5 Tips for Better Student Engagement
Author: Jenna Fleming
March 26, 2018
Student engagement can feel like it’s the tallest peak. The most basic function of a teacher is to teach and their most basic goal is for their students to learn. We fantasize that our students would be at the edge of their seats just thirsting for our knowledge, but this picture is far from reality. Between the teaching and the learning can be mountain range of challenges.
Here are some tips for ways to forge a path through that mountain range and increase student engagement.
Love Your Students– One way to increase student engagement is to love them—to love someone is to know them. Get to know and understand your students. Spend time asking about their weekend activities, their siblings, and their friendships. It shows that you really care and demonstrates to your students how unique, valuable, and precious they are. It helps you to understand their perspective and how you can reach them more effectively. Not to mention, human beings are wired to connect. Isolation leads to a myriad of problems and illnesses. In a time when we are seeing more social disconnection while paradoxically becoming more technologically connected, relationships matter more than ever. When students feel that someone is listening to them, they feel valued and connected from a personal standpoint, defensiveness goes down, and engagement will naturally improve.
Be a Cheerleader- If you want to change something, first find out the motivation for the undesired behavior, find a better replacement, set up systems and accountability, and then encourage the daylights out of the new behavior. Positive encouragement works- simple as that. Make it a regular practice to affirm your students in many ways. The ROI (return on investment) for your time and energy spent lifting up your students is always greater than what you gave. People that purposely look for positive things are happier than those who do the opposite. A word of kindness, a note of encouragement, a class celebration, a token economy system, motivational quotes, or a welcoming, smiling face giving ‘high fives’ to start the school day will always bring more positive, uplifting energy into your classroom. Be your students’ biggest fan. We cheer for teams to win, let’s cheer for our students to shine.
Create Opportunities for Movement- Another way to enhance student engagement is getting them to move. Children who are more active have better emotional management, stronger focus, faster cognitive processing, and better memory retention than students who spend their days sitting still in the classroom. Motion increases energy and engagement. Create opportunities for kids to get up and move! Some ideas to try are alternative seating like yoga balls or wiggle seats and stools. Have kids get up and partner with someone across the room. Schedule in brain breaks for stretching and movement. Make learning mobile and walk through the hall or outside. Use physical movements to help remember vocabulary words and new concepts. Have students do their work in non-traditional ways like standing instead of sitting, writing on the whiteboard, or sitting in a different seat. It keeps things fresh, engaging, and fun.
Ask More Questions– This is probably the simplest shift that can really level-up your teaching game. As educators, we’ve learned effective pedagogy of asking questions. Some questions encourage a basic knowledge while others prompt a higher level of thinking. But what we often overlook is the psychological value of question-asking on student engagement. Here’s the thing— most people don’t like being told what to do. They like having a choice or having a say in what’s happening. Humans are also naturally curious and can’t stand having a story with no end. Utilize these pieces of human psychology to your advantage. Here’s how. Ask things like, “Want to have our math lesson on the floor or at our desks?” Or start with a story to begin a unit and suddenly stop, then ask your students, “Want to hear what happened next?”. Make it playful! Just watch as your students start to lean in!
Intermittently Pick up the Pace- Years ago I went to a conference with a keynote who spoke so quickly, I could barely keep up with him. To understand him, I had to set aside all distractions and temporarily laser-focus my full attention on him. Long term, I wouldn’t be able to sustain this amount of hyper-focused listening, but for a short period of time, it was totally doable. That was 6 years ago. Today, I still remember incredible details from Ron Clark’s talk on student leadership. Pacing is an under-discussed, foundational ingredient in engaged classrooms. Pacing encompasses many elements including, the pace of content, cadence of voice, time given for assignments, and length of lessons. Briefly picking up the tempo of teaching can cause a ‘wake up’ effect on students that encourages that hyper-focus I experienced years ago. If this is done quickly or is lengthy, we know students will get lost and disengage— but don’t shelf this powerful tool too quickly. It’s about finding a balance. Play with brief, intermittent pace increases to encourage your students to become more engaged and ‘on their toes’.
Jenna Fleming, M.Ed, LPC, NCC is owner and clinician at Georgetown Child & Family Counseling, a therapy group that serves children, teens, and families in the beautiful hill country of Texas just north of Austin. Jenna’s 16-year background as a school teacher and school counselor form the foundation for her love of educators and supporting student leadership.
At the heart of her is the belief that every person has incredible worth, genius, and potential and she loves helping people find hope and move toward living the life they want.
Jenna is the creator of the Deeply Rooted Parenting training and a practitioner in Trust-Based Relational Intervention, a trauma-informed modality of parenting, educating and counseling children with difficult behavior. She is passionate about encouraging and educating caregivers of children on ways to help children reach their potential and is often writing or speaking on these topics. A Leader in Me consultant for FranklinCovey Education, Jenna loves to help educators through the Leader in Me process, a personal joy she was able to experience as a school counselor herself.
When not engaged in her work, you’ll likely catch her being silly with her husband and 2 kids, reading or enjoying amazing Tex-Mex.