Getting to know your Audience?

I want to take a moment to talk about our “audience” as teachers (or facilitators). I feel like we often jump right into discussions about the curriculum or getting people motivated and engaged, but rarely do we stop and ask “who” we are asking these questions of.

The easy answer is the students. Yeah, yeah, we know that- but what do we need to know about the students to help us with our lessons? How can we build lessons around people we don’t know? How can I get people motivated if I don’t know what they find motivating? How can I possibly do this for each and every class I teach?

First things first- the lesson plan. This is likely put together ahead of time, and incorporates the desired outcomes provided to us by the board of education, the government or our employers. Sure, we can jiggle it around and add our own flair to it, but the point is, it likely doesn’t change a whole lot from class to class. My question to you is: Do you know going in to the class that the students are all at “the same level”? What if you are not sure? My advice to you- have a plan! Have a support system worked out (in your head) ahead of time. This might include pairing a struggling student up with a student who is doing well. Or maybe it includes extra reading on the side. Are there other classes that could be taken instead of this course that might be more suited to the student’s knowledge level?  The important thing to gauge here is how your students are receiving the lessons. Are they keeping up? When you complete a post assessment, are you satisfied with the results?  Knowing the knowledge level of our students ahead of time can be very helpful, but is not always available, so be ready for anything.

Next- how can I motivate people? In the Student Engagement Techniques Textbook, it states “students motivations are influenced by what they think is important and by what they believe they can accomplish”. (Barkley, 2010)  When I read this I think- I need to spend a little time getting to know people! In my environment, that is not difficult. I teach in a work environment and there are usually only 3-4 students in a “classroom setting” at a time. I spend time asking students about themselves, how they found themselves in my class and what they are hoping to gain from being there. I spend time talking about the mission and values of our company and asking questions about how students could possibly relate to them. I can tell you- this helps. Yes, it takes time and we don’t always have a whole lot of it on our hands, but when you can help the students to see right off the bat why this course/lesson is important to them they want to be there. And that makes a huge difference for the rest of the time you will spend together. They want to learn. If they fall off the track a little and struggle, bring it back to basics- Why are we all here?

And finally- how can I possibly do this for each and every class? As far as lesson planning goes, I go into each class with a plan. Once I get a chance to assess my students, get to know them a little and gauge the level of knowledge they came in with- I am ready to evaluate whether or not my lessons plans are “set up” the way I need them to be for that particular group of students. Every class is different, and as teachers we need to be ready to modify our plans to meet our students’ needs. We need to take the time to get to know our students and help them become successful- because ultimately, it’s all up to them.

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