One of the biggest issues facing teachers today is student engagement, or lack thereof. Let’s face it; this is not just a teacher issue, but a student one as well. When children are not engaged in the classroom, they most certainly are not learning, no matter how hard you’re teaching. This is the last thing that we want to happen; especially in the wake of Common Core State Standards (CCSS) which challenge the thinking of both teachers and students. Also, chances are, their lack of engagement has manifested itself in a way that is distracting to other learners in the room, and more than likely preventing you from doing your best teaching. With the help of my amazing colleagues (K-6 Educators) I have compiled a list of the top three student engagement strategies that have demonstrated time after time to work well in the classroom.
1) Technology Integration
Technology has become a daily part of our lives as adults. However, the same goes for our students. Kids these days speak a digital language; many are as comfortable with navigating a laptop and SmartBoard as we were at using an overhead projector (complete with wet-erase markers!). I find that when I incorporate technology in a meaningful and natural way, my students perk up and are 100% more eager to participate. This can be anything from introducing a topic with a quick You-Tube clip on the SmartBoard to having kids use learning apps on classroom or school iPads (check out some of the best education apps here). Technology plays a huge role in how our students communicate and think; therefore it is to our benefit to use it as we help our students learn as well.
2) Student Choice
There has been a huge shift toward students taking more ownership in their learning. Students tend to perform their best work when they feel in control with the decisions that are being made in the classroom. Now, I’m not trying to create a power struggle; and by no means am I suggestion you hand over all choices to your students. However, providing some options regarding how they complete an assignment or demonstrate their learning will provide a sense of control and purpose for them. There are several kinds of choices that you can offer your students. You could give them the option of picking who they would like to work with in a group or partner setting, give them the opportunity to select the location in which they work (at a desk, back table, in the hall, etc.), or even provide them with multiple modes of demonstrating their knowledge, such as in words, pictures, or even a song. Again, student choice can be a powerful engagement strategy, but ultimately you know your students best. You must do what works well for your students and your classroom.
3) Physical Movement
We’ve all been in those classes, or dare I say meetings, where we truly cannot listen to one more word because we have been sitting so long. Children feel that exact same way, except multiply it by a thousand! Research has shown that a child’s brain learns best when their body is also actively engaged while learning takes place. Matching hand movements to vocabulary or processes can help students’ memorization. Also, giving short “brain-breaks,” and allowing students to get up and move around, will break up a long lesson or extended period of time where students have been sitting and listening. This will help energize your students and can also provide a good transition into a new activity.
I’ve sat in my fair share of meetings, classes, and professional development sessions. I sometimes catch myself in daydream, with no idea what the presenter has been talking about for at least 10 minutes. Using technology, having a choice in what I am learning or how I am learning it, and taking a physical break from time to time really help me focus on the task at hand. I’m sure you’ve been there too, and our students have the same experiences. As teachers, we have many techniques in our classroom management tool box to engage our students, and it never hurts to add a few more.