Friday, September 13, 2013

September 13 Crumble - Purpose Setting - the key to engaging our students

I have a ten-year-old who doesn't like to read.  But every once in a great while I can't get her head out of a book.  It's at those times when I look at her and ask myself, "What is different about this time, and why is she making the choice to read?"  In her case, eighty-percent of the time it is a non-fiction book that has captured her with a picture that made her go, "What's that!"  And at her age she knows that she will find the answer inside. 

So how can we transfer this type of behavior to our classrooms?  One of Project CRISS's Principles and Philosophies is Purpose Setting - but we're not just talking about telling kiddos why they're doing what they're doing.  Purpose setting comes in all sizes and shapes - including the "sneaky-teacher" ways of getting kids interested.  Here are some ideas to get your students motivated to read, learn, and participate.
  • Play a video related to your content (YouTube, United Streaming, DVD clip) that is not too long (6-8 minutes max) - something that is edgy or entertaining, and maybe evokes emotion.  After the video, ask students to write observations and reactions.  Give them a sentence frame if you think it will help.  Expect them to give details about their observations and reactions. Have students discuss and share their thoughts and then have them ask questions about it. You now have the beginnings of purpose (their questions).
  • Use music.  Kids love music.  Many of them write, and if you approach their lessons in a way that breaks down their own music or allows them to understand what goes INTO writing it, those with a musical inclination are more likely to participate.  Is there music that relates to the topic at hand?  I'm not talking a song about the scientific method or the fifty states, but music that somehow connects to the topic at hand.  You make the connections for them initially.  Have them observe and ask questions. 
  • Google Images is, hands down, one of the most fun places to go when you're curious about something.  Why not use it to gather some attention and show images that related to something in the lesson before giving the lesson and see if you can get kids to react to it.  So how does your topic of study connect to students' lives TODAY?  Find some images.  Have students write and discuss their observations and reactions and . . . you guessed it - ask questions!
In the three general ideas listed above, there are some commonalities that I'd like to point out, and then I'll let you take it from there. 
  • Get the kids thinking about the topic before they learn.
  • Engage them in something other than reading or talking (viewing, listening, or playing).
  • Require them to observe, write, and react.
  • From those observations, require them to ask thoughtful questions.  The questions asked can be used to drive your instruction or not - but a good educator can easily find the balance between what the kids want to know and the stuff that we're being told is important. 
It's not tough - in fact, I find that our purpose setting activities can be the most fun part of the lesson because it requires students to express themselves.  This is the beauty of middle school!  They're just learning to express themselves - their viewpoints and opinions, and yet we don't have to reel them in too much.  You can learn so much from just talking to your kiddos, and who knows?  Maybe what you learn from them is a new way to look at the topic! 


  1. Those are some thoughtful, creative ideas and I concur about the use of music - it's powerful especially in middle school.