How To Engage Students

Instructor: Michael Quist

Michael has taught college-level mathematics and sociology; high school math, history, science, and speech/drama; and has a doctorate in education.

Engaging students involves appealing to what matters to them. In this lesson, we will discuss the elements that are involved in student engagement, and best practices to enhance the student experience.

What Is Student Engagement?

She is bored
bored student

Every teacher has seen it; vacant stares, lost expressions, and general disinterest in the classroom. It's no longer a question of whether or not they're paying attention, but has become a question of how you can get through to them. What is wrong? Why aren't they interested in what is going on in the classroom?

Interest is a combination of components
Digital Student

If you're an educator fortunate enough to have seen a student truly engaged, then you know why many are in what can sometimes be a tiring and unrewarding profession. When the students' eyes light up, they begin to smile or get that intent look on their faces, and they begin to get excited, then the occupation is the best in the world. It is what teachers live for.

The human mind thrives on interest and motivation. You remember what you care about, understand what fits the right connections in your brain, and can apply knowledge when it is connected in your brain to your memories and understanding of your life experiences. All levels of learning are on the other side of engagement.

When your students are engaged, they

1. care about what is happening;

2. are stimulated by what is happening;

3. believe in the learning process;

4. care about you;

5. believe in you; and

6. are able to follow the material.

Preparing Yourself for Student Engagement

Creating the conditions necessary for optimal student engagement is somewhat of an art, as well as a science. Start with yourself, and be brutally honest.

1. Do you care about what is happening in the classroom?

2. Are you stimulated by your presentation?

3. Do you have confidence that the students can achieve success in the topic?

4. Do you care about the students? Do you try to understand them? Do you feel what they're feeling?

5. Are you highly competent in the topic?

6. Do you care whether or not the material is being presented in a way that the students can grasp?

Preparing the Presentation to Create Student Engagement

Achieving student engagement is a matter of mastering all six areas. If you do, you will have an unprecedented level of student engagement, and will join that small, high-impact group of teachers who are really making a difference.

Getting Them to Care

When you're trying to create engagement, you have to get into the students' heads. What do they care about? Every classroom is full of dreams, aspirations, desires, fears, and hopes. Do you know what the students' dreams are? How does your material fit in with their dreams? Make the presentation speak to their dreams.

Getting Them Stimulated

Today's generation of students tends to be technologically stimulated all the time. They are using phones, tablets, laptops, game consoles, and smart televisions all day. This creates a couple of effects that you need to be aware of.

  • They're over-stimulated, which means bland fare, such as text or conventional lecture, will not be enough to make an impact.
  • They're used to it, which means you won't impress them with yours. However, your genuineness, personal touch, and unique magic will tend to stand out. There is a dearth of warmth in most students' lives--they will draw near to yours like freezing children warming up to a fire. Use many senses (especially the under-stimulated ones such as taste, touch, and smell) in your presentations, and let your personal warmth draw in your students.

Giving Them Confidence

Confidence is born of success. It is critical, in your presentations and exercises, to give the students successes. Show them that they really can do it. Get them to answer a question, any question. Draw them into competence by leading them, not by showing them.

Making Them Care About You

Interest and concern for another human being is generally a mixture of a mirror effect and vulnerability. The students will care about you when you show them that you truly care about them, and when you are willing to become vulnerable and open to their approval or disapproval. If you know their dreams, your passionate interest in what matters to them will give them a reason to care about you.

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