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“Keepin’ it Real”: How to make your classroom relevant for today’s youth

A key element of the WhyTry resiliency formula is becoming relevant with the youth we work with.  This doesn’t mean you have to change your clothing style, know how 2 lol in a txt msg, or start calling everyone “dude.”  It does mean stepping away from the chalkboard and entering their world: the world of multimedia.  Here are some ideas for getting started:

1. Talk the talk. And do it on social media sites, like Twitter or Facebook. If these sites are as foreign to you as an alien planet, surrender the one-up by asking your youth to give you some lessons.  Keeping a regular blog about the goings-on in your classroom will also help your youth feel more comfortable and excited to go to class.  A recent study, titled, “I’ll See you on ‘Facebook’: The Effects of Computer-Mediated Teacher Self-Disclosure,” showed that students who “accessed the Facebook website of a teacher high in self-disclosure anticipated higher levels of motivation and effective learning and more positive classroom climate.”

Do note that ”friending” and “tweeting” with students is a controversial topic in some school districts, so make sure you are aware of the rules and norms for your area.


2. Watch the vids.  Sites like YouTube  can be a great resource to engage students.  James Sanders, a middle school history teacher at KIPP San Francisco Bay Academy, says YouTube has become the most useful tool for engaging his students.  He recently wrote in the official YouTube blog: “I’ve used YouTube in my classroom in countless different ways. I use videos to spark classroom discussions, increase instructional time by assigning videos as homework, and create playlists for each lesson so students can dive deeper into specific areas that interest them.  I also found countless educational videos on YouTube that energize and excite students about a number of topics…”


3. Know the tunes.  Nursery rhymes are out, and some new sounds, like the ever-growing genre of hip-hop, are in.  Gavin Sheppard is the founder of the “Remix Project,” a program that helps troubled youth develop their creative gifts.  In a recent interview with the TED organization, Sheppard said, “Hip-hop [music] can be that gift, that Trojan Horse, that gives you the ability to get past the defenses [youth] put up. Once you’ve gotten past that, and you give them that gift and they’re engaged, that’s when you can start to hit them with life skills. That means helping them develop everything from business etiquette to refining the natural raw talents they have. Whether it’s in graphic design — maybe they are really cool graffiti artists. Or maybe it’s as a music producer or an engineer, or something else.”

Finding it difficult to sift through the hundreds of songs that give off negative messages for a few inspiring tunes?  Your best source is the youth themselves.  After teaching them the motivational principles found in the WhyTry curriculum, have them share the songs that motivate them or remind them of these principles.  Have them explain why.  They’ll remember your lesson every time they listen to that song.


The WhyTry program uses video, hip-hop music, hands-on learning activities, and other media to help youth develop social and emotional skills.  To learn more, visit our website or contact us.

Category: Teacher Helps