After reading this recent Article about student engagement, I find myself continuing the ask about the importance of the data that we collect, or more importantly, how we use the data that we collect. Perhaps, at times, we are missing the boat when we are honing in on specific skills and not keeping the focus on engagement. If students are engaged, the rest of these skills will come. That doesn’t mean that teachers shouldn’t understand or pay attention to student data and pre-assessment criteria in their planning, only that when a teacher plans, engagement should be the number one priority.
The question then becomes: How do teachers engage students in meaningful learning? Here’s my top five. What else do you do to engage learners?
1-Use technology to create
I’m not just talking about plugging kids in to Khan Academy, using gonoodle for brain breaks, or socrative for assessing. These are all great tools that I use with frequency, but creating new content keeps learning relevant and fun. It allows students to tap into creativity, collaborate with teams, and learn problem solving skills as they work to understand how to do something new. In one of our recent projects, students wrote edited, and published a newshour highlighting some of the most important events of the Revolutionary War. When students are working towards a common goal, and creating a new twist on old ideas, they are learning more than a textbook can ever teach.
2- Use student choice
Students need to feel invested in their own learning. This means that teachers need to compartmentalize the things that they need to be in charge of and the decisions that are better left to students. How should we keep track of our behavior? What will we do in our classroom when we feel threatened or unable to learn to our fullest potential? How will we hold one another accountable for treating one another with respect? These are all questions that can and should be answered by students, not only at the beginning of the year, but reflected upon and re-evaluated as the culture of the classroom shifts and changes.
Movement needs to be incorporated throughout the day. Using movement to help with content (body motions associated with new word definitions or rules in math) to moving across the room to buddy up and share thinking with others throughout the day are little ways to include movement, but we also need to let kids write outside, complete science experiments outside the walls of the classroom and engage with our surrounding environments. Movement keeps the brain fresh & the body invigorated.
Understanding each student as a unique individual and taking the time to understand who he or she is outside of school is critical. Take the time at the end of each week or day to think about students that haven’t talked to during the day. What will you do to connect with them? Perhaps it’s time to peak into their writing and leave them a note about something you notice. Reach out with an email to the parents noting something that you’ve noticed about their learning. Connect with them as a human and not just a learner! This builds respect. When a student feels cared for, understood and needed by those around them, they are better able to engage in their learning.
These items don’t happen everyday in my classroom, but they are worth reflecting on. Building a renewed focus on engaging students can help them succeed with the academic standards that we expect.