Students who are engaged in learning are not misbehaving. Your ability to keep students productively engaged will determine much of your success in the teaching profession. Here are ten ways to keep your students engaged in learning.
1. Infect your students.
No, not with a virus—with your enthusiasm. It’s always been said that a teacher must be like an actor on the stage. It’s actually a very basic rule: No student gets excited about learning something that the teacher is not excited about teaching. For every lesson, bring your passion for teaching. It’s infectious and it gives the students their passion for learning.
2. Keep your voice on the lesson.
When you interrupt your lesson to comment on student behaviour, all the other students lose their focus and go off task. Teachers who use “best practice” techniques use their voice to keep a lesson flowing and ensure everyone stays engaged. For behaviour, they use mostly non-verbal techniques such as prompts and cues, eye contact and proximity. When they use their voice, it’s for questioning, not scolding. In effective classrooms, learning is the focus, not behaviour.
3. “Wrap” your topics.
Many topics in the curriculum are boring—but that doesn’t mean the lesson has to be boring. The trick is to wrap up the lesson in something that makes it engaging. Don’t tell your students that today’s topic is the format of a formal business letter (yawn). Tell them that the lesson is about writing to the city’s mayor and inviting the mayor to visit the school. Designing a French cafe is far more exciting than “now we’re doing lesson 46 on page 93,” even though the learning may be exactly the same. There’s always a way to make a topic interesting and that’s why great teaching is an art.
4. Question everyone.
Some teachers were taught to only interact with students who raise their hands. This technique is part of maintaining orderly control of the learning environment. The problem is that some students never raise their hands. They just sit there completely detached from everything that is going on. That’s why best practice teachers question every student in the classroom, not just the ones with their hands up—and they are particularly quick to ask questions of those who start talking to their neighbours or looking out the window.
5. Variety is the spice of life—and lessons.
It’s actually okay to do a lecture-style lesson every so often. Every teacher does. But if you teach that way all the time, the students will be asleep. So mix it up. Get the students out of their seats measuring, building, researching, interviewing, debating. Use all the different modalities—kinaesthetic, oral, visual, tactile, etc. Interchange individual work and group work. Change the pacing of your lessons.
6. Connect lessons to real life experiences and student interests.
It’s one thing to read about climbing Mount Everest; it’s another thing to Skype someone who’s actually accomplished the feat. Similarly, arithmetic becomes more meaningful when the students are calculating the costs of an upcoming field trip. When lessons are meaningful and relevant, the increase in student engagement is dramatic.
7. Use technology as an everyday teaching tool.
Today’s students have never known a world without electronic wizardry. To them, texting a friend is as natural as getting a drink of water. There’s no point arguing about whether technology is good or bad for education. Like it or not, it’s part of the real world. Whenever appropriate, weave it into your lessons. Use it as an everyday tool, not as a special privilege.
8. Assignment “menus.”
Different people learn in different ways. That’s why differentiated instruction is so important, but it doesn’t just apply to the way lessons are presented. When possible, give students a variety of ways to demonstrate that they have learned the material. One student may decide to do a multi-page written assignment. Others could decide to work as a group and produce a multimedia presentation. And someone else could take on the role of a reporter and do interviews combined with the writing of a mock newspaper column. Students are far more likely to be engaged when they are given some choice when it comes to assignments.
9. Like the actors say, “What’s my motivation?”
Some students are motivated by marks. Others aren’t. That’s why best practice teachers weave various types of motivation into their lessons. Challenges, competitions, beat the clock, recognition, rewards and special incentives are all part of the mix. Into every lesson, add a spoonful of motivation and your results will be improved dramatically.
10. Model the engagement you want from the students.
If you disengage from the lesson to do another task, the students will do likewise. When students are working on an assignment, move around the room, ask and answer questions, check work, and redirect those who are losing their focus. Be available. If you sit at your desk to mark the work from the previous class, you may find yourself getting annoyed with your present class.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ronald Morrish is an educational consultant and speaker from Fonthill, Ontario. He has written two books, Secrets of Discipline: 12 Keys for Raising Responsible Children, and, With All Due Respect: Keys for Building Effective School Discipline. For more information, visit his website at www.realdiscipline.com or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article is from Canadian Teacher Magazine’s Jan/Feb 2012 issue.