The winters in Missouri are miserable to me given that I am from Florida. Given my hatred of winter and my mostly sedentary lifestyle due to the pandemic, I caved in and decided to buy a spin bike and do a Peloton hack. I have exercised in my basement on my bike for over two weeks with the Peloton app. Spin classes are some of the first consistent new classes I’ve done in some time. For those of you not familiar, the Peloton app allows you to choose spin classes by various criteria such as instructor, class length, music type, etc. Over the last two weeks I noticed that I definitely have preferences, and I choose my classes according to those preferences.
Initially, I focused on the class length and looked for beginner classes. After I got the swing of things, I started branching out. I still considered class length, but I also started to think about the music I preferred (mostly 90s indie or other rock). At first, I thought it was weird that people had favorite instructors. It felt like there was a weird cult of Peloton instructor groupies. However, after time I too started to sort the classes by instructors. It turns out, I have some distinct instructional preferences.
I noted that I didn’t like a lot of the inspirational talks and motivation. I did like when the instructor gave brief reminders to check my form and when they clearly told me what cadence and resistance to use and then took a step back to allow me to hear and enjoy the music. Sometimes when things get really tough a short, “you can do this,” helps. I found myself trying different instructors and reading message boards to see which ones I might enjoy. Today, I tried to do a Guns N’ Roses themed ride and turned it off pretty quickly because the instructor talked a lot and gave a lot of shout outs; I was there for GnR, not for the commentary.
Okay, so what does all of this have to do with teaching? I got to thinking, students most certainly have similar such preferences about how they learn. We know this from being around kids. Some want to have some time to think, some like to think with others, some like the teacher to reassure them, etc. Students generally don’t have the freedom to sort teachers by those preferences. We as teachers cannot be all things to all students, and we should not strive to be. You can try to be someone else, but it won’t last long since we tend to go back to our comfortable place, particularly when we are placed in difficult situations (like the pandemic).
So what do we do? We can ask students about their preferences. We can survey them to see how they think they learn best, what sorts of things do teachers do that help them, that hinder them, etc.? If we know a student likes some think time to process before talking with others or have the teacher interrupt, maybe we can keep that in mind and consider it from time to time. Maybe we as teachers can change up our formats and approaches to motivation occasionally if we better understand student preferences. We can also share with students our rationales for doing certain things so they know why we are doing what we are doing. Since many of us may be remote right now, maybe we allow students choices of several videos if they need to revisit a topic or idea. There are many little things that we might do that could help students enjoy the learning process a bit more. It seems that understanding their preferences is key to helping make the class more welcoming and engaging for our students. So if you get a chance, take a few minutes and have students share a bit about their preferences and share a little about your own. This process might help you understand them and them understand you.