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ABCs of Learning

A lesson in effective classroom engagement from one of our Changemaker Schools

By Laura White

In May 2012, Laura graduated from Tulane University with a B.A. in Political Economy. While at Tulane, Laura brought her Youth Venture project, Swim 4 Success, to New Orleans, LA, and was a founding member of Tulane’s Ashoka U Changemaker Campus team. As a member of the Empathy Initiative, Laura manages the Changemaker Schools network, a group of schools that have given empathy as much priority as math and literacy. Laura is passionate about changemaker education, empathy, and transforming early childhood education.

October 15, 2012

Who knew that the secret behind keeping students engaged within the classroom can be as easy as remembering your ABC’s?

The iconic school song can teach us more than how to read and spell. Inspired Teaching Demonstration Public Charter School has adopted the beginning of the song as an acronym for tools that can help educators step into their students’ shoes and facilitate learning within the classroom. Developed by the Center for Inspired Teaching, an organization founded by Ashoka Fellow Aleta Margolis, the so-called “ABCDEs of learning” encourage teachers to practice empathy by focusing on the needs of their students.

What does ABCDEs stand for? To steer you in the right direction, consider reflecting on your best learning experiences as a child. What did these experiences have in common? How did they make you feel? Reflect and take a minute to sing your ABCs before you read the rest of this article.

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A: “A” stands for autonomy. To feel a sense of autonomy, students need to have a level of independence, options, choices, and liberty.  Everyone wants a say in what happens to them, and children are no different.

B: “B” stands for belonging. Belonging requires empathy and connection. According to the Center for Inspired Teaching, “Students need to feel accepted by classmates and adults, know they are making a worthwhile contribution, and feel their presence is valuable to the people in this setting who are important to them.”

C: “C” stands for competence. Competence has both intrapersonal elements including a sense of achievement, accomplishment, pride, importance, and self-esteem, as well as interpersonal elements like being heard, respected, and recognized.

D: “D” stands for developmental appropriateness. It is crucial that students are given tasks that are not too easy that they become boring but not too difficult that they seem impossible. Teachers must have a thorough knowledge of childhood development so that they can create lessons appropriate for the learning needs of their students.

E: “E” stands for engagement. Engagement includes fun. In order to make lessons fun, students must engage with others on worthwhile tasks. The Center for Inspired Teaching refers to fun as, “Evolution’s reward for learning.”

Next time you plan a lesson with your students or an activity with your child, sing the ABCs of learners’ needs.

Contributions from Erin Robertson.