Teaching health is a fantastic opportunity to encourage our students to consider their health and that of others. With increased pressure on academic scheduling it’s important that health educators get the most out of their time in the classroom and these 5 steps should have your students running to your class, eager to learn.
- Set the Tone (Bell ringers & Provocations). You’ve greeted your students at the door, perhaps even by name, but once they sit down it’s important to turn up the energy level. Effective teachers might use social bell ringers, trivia questions, and even classroom contests, but my preference is the use of provocations, activities to challenge the thinking of my students. This use of cognitive dissonance encourages students to think about their views and beliefs and challenges them sufficiently enough to motivate them to want to learn more.
2. Keep It Social (Student-Centered Environment). Health doesn’t happen in isolation, and as health educators continue their drive away from content-led curricula towards skills-based curricula it’s now more important than ever that we encourage our students to work with each other. If the thought of allowing your students to lead their own learning is daunting, consider introducing more of the activities identified in the image below (taken from a presentation that I give regularly on engaging students in the class room). These all provide engaging opportunities for our students to practice their health skills repeatedly in a safe environment, where it’s ok to take risks and make mistakes on the journey towards health literacy.
3. Keep It Relevant (Make the Content Speak to Your Students). Many times our text books don’t speak to our students, and even our own health stories don’t always resonate with teenagers. When looking for a ‘hook’ to get students engaged in health class I have found that using Youth Risk Behavior Survey data is one of the most effective ways to engage inquisitive learners.
My classes discuss sensitive topics such as relationship safety, bullying, stress and anxiety, depression and suicide, substance use and sexual activity. The ability to provide students with accurate data reflecting the behavior of their peers allows me to focus both their attention and my teaching.
Sharing peer data allows me to challenge students perceptions of their behavior and that of their peers, it allows me to shape my curriculum to the specific needs of my students, and identifies those health areas of concern that students can then choose to advocate for.
This last point also allows me to tap into the passions of my students – while I’m still teaching the skill of advocacy, I allow the students to show their evidence of learning and understanding by applying those skills to the health concern about which they care most deeply.
4. Go Beyond the Classroom (Peers, Home, Community Advocates). As educators we must no longer be happy with our students providing us with evidence of learning within the four walls of our classroom. It is important that our students feel confident in taking the health message back to their peers and those at home and encouraging others to improve their health-enhancing behaviors and reducing risk. Health isn’t just a one semester class that we learn in school it’s a life skill and a journey. In fact, I often quote a student whom I taught many years ago when he said the following:
In health, it’s not just about getting an A in the class, it’s about getting an A in life – Ryan Jones
It is important that our students are able to provide help for others in terms of health and that includes looking at their communities, considering who might be less advantaged and look to advocate alongside them for better health provision. This fact also allows us to have powerful social justice conversations in the classroom and that can never be a bad thing.
5. Remember Sharing is Caring (Harness the Power of Social Media). One benefit of technology that I love, is the ability to give our students a greater audience. When our students create great work for us, it’s only fair that multiple eyes get to see it. We should share these examples with other students, other teachers, and even, with permission, share it on social media.
Imagine the sense of pride that a student feels when they start to see a tweet of their work, or a great quote of theirs bounce around in cyber space with a life of it’s own. There’s a wonderful quote from Rushton Hurley that I have saved as my desktop image on my laptop:
I’ve had students turn in a great piece of work, an A grade for sure, and I’ll say, this is amazing. I want to tweet this out to my people on Twitter at which point they’ll say “Wait, if that’s the case, give it back to me so that I can make it even better”. How often do you hear of students doing that? Give me my A grade work so that I can make it even better than the best grade possible anyway??
Once you start collating all of this great evidence of student work, it starts to motivate other students and raise standards. If I take the best piece of work that I’ve seen from my semester 1 students, and share that with semester 2…well if that’s all they have to go on, that becomes the baseline, as each student in semester 2 aims to better the best I’ve seen from the previous semester. Well, now we’ve got peers teaching peers, and which point I get to step back, be the guide on the side, and just facilitate the learning. Student created images, quotes, posters, iMovies, podcasts, and PSA’s can all be shared to a global audience and not only highlight the great work that is going on your classroom but also stands as evidence of effective teaching and proof of how enhancing the learning experience for our students can increase energy and engagement.
Obviously this list of 5 is short, and I could write at length of other strategies that work for me in the health classroom, that increase motivation and energy and make my room one in which students enjoy learning, but I’d love to hear from you. What is your go-to tip for energizing your health class?
This post originally appeared in the ETR etc blog which is just one of the awesome resources produced by ETR. I urge you to sign up for their newsletter which contains a wealth of analysis and opinion from leading health professionals that can make your work more informed and effective. Learn about health education research, discover cool tools, find links to videos, get tips on delivering effective sessions, and much more.
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