5 ways to increase engagement in your classroom
Nov 17, 2020
It’s an age-old problem, but one that is ever-increasing in today’s world - how to get our students more engaged in the classroom? This can be the case whether you work in a school with a range of behavioural issues and struggle to get students ‘on task’, or even if you work in a school with very little behavioural issues but compliance is more the norm than engagement.
According to edglossary.org, "student engagement refers to the degree of attention, curiosity, interest, optimism, and passion that students show when they are learning or being taught, which extends to the level of motivation they have to learn and progress in their education”.
Many teachers try to get more student engagement by making lessons ‘fun', including games and rewards. This definitely has a place, but it’s not reasonable to expect that teachers can do this every single lesson. Not only that, but the novelty of extrinsic rewards can wear off after a while, and students will begin to resent doing ’normal’ learning if it isn’t ‘fun’ or if they aren’t rewarded for it.
Another reason students might stay ‘on task’ is if there is an assessment coming up - students who are motivated to get good grades might work hard in class in order to do well in the test (how many times do you hear the question from your students - ‘is it in the test?’) - this might work well for the short-term, but much of what was learnt for the test will be forgotten soon after.
What does work for increasing engagement is encouraging more intrinsic motivation, which can be developed in many different ways. Here are a few ideas:
Big picture questions
How many times have you heard the question from your students - ‘when will I ever need to know this?’. Students constantly question the relevance of their learning - if not outright to you, then between themselves. It’s so important to make it clear to students what the relevance of the topic is to their lives, as students are much more motivated to learn if this is the case.
Something to try is creating ‘big picture questions’, that creates a relevant connection, and a common theme throughout a unit of work. This works especially well if it’s related to a social justice issue, as children have an inherent sense of fairness that they like to see upheld in the world.
For example, if you are teaching your students about food security, a big picture question could be ‘how could we eradicate world hunger by 2040?' Keep coming back to it every lesson, even multiple times a lesson.
Anything that is an authentic real-life scenario that is relevant today or in the future will likely draw them in if it’s presented right - usually in the form of a story, which is where the next point comes in.
There’s a reason that stories were the primary form of education in many cultures around the world until reading and writing came into the picture. It’s because stories help to create an emotional connection to something, and if there is emotional connection then it is much more likely to stay in our long-term memory.
Stories can be used in a variety of ways - they can provide a ‘hook’ at the beginning of a topic or lesson, or they can be used to illustrate certain concepts. They can be fictional or real-life (perhaps something that happened in the past, or a case-study of something that a real person went through).
The story can be presented in a number of ways - via video, audio, pictures, in real life by the person who’s story it is, or you as the teacher can tell the story verbally. The more emotion that you can inject into it the better - be animated in your storytelling (teaching is as much about performing as anything else). Get them to laugh, to cry, to gasp in shock and horror. Elicit as many reactions out of your students as you can.
Another reason why storytelling is useful is because if you are telling relevant stories from your past or experiences, this is a way for your students to get to know you a bit better. The more that they know you, the more that they are likely to like and trust you, which is important in terms of getting student ‘buy in’.
When students are included in the decision making process and feel like they have some choice in what they are learning, they are more likely to be engaged (I’m sure you’ve experienced this yourself as an adult). So how can we do this?
One way is to provide some choice in one or more of the following options:
- Content: whilst we need to ensure that the curriculum is being addressed at all times, sometimes there is some leeway for providing some choice in the content that is being learnt.
- Process: this is referring to how the content is being learnt. For example, you could students a choice of resources to refer to including video, audio, or written texts.
- Product: give students a choice in how they can demonstrate their new understandings/ creations. Perhaps they want to make a poster, do a role play, write a poem etc.
Providing student choice is a great way of finding out more about their particular strengths, interests, talents and passions. When you have this information, you can utilise to further increase engagement in the future.
Check-in’s are not only a way to keep students accountable and make sure that they are on track, but also to learn more about your student’s individual needs and interests, and to develop rapport with them.
When student’s know that you are invested and interested in them, and that you are going to make sure that they are on track, then they are much more likely to become more motivated and engaged. Even if it’s only for 5mins every couple of weeks, this one-on-one attention is critical to your students engagement levels, provided that you use this time to really connect with and listen to your students.
Positive learning environments
When students feel safe, secure, and a sense of belonging and connection in the classroom, they are much more motivated to learn. Furthermore, when they like their teacher, and when they feel like their teacher likes them, intrinsic motivation skyrockets, meaning that they are much more likely to be engaged.
We are only scraping the surface here in regards to how to get students more engaged in the classroom, but these are a definite start. This is something that we delve more into in Stage 3 and 4 of the Transformational Teachers Success Path
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