Finding the sweet spot


Teaching | Monday, April 6, 2015

Finding the sweet spot

When we hit the sweet spot in teaching -- when we engage students and make valuable educational connections -- everyone is energized. (Flickr / David Amsler)

When we hit the sweet spot in teaching — when we engage students and make valuable educational connections — everyone is energized. (Flickr / David Amsler)

This weekend, my family attended two churches for Easter services. The experience really revealed to me a truth about education.

On Saturday, we visited my sister’s suburban mega church, and their service was spectacular in the truest sense of the word. It started with a huge curtain illuminated with colorful lights that covered the entire stage. The curtain was dramatically removed and the music kicked in.

Dancers twirled. The choir swayed. Big screens displayed video from four production-quality video cameras. 

The 90-minute service passed quickly, but I struggled to stay focused on the message.

In contrast, I’ve been to plenty of completely opposite church services in my life. I’ve seen piano and organ music with no passion. I’ve sat through countless rambling, dry sermons.

In the middle of those two experiences was my own church’s service on Sunday. A live band played for the first time in years. A couple powerful videos supported the message of the day. The pastor’s sermon was on point without doing too little or too much.

That’s what you want — an experience that engages the senses but does so purposefully. An experience that focuses on what’s most important, but it spices that message up to make you want more.

That’s the sweet spot.

I try to hit the sweet spot in class every day, but it’s not easy. My students seem to have their deepest learning experiences if we can achieve that perfect balance of engaging activity and quality content.

When we hit the sweet spot just right, I’ll hear students talking about parts of class that piqued their interests in the hallway or after school. Hitting the sweet spot can motivate me for the rest of the week.

The engagement sweet spot is just one of them. As you read the others, think of other important sweet spots and add them to the list in a comment when you’re finished.

The technology sweet spot: I love helping my students engage each other in blog posts, create shareable digital products, and meet people all over the world using technology. But sometimes, we have to close our Chromebooks and make something with our hands. We need to look another human being in the eye and talk face-to-face.

The student voice sweet spot: Kids have energizing ideas about what they want their education to look like. All we have to do is ask them. Sometimes, they can struggle to make a firm connection between what they want to do and what they need to learn. Teachers can help them balance that exuberance.

The passion sweet spot: Students have desires to learn all sorts of things in their hearts if we’ll turn them loose. Finding meaningful uses for that new information can be tricky, so there’s a sweet spot to hit.

The movement sweet spot: Brain research shows the learning gains from getting up and moving around. Activity can stimulate kids’ thinking, but too much classroom activity can take their focus from what’s most important.

[reminder]What are other important sweet spots in education? Or what’s the most important one in the list above?[/reminder]

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  • John Bennett says:

    Two sweet spots come to mind: The first is the collaboration sweet spot. There are groups of students that understand the power of collaboration – the diversity of skills / interests that can be brought to the project driving question, the willingness to value the operating procedures developed (and refined as needed), and the responsible contributions of each to the goal.

    The second is the communication sweet spot. It involves the willingness of an individual student (or, better yet, a group of students) to consider topics, research questions, outcomes sufficiently to be able to communicate the resulting vision in a manner that enables the recipients to understand and value the efforts that were made.

    • Matt Miller says:

      I love these two ideas, John! Throughout the day, I’m remembering other sweet spots I intended on putting in the post but couldn’t remember. One was the introvert/extrovert sweet spot … balancing the quiet introspective time to self with the outgoing, all-group energetic and loud time. I thought that one kind of went with your “collaboration” and “communication” sweet spots.

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