F-A-S-T: The Essential Acronym Mantra for Successful, Joyful Teaching
Curiosity is, in my mind, the finest human quality. While many may argue that love is incomparable, here’s why I think curiosity wins. Curiosity has no prejudice, it is the opposite of judgment, and there’s no hassle with jealousy. The desire to know and understand the world as a puzzle that’s being solved is what makes an excellent, self-induced teacher. This insatiable curiosity and deep-rooted desire to understand the world are without a doubt, what makes teaching such a noble profession.
Kids are always exploring, turning rocks over, plucking petals to make perfumes, building forts, organizing their toys to tell a story. When their innocent curiosity is not hampered or dampened, their learning is hands-on, active and often much more memorable than that which is based simply on second-hand information that we as adults ‘give’ to them. Learning is a journey of personal discovery and it is important to keep their joy of learning up by stimulating their curiosity to learn.
But in the age of instant access to information, and an excess of information where there is far too much to learn and much too little time, how do you encourage learning more efficiently and effectively? How can you help expand their curiosity so that they accomplish better and faster?
Children are by nature the fastest learners around. If classrooms were all made conducive enough for them, you could easily keep them curious and keep them achieving. Essentially, keep their spirits and curiosity up, and you’ll keep them learning.
Here’s an acronym mantra that will help teachers to do a great job of piquing curiosity and encourage deeper learning : F-A-S-T
F is for Focus
Forget about yourself, and focus on your students and your lessons. Make your lessons student-centered. Focusing on the job at hand improves creativity and the quality of work. Taking it one thing at a time reduces stress and keeps you happier.
You might want to abandon the myth of multitasking. Our brains were not designed to multi-task. Practice shift-tasking instead: a cognitive function of unconsciously shifting attention from one task to another. Write lists, make goals and focus on ticking things off your checklist.
Create sacred spaces for work, place the things that distract you on airplane mode, and sit with your class to get all the important work done.
Focus also refers to personal relationships with each and every one of your charges. It may seem impossible with 30 kids in a class, but with efficient and effective planning, it is possible to make each child feel like an important individual. Even a couple of minutes of direct attention will make for a meaningful connection.
Remember that children all aim to please, and when positive focus is placed upon them, they naturally rise to every challenge and thrive on every interaction.
A is for Action
Here’s what actions do: they create habits. They help you identify and therefore eliminate things that do not work, and they substantiate your sense of accomplishment. They give you something to think and talk about instead of getting stuck in cycles of over-learning and under-doing.
There is no substitute for active hands-on practice that makes the subject relevant to your students either. Are your lessons one-sided, do you just do all the teaching at the front of the class, or do you manage to incorporate discussions and activity-based learning to engage your students?
We are momentum-based beings. Incorporating paired or group activity even for as little as 2-minutes, into your lessons to break up the monotony of a ‘top-down’ learning approach makes for a far more memorable learning experience. And when the dopamine of accomplishment kicks in, focus and attention are sustained.
Action for yourself as a teacher is based on doing all those important things to unwind and bring back your focus if your mind is getting cluttered. Take a walk. Go on holiday. Breathe. Give students sufficient breaks as well. And no matter what, do not take away their play. Re-read the previous four sentences and mark out the de-stress to-dos. They’re all verbs that you and your students need to incorporate in to your lifestyle.
S is for State
A person’s state of mind has a lot to do with how receptive they are to new information. The flashbulb memory phenomenon is based on the following equation:
Information + Emotion = Long Term Memory
While it may not always be possible to trigger a ‘flashbulb memory’ moment for each of your teaching experiences, what is important to note here is that the emotional state of a learner is an important influencer in the learning experience.
Emotions are the thermostat of the brain. Are your students happy learning or are they worried about their home environment or other events currently beyond their control? Can they learn to ‘compartmentalise’ distractions and focus on the task at hand?
Do they enjoy doing their homework and turning in assignments? How do they react while checking their grades? These are perhaps signals of how much and how well they are learning in class. If you manage to get them interested and vested in the outcome, you will get them learning. It’s a package deal.
The rise in purposeful meditation in the education world is not without reason. Even a couple of minutes of quiet mindful practise makes a significant difference to one’s state of mind and learning capacity. Needless to say, that meditation practise as a teacher is even more important, both for your own well-being and for your ability to influence and effect your charges. Helping your students learn to tap in to this powerful, calm and receptive state of mind is a life-long skill that they will be able to call upon whenever they need.
T is for Teach
You need to be prepared to teach. And for that, you first need to learn for yourself first. The protege effect refers to learning well so that you can teach somebody. Expecting to teach often increases the motivation to learn. You also get smarter and better at a subject simply by showing your students the ropes.
Go to brown-bag meetings and seminars, catch up with the news, go get sample rubrics from the internet. Find out how other teachers approach similar subjects and topics. Remember, there are as many ways to teach as there are students to learn. Effective teaching is really about reaching the student and bringing the topic alive and making it so interesting that deep learning happens innately and naturally.
Education is a multidimensional affair and educators are the most important factor that influence student success. There’s more to teaching than simply raising test scores. Providing emotionally supportive environments to children, managing classroom organization, delivering accurate content, and encouraging critical thinking are all important functions. Have fun doing your job, be honest with yourself and your charges, make sure you give the best of you and in return you’ll see your students do exactly the same.
Curiosity, is without a doubt, the mother of all deep learning – that innate desire to ‘want to know’ and ‘have to know’. While we can try all we want to cajole, entice and bribe students to learn – hard facts, mathematical concepts, theorems and proofs, being able to light the spark of curiosity so that they truly want to find things out for themselves should be the core motive of every teacher.
Yet of course, it is impossible to both light that spark for each and every student and for every single topic and subject that has to be taught. So in its place, helping each student recognise their strengths, play to their innate abilities, encourage them where they find things a little more challenging and remind them each and every day of their own value and worthiness, is just what a teacher needs to do.
Do all this with a little simple mantra – ‘FAST’: Focus, Action, State, and Teach.
Edited by Li-ling Ooi