Human Being in the Classroom

Human Being in the Classroom

Sabato, George

Consider the case of a teacher who is presenting a lesson. A core of students really understand and are learning the skills being taught. These students are on the “edge of their seats”. They have their hands raised and are participating in discussions, doing the activities with enthusiasm. At the same time other students have a more puzzled look on their faces. Some students are beyond the puzzled look, off in their daydreams, doodling, or carrying on whispered conversations. They are not with the teacher or sharing the intended experience.

Two people can be in the same place and have a completely different experience. This is a part of life and certainly is a part of daily classroom experiences. Students can be sitting in front of their teachers, looking them right in the eye, and yet they will experience something totally different from one another. The teacher’s intention is to create a learning experience which will allow students to develop certain skills and absorb standards-based content. Ideally, the students’ experience is what is intended but the reality is many are not “with the teacher.” They can be lost in day dreams or confusion, in thoughts and feelings about social or family issues, or any of myriad of other “levels of being”. For teachers to be successful daily, they must work an array of strategies to effect such success. The process begins with increasing awareness of student engagement at every moment of the lesson and is implemented by using a broad array of teaching strategies designed to connect students in a common learning experience.

This article will provide teachers with a framework for perceiving the very human “Levels of Being” our students might experience while a lesson is being conducted. Eight “Levels of Being” are listed in the first person. These levels indicate the measure our students are “being” with classroom activity, ranging from disengaged with no desire to learn to fully engaged finding a sense of purpose in the lesson.

Levels of Being

1. I Don’t Care to Learn 2. I am indifferent.

3. I am uncertain, confused. 4. I think I know.

5. I know. 6. I can communicate what I know.

7. I can use what I know. 8. I can apply my knowledge or skill in life. I have a life skill.

Level 1 – I Don’t Care to Learn

The first level, “I don’t care to learn”, is a level where a teacher will not be able to reach the student. He has an attitude that is totally blocking any kind of communication, any kind of shared experience that will benefit him in any way. He doesn’t want to learn. He is not going to let anyone teach him. Some students may be at this level in a fixed attitude. This is the student who refuses to learn under any circumstances. Some students vacillate in and out of this level. It may even be a better student who, during a particular moment, has other things on his mind and doesn’t want to be involved in the lesson. It is not important to him at the time.

Level 2 – I Am Indifferent

The second level, “I am indifferent”, finds the student at the threshold of a learning experience. The student has released some of the barriers between the teacher and himself. He is willing to let the teacher into his experience if the teacher can meet the challenge of making the student acutely aware of the relevance and importance of what is being taught. But if the teacher doesn’t put on a virtuoso performance, the student will remain indifferent. This level is a far better place for a student to be than “I don’t care”. The teacher has a chance to do something for the student.

Level 3

I Am Uncertain

The third level is “I am uncertain, confused”. If the teacher has a student who has paid enough attention to find out he doesn’t know something, or that what he thought he knew may not be absolutely so, he may become uncertain or confused. There is a chance to grab hold of this student and bring him to you. If he is offered enough clues to what he is seeking to know, he will progress in his learning. However, if he is left to lie in his state of uncertainty or confusion too long, he may fall back into indifference or fade out of the picture and regress into the “I don’t care” state of mind.

Level 4 – I Think I Know

The fourth level, “I think I know”, finds the student one step beyond his previous uncertainty or confusion. He has pulled enough of the facts together, enough of the raw data that has been coming at him, to the point where he begins to think he knows answers. There may be the inner spark which allows him to stay with what he is doing. If he stays with it long enough, he may find enough answers to get to the next level, “I know”.

Level 5 – I Know

“I know” is the level where the student has the feeling of self-accomplishment. One can see the look on the student’s face when he knows. But sometimes it is accompanied with a disability to communicate in words or any other symbolic system. The student is unable to communicate exactly what he knows to the teacher. Often the teacher will call on a student and, even though he doesn’t get the exact response from the student, and may not appear coherent, the teacher gets a sense that the student has come to know what he should know.

Level 6 – I Can Communicate What I Know

A teacher can be more certain a student is achieving when he can clearly communicate in his new understanding or skill. An example of this would be the student who can repeat a newly learned vocabulary word, locate a geographic feature on a map, or explain new concept.

Level 7 – I Can Use What I Know

In this level is the student transcends his ‘knowingness” to a place of using whe he knows. Here he can apply the new vocabulary word or concept he has learned to answer a history teacher’s abstract question or he can apply his geography skills using longitude and latitude to locate a country on a map. This student feels a great sense of accomplishment and is reaping rewards such as good grades and compliments from the teacher and parents.

Level 8 – I Can Apply My Knowledge or Skill in Real Life. I Have a Life Skill

The highest level a student can attain is being able to apply his new knowledge or skill in real life situations. What the teacher has created through a shared experience is now something that is carried and applied as a life skill by the student. An example would be the student who has learned map reading skills and is using them to help plan a family trip or a student who in inspired studying government starts serving as a student volunteer on a political campaign. A teacher won’t see this but is fortunate when a student returns and says, “Hey, I appreciate what you taught me.”


The fact that students are in the classroom means the teacher will be experiencing them at the 8 “Levels of Being” to which a teacher must to be sensitive. Using the framework of the “Levels of Being”, the teacher can begin to become more aware of the various experiences in the same room. It is important we heighten our awareness of students’ experiences in progressing through lessons. In so we become as teachers and our students become more effective human beings.

From Theory to Practice

Amazing Beings: There are those amazing students who show up in your classroom and need no motivation from you. There are those who watch the history channel regularly and are able to “replay” all the facts they learned watching the show. And there are those who, like my high school friend read the encyclopedia several times just for the fun of it. I had a student who made it to the National Geography Bee State Finals twice because he somehow picked up and retained all the geography trivia I never heard about-all by the age of twelve. To keep these kids motivated I developed an extensive classroom library to support our curriculum, and most recently have created a web site with links to the best history/geography sites on the web. These students are often leaders in team assignments and are given optional challenge assignments they can do to earn their A+’s for the course. I always keep samples of the best work done by students in the past and present them to this group of students as the quality work I expect from them. They usually strive to set new standards of excellence and have their work join the collection of “the best” examples for future students.

The other students entering your classroom need good marketing from you. You are the salesman who will be working to “close the deal” in which they “buy into” history and geography. You will have to be more than “the sage on stage”; you will have to be the entertainer and motivator. You will be sharing the agony and ecstasy of history, bringing it alive through your expertise in the subject matter, the strategies you have learned in your training and those instinctive moves you pull out of the great “wherever.” Some days you will be running an educational boot camp, helping them get the thrill of success in their the drill of basic skills. Some days you will hook them with captivating literature or a hisoty based history movie, directing them in readers’ theater or dramatic historical simulation, or reviewing for a test in using the MC skills of Bob Barker in a game show format review. You are the writer, director, and producer of each day’s production, hoping the students will “renew” you for another days lesson.

As students enter your room, they walk onto your “set”. Have the stage set to captivate them the moment they walk in. My students are greeted by the golden face of a pharaoh’s death mask (actually a students’ gold painted plaster full scale reproduction-using a cast of her face for the pharaoh). Another student’s full Roman armor mounted on the wall next to a full scale Medieval shield. In the corner is a student crafted bust of Julius Caesar, and a skull of Neanderthal crafted by my daughter, Jennifer, when she was my student. I have a glass case in the corner housing a class museum of artifacts made by former students. My room is wall papered with a Victorian print (I got the paper at the Dollar Tree for a buck a roll!-and just stapled it up.) On the walls are a framed Egyptian papyrus scene of a pharaoh and wife, framed historic maps of the world-as it “was” before all continents were discovered, and my degrees are framed on the wall behind my desk. I also have several pictures of my family. The desks are set in an amphitheater format, in sets of six so we are ready for teacher centered activities as well as group work. Rows are set so I can walk about and reach any desk in the minimum number of steps. As students enter my room, hopefully they feel this is a place where something special is going to occur.

Being knowledgeable about your subject matter, and having your room prepared for the audience is never enough. Even being a great entertainer is never enough. So, here are a few “extrinsic” strategies that can be helpful in engaging students in the daily experience.

“I don’t know yet”: I try to involve all students in class discussion. Often, I will ask a question and randomly call on a student or I can draw a name by number or card. I will call on several students using the same question. When called on, they can answer or say “I don’t know yet.” which means I will call on them with the same question after they have heard a correct answer. They then can repeat an answer they heard or come up with their own “correct” answer. This keeps everyone on their toes and everyone called on will be in “the know” with a correct answer. (This is a strategy I learned at a Rick Morris “New Management” workshop.)

Timer: Kids like being put under the pressure of the clock. It makes whatever they do seem like a game. The experience of being “under the clock” also gets them prepared to deal with the Star testing timed tests with a leisurely attitude. You can have a timed quiz to start your day, put a timer on a class activity, use a timer in review activities and games or…

Grace and Consequences: When students do not keep commitments, they need to know there are consequences. They also need to learn they can make amends for their short comings. For example, there should be a consequence for turning in work late, but also there should have the ability to get the work done. If they don’t do the work, they won’t have done a piece of the preparation for Standards mastery testing. It is like the real world in that if you are late on a house or credit card payment you get credit, but pay a late fee.

Good Communication With Parents: If a student is struggling, communicate with the parents. Let them know how they can help be a part of their child’s winning team. If it is a discipline issue, parents need to know there is an issue early on. When the child is doing better, let the child and parents know. When a child is doing great things, call home. Make a positive right after a negative call so your last interaction with a parent that day is a positive one. You can even have some post cards to send home with a quick positive note. I bet it ends up on a refrigerator!

I recommend you go to the site of Rick Morris or attend one of his seminars to get an amazing collection of ideas on how to make your classroom a positive and motivating environment. I recommend his book Tools & Toys: 50 Fun Ways to Love Your Class and Class Cards. You can also order several varieties of timers ranging from ones the clip on your belt to one that projects using your overhead projector.

In the end, we want to help those “beings” in our class who already care to even care more about learning. For those “beings” who need a lift, we must use our bag of tricks to edge them into a state of feeling that learning has meaning and they are being successful. As they become more successful, their skills witl improve. This will make them feel even more successful. This leads to recognizing them they are acquiring useful knowledge and real life skills. Bravo to you when you they reach this state of being! At this point, look out, for they will be demanding even more from you!

Visit “Mr. Sabato’s Super Site: Best of the Web for Students, Teachers and Parents” at

George Sabato is currently Vice President of the California Council for the Social Studies and is Assistant Editor of the Social Studies Review. He teaches seventh grade social studies at Edwin Markham Middle School in Placerville, CA. He holds a BA and MA from Stanford University and was a Fulbright Scholar to Japan and China. Recently he served as web editor for Oxford University Press’ textbook series, Medieval and Early Modern World.

Copyright California Council for the Social Studies Spring 2007

Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved