In my classes, I like to bring in discourse that falls outside of academics. For example, I like to discuss the effects of smoking with students, particularly the older ones. Some may call this ‘going off-topic’ or ‘digression’. I prefer to see it as filling the gaps not covered by the education system.
The need to provide a firm, guiding hand
About a year back, I read an extremely interesting article about a relief teacher who did an ‘experimental lesson’ with his class, in which he got them to share information about themselves, as well as their own life experiences, so that they could see the similarities and differences that they had with their peers. The result was… interesting, and you should really read the article in its entirety; a condensed version won’t do it justice.
The relevance of this article to what I’m about to discuss is simple: as kids grow and mature, their past experiences lay the foundation for new perspectives. If these experiences are positive (and no, buying a PS4 for your kid does not necessarily count as a positive experience), chances are, they’ll turn out to be better versions of themselves. Likewise, if the experiences are negative, there is a greater tendency for them to develop bad habits.
The latter is not always a path set in stone, as it can be mitigated with the right guidance. However, if this too isn’t present, then where and whom can the kid turn to? Therein lies the road to bad company and self-harm.
Discussing that which adults won’t or can’t
Like it or not, human beings—not just kids—are always evolving, always changing. Kids, especially, are prone to external influences. Their inquisitive nature may change in degrees, but never ceases. There comes a point where they will raise tough questions that, if left unanswered, will leave the kid to his/her own devices to figure out. Such questions can revolve around current affairs, emotions and even the birds and bees.
Many of my students have come to me with such questions; why they’re unanswered, or not explained with a satisfactory-enough answer, is beside the point. The important statement to make here is that developing kids and youths need to have someone answer those questions, or at least spur them to discover the answers.
Putting the ‘life’ back in learning
All of the subjects I teach are deeply entrenched in modern sub-cultures. This allows me to create lessons with equal emphasis on academics, critical thinking and life skills. For example, exposition writing in itself is a great opportunity to get students to think out of the box and reflect on themselves as thinkers (i.e. meta-cognition). As another example, teaching alliterations in conjunction with phonics demonstrates why the f-bomb (yeah, you know, that word) is such a satisfying word to use—which I then springboard off to explain why it is inappropriate to use in a social situation.
At times, there’s just no feasible way to incorporate ‘life lessons’ into a class. In such cases, I may set aside fifteen minutes or so to discuss them. Some may call this digression, but it’s necessary to encourage self-motivated learning, if only to shift the perceived locus of causality, from the external to the internal; we want to aim for a long-term solution. Students who find actual, applicative value to what they learn (or lessons of verisimilitude), in my experience, take more pride in their work.
Naturally, different teachers have different practices. I’m fortunate in that I’ve the flexibility to extend my lessons to discuss life skills with my students. To me, it’s a very important area that lacks coverage in our institutions, but I believe it’s important—maybe even necessary at times—to defer a traditional lesson in favour of life skills.
Have you tried something like that with your own kids or students? Feel free to share your thoughts on this subject matter below, and don’t hesitate to check out S&S’s Twitter and Facebook for future updates. Thanks for reading!