see themselves as genuine writers.
Students have a right to time to grow as writers, and they also have a right to time to learn about a wide range of books as readers. One way ELA teachers can help their students cultivate a lifelong love of learning is to give them time to read happily. Our access to devices increased as a result of the pandemic, and we can use these same devices to access a wider variety of engaging reading materials for all learners. To encourage student exploration, teachers can create bingo boards containing various reading genres or types for a non-technical approach.
We will notice a change in the atmosphere in our classrooms if we place an emphasis on student choice, interest, and curiosity and avoid restricting what students are permitted to read based on perceived reading levels. Student learning can be transformed if we transform our classrooms from pressure cookers into places of joy and reading exploration.
Celebrate the right way of thinking.
It’s possible that grammar was once taught as a set of right or wrong rules on its own in traditional ELA classrooms. Teachers of English as a Second Language (ELA) who wish to foster a sense of joyous exploration in their classrooms can instead encourage students to speak a variety of English grammars and allow all students to investigate the creative ways in which real authors play with diction, structure, and syntax.
Students will be encouraged to build community, develop meaningful relationships, establish cross-curricular connections, and learn how to read, write, and think without even realizing that they are working in joyful, exploratory ELA classrooms. Exploratory learning’s joy will ultimately result in happier, more engaged middle-grade students and happier, more engaged ELA teachers.