Student engagement should be the ultimate goal in a classroom. When students are highly engaged, magic can happen. They are curious. They are interested. They are driven to do their best work. A classroom where students are authentically engaged can mean the difference between a “difficult to manage” class, and a classroom that runs on autopilot. Here are five ways to ensure student engagement in your classroom:
Children are just not designed to sit in one place for a long period of time. They need to be up and moving in order to stay engaged in what is happening. There are many ways to incorporate movement into your lessons. Cooperative learning strategies such as carousel are a great way to get students up and moving, while activating prior knowledge before learning a new concept, or while reinforcing previously-learned skills. Another great idea for movement is a gallery walk, where students move around the room answering questions or completing tasks. This is a great opportunity for practice, reinforcement, or even assessment.
Why do your students want to learn and achieve their goals? Is it because it feels good? Or is it because they get rewarded with candy or treats? Of course you probably have some extrinsic reward systems in your classroom, but you will generally have a better-managed classroom if you can teach in a way that focuses on having intrinsically motivated students. How can you do this? One great way to motivate students intrinsically is through goal-setting. Students can set goals in any subject area, and should focus on personal improvement rather than competition with other students. In reading, students might set goals for what skills they would like to improve on – for example: focusing on a reading strategy to help comprehension, or reading a new genre of book. In this blog post, I explain how I’ve used goal setting with respect to the doubles addition facts.
I also like to make a big deal out of “feelings” that students experience when they are successful. For example, when you notice a student do something nice for someone else, you might say, “I noticed that you complimented your friend on his artwork. That must have made him feel so good inside!” If you notice a student working extra hard on an assignment, you might say, “Wow! You have been working hard today! You must feel really proud of yourself!” This will help students stay motivated to keep reaching for those intrinsically “good” feelings.
Your students must know what to do and when to do it. If you showed up late to work one day (not that that’s a good idea!), would your students know what to do? If you had an emergency and had to leave the classroom, would your classroom continue to run, or would chaos ensue? Procedures and routines need to be predictable. You can accomplish this by taking extra time at the beginning of the year AND throughout the year to ensure that students know exactly how to do things such as transition from one activity to the next, choose an appropriate activity, or know what to do when they finish their work. Make it your goal to move from the role of teacher to that of facilitator. Make a conscious effort to have your students take responsibility for their own learning. When you notice students doing this, make sure you point it out and compliment them!
Power, freedom, and choice are the essential building blocks of student engagement. Any time that you plan a lesson, ask yourself, “How can I include MORE power, freedom, and choice in this lesson/activity?” People have an inherent need for power, freedom, and choice. You can give them to your students in many different ways. For a project assignment, you might give students a choice of which project to complete. During center time, you might let students choose which center they visit rather than telling them where to go and when. You will find that some very simple tweaks can transform your lesson. Incorporating self-paced learning stations into your teaching can satisfy your students’ need for power and freedom by allowing them to work at a pace that is different for each student. This ensures that students truly become responsible for their own learning, and feel a sense of accomplishment because of that.
It is easy to get caught up in “getting through” the curriculum. But some of the most beautiful moments can occur when you are flexible and follow your students’ lead. Years ago, my class was reading the novel Owls in the Family as a whole-class novel. If you’ve read this book, you’ll know just how amazing it is! On our second day of reading, I had planned to read a chapter with my class, before moving onto something else. But when we finished that chapter, the entire class was SO enthralled in the book and begged me to keep reading. So we sat there as a class and read that entire novel right to the very last page! The students were so into it that you could’ve heard a pin drop in the classroom. Still today, that is one of my most treasured memories, and I like to think that it taught my students an important lesson about how good it feels to get so caught up in a book that you just can’t put it down.
So often we get caught up in curriculum, and can’t understand why our classroom is difficult to manage. By making some slight changes to how we approach curriculum and teaching, we can transform our classroom into a highly engaged community where students love to learn.
Shelley Gray is a TpT Teacher-Author and former teacher from Manitoba, Canada. Her focus is creating resources that are highly engaging and that encourage students to take responsibility for their own learning. Shelley blogs at ShelleyGrayTeaching and has an active Facebook page where she shares great ideas for teachers.