Is it enough if your students get high grades—or would you rather they really learn?

Do you think of learning primarily as memorizing facts—or do you appreciate its potential in practical application, original thinking, and ongoing growth?

If you want your students to appreciate and appropriate “rich” learning, here are six major elements that belong in your classroom:

Mastering Content

 Just because content is memorized doesn’t mean it’s mastered. You don’t want your students to be like the kindergartner who displayed a gold star for learning the Pledge of Allegiance and commented, “I still don’t know what the words mean, but I can say them.”

Make a habit of inviting the class, with every lesson, to share what the new knowledge means to them personally and how they would apply it in the larger world.

Critical Thinking

 Critical thinking is a step above mastering in that it encourages learners to carefully examine information and decide whether and why they agree or disagree with “official” conclusions. It’s easy to associate this with anarchy, but be brave and invite kids to share their critical opinions. Explain your own beliefs without a “teacher knows best” attitude. Give everyone (including yourself!) opportunity to listen objectively to everyone—and to both reevaluate their opinions and “agree to disagree” in mutual respect.

Effective Written and Oral Communication

 We work out our thoughts by talking, and even more by writing. Besides regularly encouraging open discussion, invite students to send you notes detailing their ideas and concerns. Schedule time to talk with the less skilled communicators one-on-one, so they can have extra practice putting their thoughts into words.


Also known as “teamwork,” it builds interpersonal as well as cognitive skills. Make assignments a group thing whenever you can. Encourage students to recognize and appreciate each others’ abilities. Tolerate no disrespect for or belittling of anyone—emphasize valuing every individual as unique.

Learning How to Learn

 Many students (and teachers!) don’t understand that “learning” goes beyond absorption and memorization. Detailed tips on “learning to learn” would need multiple posts, but key points are:

  • Think for yourself
  • Know your own best learning style (consider your favorite hobbies and how you mastered them)
  • Allow for “thinking/processing” time as well as “studying” time
  • Relate what you’re hearing to what you already know

Consider ways to encourage your students in all the above.

Developing an Academic Mindset

 Though it sounds straight from a ‘grade grind’ stereotype, ‘academic mindset’ really means having sincere desire and will to learn—and confidence in one’s ability to do so.

Whether a student performs “well” or “poorly” as a whole, direct his attention first to the most impressive points (especially any that present original ideas); then ask him how he thinks the other parts might be improved. If he’s slow to come up with anything, suggest he think about it overnight and/or set a goal for learning more. This sends the message, “I know you can do it.”

And sending that message regularly is vital to making any classroom environment rich in learning opportunities.

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