Student engagement is critical to learning. When students are checked out and off task, we know that they miss key information. As teachers, it’s up to us to come up with methods that involve our student and help them take new information and attach it to the schema they have related to our lessons. Consider this powerful quote from Benjamin Franklin.
Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.Ben Franklin
Student engagement is a sign that students are learning, and even though this quote was shared long, long ago, it could not be more relevant than it is today. Today’s workforce and industry demands are changing at a breakneck speed, and this means that the education train needs to change along with it.
What skills do today’s and tomorrow’s employees need? According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, these were the top ten qualities for new hires:
- ability to work in a team
- communication skills (written)
- problem solving skills
- oral communication skills
- strong work ethic
- analytical/quantitative skills
- and technical skills
Out of this list, the top five aim at collaboration, higher level thinking skills, and problem solving. So, how do we work these skills into our everyday routines WHILE we ensure that our students are able to read on grade level or above and have mastered grade level math concepts and processes? The answer is to incorporate these structures into our planning and teaching with intentionality. Plan for high student engagement.
Teaching with Intentionality to improve student engagement
What does teaching with intentionality mean? What does it look like? Well, it does not mean working on worksheets, and it isn’t quiet and still, and sadly, it’s not always print and go. Planning with intentionality takes thoughtful work on the part of the teacher to match content with the learning activity and the learners. It is active, purposeful, thought-provoking, challenging, and is usually noisy, and when you see kids working in this way, you can tell they are having fun, on task, and are eagerly sharing their learning and discoveries with others. This is high student engagement.
Ways to Increase Student Engagement
Schedule Stopping Points
During your lesson, include stopping points for your students to stop and jot big ideas, turn and talk in response to a question, or give individual responses (whiteboards, response pads, thumbs up/down) about the content. These activities are meant to get students talking. Student talk equals student engagement.
Put It to Movement:
One of the big takeaways I had when visiting the Ron Clark Academy is the importance of movement and music. Movement activates the brain and is actually calming to the child who needs to wiggle. Plus, movements and music makes the content stick. Recently, this clip came through my Facebook feed, and you may not be one to crawl up on tables or want your kids to, but the point is to take pieces of this idea that work for you. If you look on Youtube, you can see other great examples.
Keep Things Moving Along (Pace)
The learning train has to keep moving, and this means we must not underestimate the thinking skills of our kids. If the pace of a classroom is slow with long wait times and lulls, we lose kids. If lessons are structured in the same way day after day, kids feel like they’re watching Groundhog Day, right? We want to keep them on the edge of their seats to some degree so that they have a reason to pay attention. We want to have high expectations so that the children will rise to the occasion. A little bit of challenge makes kids feel pride upon completion and feel that they are learning something really important.
Keep Things Unexpected:
Questioning skills definitely up the rigor, and by randomly picking students by drawing names (popsicle sticks) from a can or using an app like random name picker, we keep all kiddos on their toes, but does this improve engagement? I’d say it does, but there are other questioning teaching techniques we can use too. Techniques such as Think, Pair, Share or Pairs Check (Students pair up to work on a problem and then check with another partnership to confirm they’re correct) gets 100% included. These techniques help students realize that the teacher expects everyone engaged. Here are a few variations on Think, Pair, Share that you might try out:
- Mingle Pair Share-kids move about the room to pair up
- Sticky Note Responses-pose the question and have students respond on stickies for sorting and discussion
- Huddle Up-kids form groups to discuss and respond
- Silent Partners-Kids get up, find partner, one partner is silent and other talks out answer and then they switch. When time is called, kids share what they’re partner said.
- Scoot/Quiz Quiz Trade-Students have question cards, pair up, discuss questions and then move.
- Graffiti Walls-Brainstorming techniques work well for questioning and are easy to use since all you need is a blank piece of paper and something to write with. Students record their questions, answers, or big ideas.
Choose High Interest Topics and Activities:
When we select activities that are fun and active, kids’ attitudes and motivation are much more positive. Let’s face it. Worksheets just do not motivate you to want to work hard if they are just skill and drill. Kids want to get messy and use their hands. Here are a few worksheet alternatives you might use:
- Class Interviews
- PBL Projects
- Maker Spaces
- Creating with Technology
These take more time to think up and prepare. However, we must keep in mind that these types of activities build the skills our kids will need in the future. Additionally, if we plan with teammates, we may find planning less daunting. We have to keep in mind that our job is to prepare our kids to be leaders, team players, communicators, problem solvers, thinkers, and doers.
Be a Lifelong Learner too.
When we signed up to be teachers, we signed up to be lifelong learners too. Teaching with passion means we always seek to learn new methods. As demands change for our kids, we too need to grow and change.
Links to Other Posts that support student engagement:
- Five Ways to Improve Deep Thinking in the Classroom
- How to Cultivate Curiosity in Five Simple Steps
- Reading Games to Motivate Your Readers
I believe what we gain from changing things up depends upon our own attitudes and willingness to learn. No matter whether you are at the front end of your teaching career, have 10 years under your belt, or approaching the end of your career, we all have strengths to add to team planning. Bringing out the best of a team with co-planning and collaboration (like in other industries) creates amazingly engaging, fun, thought provoking, and motivating classrooms that have high student engagement. Teaching is a journey, isn’t it? Working as a team works well for students, for teachers, and for your campus.