The eyes roll back, the mouth scowls, the fingers grip the not-so-secretly hidden cellphone, and the brain checks out. These are, as teachers everywhere can attest, the surefire signs of a disengaged student. And these symptoms are ravaging the educational system. Teachers know that student engagement is the key to learning retention and having a great overall classroom experience, but they often don’t have the time or energy to come up with some of the outrageous things that they see other teachers doing online to keep kids’ interest. Some of us just can’t plan a flash mob for every lesson.
Disengaged students are unmotivated to complete their work, apathetic about learning outcomes, and resistant to participating in classwork. This behavior can become contagious – threatening the classroom dynamics and undermining the positive community you’ve worked so hard to build with your students. The Glossary of Education Reform says this about engagement, “In education, 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. Generally speaking, the concept of “student engagement” is predicated on the belief that learning improves when students are inquisitive, interested, or inspired, and that learning tends to suffer when students are bored, dispassionate, disaffected, or otherwise “disengaged.”
Everyone has suggestions for improving student engagement. A quick Internet search will lead you to hundreds of different ideas for keeping your students actively interested in lessons. We’ve pulled together 5 of the best strategies we could find and have included information about tools that can help implement these new ideas.
Strategies and Tools for Student Engagement
- Use 1:1 devices: We know, this isn’t a cheap option, but it is a legitimate way to increase engagement and participation in the classroom. When every student has a tablet or laptop, you can use class questioning systems, like Poll Everywhere, social media responses on Twitter, and programs with just-in-time data, like Exit Ticket, to keep your students tuned in. Tablets and laptops also allow students to work on an environment they’re comfortable with—the digital landscape is a more natural place for students to learn, explore, and create, than the traditional textbook, pen, and paper one. Giving students technology and knowledge at their fingertips can help them remain focused on the learning at hand.Maybe you’re worried about the lack of focus that tablets in the classroom seem to bring? The content distribution company Learni has that problem solved for you. Their app, Teaching Panel, actually tells teachers when students have logged out of the academic program they’re supposed to be using. On top of that, the Teaching Panel tells teacher which app the student logged into instead—so no visiting Faceboook and Tumblr during geometry class!
- Bring in design-based learning experiences: Design-based learning (DBL) is a specific branch of the wider-known pedagogical practice of project-based learning (PBL). DBL asks students to employ the theories of design in developing, building, assessing, and analyzing new products. DBL is a natural fit with the increasing emphasis on STEM and STEAM concepts in the classroom. A simple example of DBL is presenting students with a real world problem. For example, maybe a section of the city you live in floods whenever it rains. To solve this problem, students might work in teams to research why the flooding happens and design a new system for water run off. They might build scale models to prove that their design works. You can check out another DBL project from Stanford, here. On a grander scale, DBL is the driving force behind the Maker movement in education, which is encouraging students to get involved in robotics, woodworking, and electronics. Edutopia put together this great guide for putting together a school makerspace. Students who dive in to design, and build products are active, engaged learners.
- Teach coding: Like DBL, coding is a huge trend in education right now, and why not? Teaching students the math, science, and language skills behind everything they do and see online is a surefire way to increase interest. When students learn coding, they discover how the content they interact with everyday actually works. Not to mention that learning to code as a young person can open up interesting (and lucrative) work options later in life. Codemonkey is a game that teaches computer coding background information and skills. Tynker is another online, coding program aimed at beginners and children. We rank and explore a few other great platforms here.
- Keep content relevant: Students often tune out because they think teachers have no clue about anything remotely modern. And while we may have difficulty keeping up with the very latest apps and slang, we can still use up to date, pop culture references to engage reluctant learners. NuSkool is a site written and edited by educators, researchers, and pop culture experts that provides lesson plans on modern, relevant topics, like The Science of Protest and How Jay-Z used code-switching to became a media mogul. Bet those kids in the back of the class won’t fall asleep studying the U.S. Constitution through the lens of the Marvel Universe Civil War.
- Cultivate mindfulness: Mindfulness is a also known as “contemplative pedagogy.” It’s a method through which students can be taught to become more aware, alert, insightful, and connected. Through the use of meditation, journaling, art, music, and dialogue, students can learn about their attention triggers. They can become more attuned to their energy levels to discover why they feel less interested in and connected to certain subjects, classes, or teachers. The Center for Teaching at Vanderbilt has this excellent guide to introducing mindfulness into the classroom.
Increasing student engagement is no small task. It takes something vastly different to motivate each unique student. However, there are ways to bring your students into more actively learning tasks that require their thoughtfulness and participation. By becoming active, rather than passive learners, students will demonstrate a level of engagement that maybe wasn’t present before. We’d love to know how you get students motivated and engaged. Comment below, or reach out to use on Facebook or Twitter.