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Student Engagement Strategies for Teachers

Instructor: Erin Pugh
Blank stares. Doodlers. Side conversations. All teachers face the challenge of keeping an entire class's attention for an entire lesson. To eliminate those 'Bueller? Bueller?' moments, read on for strategies to engage students.

Take Hold

Whether it's reeling in the hyper-charged energy of a 6 year old or igniting a spark of interest in an apathetic 16 year old, engaging students in an effective way is what opens the door to learning. To capture students' attention, we must provide motivation, help students connect to material, and keep their interest--not the easiest of tasks yet totally attainable with some knowledge and planning.

Finding the MO of Motivation

The Latin phrase modus operandi a.k.a. method of operation is one's habit, style, or method of doing something. The way a teacher operates a class (his or her MO) can increase the amount of business that gets done. What motivates each child can vary greatly within a class, but teachers can aim for a common motivator. Perhaps it's showing a photo of a favorite music group or sports team, playing a clip of a popular song, or asking an intriguing question. It could be the enticement of a little treat as a prize for a correct answer.

Although research shows that intrinsic motivation (doing something for an internal reward) is more effective in long-term learning than extrinsic motivation (doing something for an external reward), a little chocolate can only help to sweeten a dose of academic information, right? Determining what your MO will be for a particular lesson requires knowing your students. What makes them tick? What lifts their eyebrows and keeps them focused long enough to absorb what you want to convey? Connecting information to students' lives could involve relating the topic of study to current issues, prior knowledge, or areas of interest. It all comes down to revealing a topic's relevance--helping students understand why something is important.

It's All Relevant

The 3 R's (reading, writing, and arithmetic) are essential to education, but the most important R is relevance. If a student does not see the importance in what he or she is being taught, he or she can easily check out or even halt any effort to learn. In a lesson, teachers need to answer--or better yet have their students answer--'Why is this important?'

Putting a math skill such as fractions into a real-life context of cooking shows how ½ cup of flour versus ¼ can affect a recipe. Likening an historical incident to a current political conflict brings a previous issue into a more relevant light. Explaining how correct punctuation makes or breaks one's ability to get an interview for a certain job gives commas a whole new importance.

When students feel that information is useful to them, they will perk up to receive that bit of knowledge. Helping them retain that knowledge and interest is the next step.

Students who are engaged in learning will be eager to participate in the classroom
Students raising hands in a classroom

Attention, Please!

Once students get why topics have meaning, we need to guide their understanding of those topics. It's a teacher's job to make that exploration interesting. Through cooperative learning, projects that capitalize on students' talents, differentiated instruction (catering to different learning styles), and plain old fun, we can increase the likelihood of retention while at the same time provide some enjoyment.

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