7 Tips for Teaching Applied Students

Posted: April 15, 2014 in Education, Teachers, Teaching
Tags: , , , ,

7 Tips for Teaching Applied Students 

I think it’s the fact that marks are due this week and I’ve been marking English stuff like a vandal, so this week’s post is a teaching post. I’ll post to my teaching blog too, which sadly, I have not done a super great job keeping up.

 For those who have been out of the school system for awhile, high school students can pick from three streams in their courses: academic (which is quite, well, academic), applied, and essentials/modified. Sortof, like the advanced, general, and basic we had when I was a student.

 Applied students are interesting. You always have an “interesting” makeup of students. Students who are constantly late or non-attenders, really intelligent kids who are too lazy to do academic work, lazy students in general, weak students, students with learning disabilities, students who don’t want to work, are all put together in a class, usually at max, usually all boys. There are usually a few hard working/wonderful kids, but sometimes they get overlooked because of the rest of the clientele. So, a mixed bag that’s for sure. How do you teach a class full of those students and still keep your sanity?

 I think out of the 21 or so English classes I’ve taught, only 2 or 3 have been academic. So, I have a lot of experience, especially with Grade 9/10 Applied English. Also, I’ve worked with some rockstar teachers when I was working at Eastview as a classroom tutor (Mr. Welch literally is a rockstar- and, did you know our beloved OAC English teacher said his favourite course to teach was Grade 9 Applied English?) I think I have a little bit of insight to share. That’s not to say my period 2 class isn’t a bit of a gong show on occasion (I’m still learning too!), but hopefully I can offer some insight to those teachers starting out.

 And this is going to be good, solid pedagogical advice. It’s not going to be “airy-fairy” advice like “make a foldable” or “here’s a cool app,” which all could be all good things, but with the absence of good teaching, they won’t save you!

"Dude, you going to English?"

“Dude, you going to English?”


1.  Your thinking about teaching has to shift- Think about it. Any teacher has gone to university, which means they took academic courses in high school. What motivated you in school and what you found interesting is NOT going to work with these guys.

 Applied kids are DIFFERENT than academic students. As a teacher you have to realize this to teach this students. They are not fans of homework, they aren’t driven by marks, and they will shut down if you are mean or scare them. With these classes it has to be about giving students opportunities to gain marks, not about taking away marks. I always collect their work on the due date or the end of the period. I don’t care if it’s incomplete. I will mark what they have done to give them some marks. Also, we recently had a quiz, and I had students come up while I marked it to go over the answers with me. Questions that were left blank, I asked them about to see if I could get them a few more marks. More often then not, they didn’t understand the question. These are good kids that are trying and they were so thankful to have the chance to demonstrate what they knew. Also, it was a nice reward for them since 8 other students skipped that day. They won’t get the Ms. B special treatment when they return.

Again, all these things are DIFFERENT than our traditional academic upbringing and some of you won’t agree with these examples. But, I assure you this shift in thinking saves you a lot of headaches, breed better results and relationships with these kids, and honestly, saves you a lot of paperwork in the end!

 2. Keep them organized! You have to go a little old school. Tomorrow we are having a binder check (you know where you fill in the organizer with the worksheet at the front?). I use checklists for assignments and for units. I have a slide show on the board reminding them of the tasks to complete and hand in for the day. I’ve even tweaked assignments I’ve used for years to make them more clear, chunk down the expectations, and usually have an organizer to make it easier to complete the writing task later. Also, the rubric is very clear and we always work up to big assignments.

 For example: It took us two weeks of small little lessons and filling in organizers to complete our five paragraph personal essays in my 2P English class. But we did, and they were quite good. But it wasn’t just: here’s the assignment- go. Each step in the process was chunked down. The first day we did a guided brainstorm about ourselves, the next day we filled in an organizer with 3 points and supporting examples, the next we worked on topic sentences in general, and then different types of introductions etc. As we did this, everyday we filled in a part of our graphic organizer and continued our study on paragraphs. We even did a lesson on formatting- and behold- perfectly double spaced, centred, and titled essays. But, this only happened because that was a separate lesson one day before we spent the rest of the period typing up our essays.

 3. Talk less and let them do more/Keep them busy and working. This was life changing for me when I realized this. I was so frustrated that I would explain the task and expectations and then almost every student would ask, “What are we suppose to do?” Now, I just give them brief instructions and direct them to the slide show/instruction sheet to figure it out. One on one conversation to explain things yield better results. I spend most of the class going around and helping students, checking in, and marking their organizers on the spot. You cannot sit at your desk and mark with these kids. You have to prompt them, encourage them, and assist them.

4. Be proactive. Give these students no excuse not to work. Anticipate the “problem” (or in this case excuse) before it happens. If I see a student arrive without a pencil, I keep talking and just hand them one of the many golf pencils I keep at the front. I also always collect work that we will be working on for multiple days, especially if it’s group work. (Why is it, whenever one group member is away, they are the one who always has the hangout?) Also, if I know Johnny needs help getting started on a task, I’ll go straight to him and make sure he’s clear as to what he’s suppose to be doing. If I know Sally is going to fly through a worksheet, I’ll have another task ready for her. If kids are busy, you’ve just eliminated most of your behaviour problems, guaranteed!

5. Be clear in your expectations and follow through. Don’t be a tyrant, but be clear. This is what you are to accomplish today, and I will collect it at the end of the period. If you talk once more, I will move you beside me. And always, always follow through. But, as the Great Wendy Jackson said, always focus on their success “I think you will be more successful working over here away from your friends who are distracting you from your success.” Even better when you give them a warning, “Do I need to move you to a more successful seat?,” usually gets them working, because they don’t want to move. Or sometimes they just do because they know they will be more successful there. But you’ve now made it their choice, and you’ve made it about them. These kids want to be successful and they want to have someone take an interest in them and their success. Actually, if that’s the one thing you take from this blog, it’s that point right there. That was my mind shift moment and that’s driven my teaching ever since!

What your students would rather be doing...

What your students would rather be doing…

6. Tap into their interests/Get to know them- I love teaching 2P right now; we’re doing the hero quest and looking at superheros. It gives me an excuse to wear my Batman t-shirt! It’s perfect because I have a lot of boys in that class who are into that sort of thing. To hear the debate one group had as we ranked superpowers was amazing. It was deep. Students who would barely write a sentence are now coming up with epic projects. We also did a graphic novel assignment where they found examples and cut and pasted them into a project. Almost silence for 3 days. I’m not saying everything you do should be about their interests- even having conversations with students and getting to know them is such a great thing for behaviour and willingness to work.


But give them meaty tasks. Don’t just pick something because they’ll like it. Make sure it has value. This is key. Often, we want to engage our students by giving them “cool things to do” but kids see through that, if there isn’t something “meaty” to it. Like, we did a Hero Quest foldable, which I explained would be used on a few tasks, and our exam. They took it very seriously and they all did a great job with it. It was the same with our Batman movie (which I explained was going to be used as our example in our foldable as an intro to the Quest). We don’t just watch movies for fun. These kids are up for the challenge and want to complete something meaningful.

 7. Always be kind, patient and respectful. Choose your battles- who wants to fight with a kid when they are late? Sometimes I’m happy they’ve shown up to class at all! Let’s just get down to business. Remember, you are the adult and always give second chances.

As much work as these kids are, I love teaching them. To see the excitement on their faces when they get something, or do a great job, or like today, when they get a Star Wars sticker on their assignment for handing it in on time, is the best feeling in the world. And these students have personality- class is never dull or quite what you’d expect!

What are your tips/challenges for applied students? Share your thoughts in the speech bubble at the top of this post.


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