Teachers naturally want their students to be engaged in the instruction they provide. They want their students to be personally absorbed in the learning process. The “how” of engagement can be challenging, even for experienced teachers. Planning for active student engagement requires meticulous preparation and thought. Most of all, it requires that teachers truly know each and every one of their students.
Teachers who know the strengths and needs of their students use that knowledge to raise the potential of their success. They put their students in learning situations where the rewards are high and the risks of failure are low. They don’t try to manipulate the end result, but they narrow the number of potential outcomes.
Here are five thoughts on how teachers can increase student engagement:
1. Have them teach each other.
See how high the level of focus goes when students are told that they will be teaching a new concept to their classmates. It’s not about the fear factor, but students certainly become more engaged in classrooms that include opportunities for them to teach each other. Of course, it has to be genuine, not contrived. While this approach may take more time, it leads to greater retention of the material and deeper understanding of the concepts.
2. Assign authentic tasks with meaningful final projects.
Students are quickly motivated when their learning is related to topics they are passionate about. In turn, passionate teachers can easily motivate their students by selecting lessons that focus on real-life problems and issues. The final projects associated with problem-based learning should be meaningful. The simplest question teachers should ask before determining the focus of an investigation is, “Who will we share what we’ve learned with and how will we do it?”
3. Promote working together.
While it may be hard to know what careers we are preparing students for, we can assume that collaboration will be a key skill for their success. Students need training in how to work with others. It is not a natural talent. Consistent structures and practices lead to collaboration that flows and seems natural. Teachers can begin with highly controlled practices and, as students assume more independence, they can exercise a gradual release of responsibility.
4. Incorporate technology.
The modern teacher has many choices when it comes to using technology as a teaching tool. Teachers must become comfortable with learning about technology alongside their students. Blogging, file sharing, digital media, digital citizenship, PBL, Genius Hour, maker movement, curation and many more terms have made their way into the current educational lexicon. Start investigating the newest technology. If you don’t, you can bet your students will.
5. Get students moving.
Students should be sitting as little as possible during the school day. If your students aren’t moving every fifteen minutes, they probably aren’t learning as much as you want them to. Brain-based research has clearly linked the role of movement in learning. Where does the blood pool when you’re sitting for long stretches of time? You can bet it’s not in the brain. Movement breaks and physical activity re-awaken the brain’s synapses and make students available for new learning. So, get moving!