Let’s face it - teaching has always been a challenging job. From the original one-room schoolhouse to today’s modern classrooms, success depends on one key ingredient – a teacher who gets students inspired and engaged, and actually makes learning fun.
Movies often show the results of poor student engagement in chaotic, uninspired classrooms. Fortunately, for every drone like the economics teacher in “Ferris Bueller's Day Off” (Bueller…Bueller?), there is an uplifting teacher like Mr. Keating, who encourages students to think for themselves and "seize the day" in “Dead Poets Society” (O Captain, my captain!).
The last few years, however, have thrown a curveball into teaching strategies for even the most experienced of teachers. Without prior planning and preparation, teachers were asked to become experts at keeping students engaged in virtual classrooms. Now, as educators wrap up another year and look forward to a hopeful return to the full-time, in-person classroom in the fall, let’s take a look at some strategies that can motivate and engage students in the learning process once again.
What is student engagement?
The goal for teachers is to maintain high levels of student engagement throughout the entire school day. This means the teacher can motivate students to pay attention and show interest, curiosity, and enthusiasm about the topics being presented. It’s hoped these skills spill over into the “real world,” and students use them to achieve better outcomes in life and in their community. Educators believe that student learning suffers when students are uninterested and disengaged. Forms of student engagement include:
- Intellectual engagement: Intellectual advancement involves creating an engagement strategy for students that includes lessons, reading assignments, learning activities, projects and classroom discussions. These present the material in interesting ways to stimulate curiosity, motivate exploration, and build critical thinking skills.
- Emotional engagement: An engaging learning environment can foster positive emotions in students. This helps to enrich the learning process because students are more authentically involved, and this minimizes negative behaviors caused by boredom and distraction, such as disrupting the class.
- Behavioral engagement: This form of engagement may be based more on class and age levels. With students in primary grades, for example, engagement may be represented by simply remaining quiet or following activity directions. With students in grades that are higher, engagement may be demonstrated through active discussion or self-directed learning activities.
- Physical engagement: Physical activities in class are used to stimulate different types of learning engagement. These actions might include acting out scenes from history, demonstrating an answer on a whiteboard, or participating in fun activities from time to time (you know we’re big fans of these!).
- Social engagement: Social strategies put students in pairs or groups to work on a project or perform a learning activity. Not only are the students achieving specific educational learning targets, they are also learning the intricacies of social dynamics and building positive relationships.
- Cultural engagement: This type of engagement immerses students in culturally diverse activities. Individual students feel valued, as the entire class gets a peek into different backgrounds.
Why is student engagement important?
In November 2020, The EdWeek Research Center surveyed students and teachers in the U.S. about Student Engagement During the Covid-19 Pandemic. While results varied between teachers and students about levels of engagement, the majority said they were hopeful about the future.
Student engagement is crucially important to learning and achievement, so it’s important to provide teachers with new ways to motivate and engage students on a regular basis. The benefits students realize by being engaged, active learners include:
- Increased attendance
- Better class participation
- Stronger persistence skills
- Innate curiosity
- Stronger teamworking dynamics
- Easier friendships
- Realizing the joy of learning
- Higher levels of academic achievement
Perhaps the most important benefit of the skills and habits learned through engagement activities in the classroom is that students get a better chance of success in life once they fly the nest. And isn’t that really the goal of great teaching?
Student Engagement Strategies and Teaching Tips
Engagement isn't just about interesting textbooks, fun lectures and eye-catching videos - those do help, though! It’s about using every tool at your disposal to engage students and get them excited about learning.
We’ve got plenty of experience in fun activities that build engagement in schools and businesses. We’ve found some great strategies and tips you can add to your teaching tool kit to increase student engagement:
- Student-directed decisions: Share some of the educational power with students by giving them an active say in the learning process. Simple ways of building student-directed engagement include flexible seating options, choosing books to read from a supplied list, providing project choices, or choosing from a number of problems to solve instead of solving…every…single…one.
- Collaborative active learning: In place of lecturing “at” students, let them spread their wings with collaborative active learning activities. Here, the teacher poses a question, such as “Why do you think geese fly in a ‘v’ formation?,” and lets students discover the answer by using textbooks and other available resources.
- Make “dead time” come alive: What to do with those moments when you have completed your lesson, and don’t have something for the students to do? Before their attention wanders, bring them back into the learning zone with activities such as a “quick pair,” where they work with a partner to answer a question or develop a creative idea related to the lesson topic. If dead time comes before the lesson begins, you can ask students to think of three things they already know about the topic or questions they have, to share with the class.
- Genius Hour: Also called “20% Time” or “Passion Time,” this has become a huge trend in education. The idea started at companies like Google, 3M and FedEx, but has been adapted by teachers around the world. The Genius Hour gives students structured time during the school day to pursue learning tasks on their own. The three parameters of Genius Hour are: Start with a question that cannot be answered with a Google search, research the question using reputable resources, and create something. (We LOVE this idea so have created the Goosechase Genius Hour Experience template below to get you started! Just click the big orange button to copy it to your Goosechase account.)
Goosechase Genius Hour
Best for: Students
Grade Level: 5-12
Subject: Science, History, Art, Language, Math
- Reciprocal teaching: Using the “I do, we do, you do” approach, reciprocal teaching gives students the opportunity to learn in dialogue with their teacher and classroom peers. The teacher first demonstrates how the process works; students work together in small groups, and finally use the strategies on their own.
- Directed social media: Make positive use of social media platforms by accessing or creating specific channels for learning purposes. Direct students to appropriate sites, or ask them to create a platform where they can discuss class projects with one another. Be clear about safety, security and privacy rules for social media use.
- Gallery walks: Get your classroom up and moving while they’re learning. Use ideas from the Goosechase EDU Experience Library to get started with the fun. Stage portions of the lesson in different parts of the classroom or campus. Ask a question in one area, have possible answers in different areas, offer exploration projects, or access school resources for research. The students move through the designated area like they would in an art gallery, looking at and discussing the information, and adding their own thoughts.
- Brain breaks: Between lessons, you can periodically intersperse short activities that give your students an opportunity to stretch their legs, so they can move on to the next topic with a renewed sense of energy.
- Games: Who said learning shouldn’t be fun? (It’s not just us!) Researchers have found that games help increase student participation. They also build self-esteem, foster social and emotional learning, and even motivate students to take risks. At Goosechase, we’ve put the “active” back into active learning with hands-on learning activities that fit your timetable. Experience is everything when it comes to education!
College campuses, school districts and teams around the world use Goosechase to create fun and challenging learning experiences for students. And it’s so simple: craft games and experiences for lessons, field trips, open houses, or school events, or use the Goosechase EDU Experience Library for inspiration. Watch as the fun and learning occur! You can reuse what you've created for future classes, or share them with your fellow teachers.
Learning comes in many forms, and they all start with an engaged student. Consider the tips above to take your class' experiences to new heights and inspire a real love of learning!