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Student Engagement

Increasing Internal Student Engagement

 Increasing Internal Student Engagement

Many teachers are seeking ways to increase student engagement in the classroom. The purpose of this blog is to help teachers do just that. I am going to address an area of student engagement that most teachers overlook. That area is internal student engagement. Teachers must consider what it is they want a student to be doing internally while they are presenting material. When I ask teachers what they want the students to do while they are speaking, their answer most often is they want them to pay attention. Well, what does this mean? I want to help you clearly identify what that means for both you as a teacher and for your students. I believe all engagement should start with teachers and students knowing the desired outcome of student engagement.

Student EngagementThe following are examples of what a teacher may want students to do as they are speaking or presenting material. First, do you want students to imagine a scenario in their mind as a result of something you say? Would you like for them to bring up images about a certain phenomenon? Is your intent to make them become curious or begin to wonder about a certain thing? Would you like for them to become angry, empathetic or feel indifferent about what you are saying? There are times you may want them to compare their situation to another with which they are unfamiliar. Knowing exactly what your goal is during your presentation is absolutely critical to being able to elicit a particular response. Identifying what you want them to do internally sets the stage for learning.

Once you have identified what you want students to do it is time to determine what questions or statements will elicit those internal responses you desire. For example, if you want students to imagine a scenario then use questions that cause this to happen. For instance, you could say, “What do you think will happen when…,” and, “Suppose you are in a situation where…” I am suggesting that instead of simply giving answers to students, work on prompts that engage their minds immediately. Consider using prompts such as, “What do you think will happen if…” “You know how most people think…” and “Do you ever wonder why it is that….” I believe it is incumbent upon every teacher to begin a discussion with a phrase, question or statement that opens the minds of the students. Students will be less likely to get off task if you begin by focusing their minds on a topic immediately.

Another way to engage students is by creating a little cognitive dissonance into their lives. By this I mean, the teacher takes something that students think they know and show them how it is not true. I used this technique when I was an earth science teacher and I talked about hurricanes. When I introduced my unit, I would tell the students that as we learned about hurricanes, they would find that although the term hurricane means “big wind,” it is not the wind that kills most people during a hurricane. I would play up the fact that the windspeed of a hurricane’s core can be 75 mph but that some modern hurricanes have topped out above 200 mph. I would ask them to think about video of hurricanes they have seen on television and how the palm trees are swaying so violently in the wind. This would pique their curiosity even more. As I vehemently claimed that the wind was not the major cause of the loss of human life during hurricanes, I would not tell them the major cause, but rather let them figure out the answer as I moved through the unit. Creating that tension kept them on task and on target.

Other examples of how to keep their minds engaged is to use statements like, “Based on what I am about to share, in just a few minutes I’m going to ask you to…” Here is one of my favorite statements that commanded their immediate attention. “Here are some things that most people believe are true about today’s topic. Which ones are true and which ones are false? There is extra credit for the teams that get this right.” Additionally, I ask you to try these next two lines. They really get the students thinking. “There is a common belief that…..  So why do you think that the truth is that…..?” Please understand that these statements can be used anytime during class. They do not have to be used just when introducing something new. Whatever the next thing is that you are about to talk about, figure out how to put it in a question so that they have to immediately start thinking about a possible answer. I have found that students get bored when simply given fact after fact after fact to memorize. 

There are two things about what I have shared thus far. First and foremost, I recognize that it involves a little more preparation. Especially at first. However, it will become much easier as a little time passes. It is definitely worth the extra prep because students will not only participate internally, but will start to shout out answers and make the class livelier.  I also recognize this is similar to using the Socratic method. However, the difference is that instead of asking questions and getting an immediate response, these questions or statements are made with the explicit purpose of creating internal dialogue by those who are receiving the information. 

It is not enough to tell students to pay attention. Teachers must pull students into the lesson and make their ideas part of the lesson. By using the strategies listed above, students will know the specific things they need to do internally because the teacher is prompting them to do so.  By incorporating their ideas and thoughts the lesson becomes more interactive and thus more engaging.

Creating an Engaging Classroom

Creating an Engaging Classroom

Student engagement is one of the most challenging problems a teacher has to overcome. According to research, when students aren’t engaged, they’re more likely to disrupt class, less likely to accept challenges, have lower grades, and aren’t confident in their ability to learn.

It’s also become clear to me that a teacher can’t teach someone who’s bored. In a study of high school students, 66 percent said they were bored in class every single day.

There are ways to dramatically increase student engagement at all grade levels. The first thing that needs to be done is that a teacher has to define what student engagement means to him or her. In other words, what does it look like in your classroom? For the purposes of this blog, engagement means getting students to accept challenges and to be involved in classroom activities.

So let’s talk about how you can increase student engagement and create excitement around learning!

Try Low-Risk Engagement Activities

 

One method of increasing student involvement immediately is to start with low-risk engagement activities. Try this right away. Put a question up on the whiteboard that involves students answering something about themselves that may help lead into the lesson of the day.

For example, as an earth science teacher, I would put a question or a statement on the board such as, “Tell me about a time when you were caught outside in a thunderstorm and may have been concerned about lightning.”

Another such statement for a language arts teacher may be something like, “Tell me about a time when you were upset about a friend not living up to your expectations or letting you down.” Students love to talk about or write about themselves. There are many lessons that this could lead into.

What you’re attempting to do is to make it safe to answer and to take away the fear of not getting an answer right. Low-risk activities are a great way to begin getting students involved. This activity works great as an opening to stimulate interest in what you’re about to teach.

Encourage Student Interaction

Another tactic to get students engaged is to have students interact with each other. Many students will engage with other students before they will engage with teachers.

Once students have worked on the activity mentioned above, have everyone in the class stand up, hold their paper in one hand and their pen in the other, and go around the room and share their answer with someone. Give them about two to three minutes and have them write down key points their classmate shares.

Now, have them rotate and find another classmate to share with; about three rotations is all I recommend. These interactions usually generate some excitement in the classroom.

Student interaction is also a great tool to incorporate into other instructional lessons that lend themselves to student sharing. For instance, as an earth science teacher, I may ask students to share their opinion after a lesson about why more hurricanes form in the Pacific Ocean than in the Atlantic, which can lead to great class discussions later.

There are other versions of getting students up and moving, such as having students travel with partners, or my favorite—having them travel in groups of three. For some reason, a group of three really seems to get more ideas flowing and generate much more excitement.

Don’t Underestimate the Power of Surveys

Engagement can mean different things to different teachers. No matter what you’re trying to accomplish, consider asking the students what method they might like to use to help them engage in the class the way you want them to be.

Survey your students on paper and list the various ways you engage students. Ask them to rate the activities you use and then ask them if there are other types of activities you didn’t list that they feel help them to engage more.

Study the surveys and try incorporating the activities they feel best help them to engage, keeping in mind the need to vary activities on a regular basis. This survey is also a great tool for seeing how students in your class best learn, which can be a bit different than being engaged.

List the various ways you present information to students, then have them rate those activities on how they best help students to learn or retain information. Remember to ask them if there’s a method you don’t use that would benefit them. Use the results of both these surveys when constructing your lesson plans.

Leverage Technology to Your Advantage

There are some things a teacher can do that never fail to involve all students. For example, using technology is a great way to get students involved. Some ideas are:

  • Having students work on computers.
  • Putting short videos up on the whiteboard.
  • Using YouTube lessons the students create which are also great for review or to help those that are absent.

Technology can be a powerful tool when it comes to engaging your students and supplementing your lessons!

Learn More about Creating an Engaging Classroom

As you approach the idea of making lessons more engaging, it’s important to take the key concepts that are important to teach and create engaging and fun activities around them. Don’t do an activity simply because it’s fun but has little to do with what you’re teaching.

The key is for the teacher to be excited and involved. If the teacher is enthusiastic about what he or she is teaching, that enthusiasm spreads to the students. Enthusiasm is contagious!

If you’re looking for more ideas about creating an engaging classroom, join me in Pittsburgh at the Hilton Garden Inn Pittsburgh Airport on March 25, 2019 for my “Creating an Engaging Classroom” seminar.

It’s going to be great fun and you’ll leave with a plethora of ideas to get your students excited about learning! Visit the seminar section on my website for more information.

References:

Brewster, C. and Fager, J. (2000) Increasing Student Engagement and Motivation: From Time-on-Task to Homework. Portland. Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory.

Macklem, G. L. (2015). Springer briefs in psychology. Boredom in the classroom: Addressing student motivation, self-regulation, and engagement in learning. Cham, Switzerland: Springer International Publishing. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-13120-7