No matter what the subject, before students can learn new skills or absorb new material, they need to be paying attention. Here, three educators share the tech tools and best practices they use to improve student engagement and make sure students are energized, focused, and ready to learn.

Three ways to focus on student engagement

1. Catherine Castillo: Guided math talks

We use Daily Math Fluency by hand2mind to help educators guide math talks with students. It provides educators with a framework for being intentional about using math talks and number strings in their classrooms.

Related: 5 online discussion tools to fuel student engagement

Since we’ve incorporated it, students are more comfortable exploring the multiple ways a math problem can be solved—and openly sharing their strategies and solutions. They’re developing strong number sense by connecting mathematical concepts and exploring relationships by using visual models such as dot patterns, ten-frames, and open arrays.

2. Dr. Gene Kerns: Giving students access and time to read

Each year Renaissance analyzes millions of student reading records to create the largest study of student reading habits in the world, What Kids Are Reading. Among the findings that stood out to us this year were the fact that students, particularly in later grades, do not spend enough time reading and do not read complex enough texts to improve their proficiency. To help students stretch those reading muscles, we suggest scheduling more independent reading time and making it easier for students to find books they enjoy.

What Kids Are Reading includes lists of the most popular books by grade, and one thing we see in the upper grades is that the most-read books tend to be part of the canon students are commonly assigned in class. It appears that many students are reading what they’re assigned and little else. When I was a high school teacher, our lists would not have looked like that because we began each class of our block schedule with 15–20 minutes of independent reading. Schedule some time each day for your students to practice the most fundamental academic skill there is, and soon they’ll be reading books they’re interested in and not just those you’ve assigned.

It’s not entirely clear why students aren’t reading more, but we do know that the older students get, the more likely they are to say they have trouble finding books they like. Make it easier on them! Lower the barriers to access by making digital books available to them so they don’t have to get a pass, go down to the library, make their way through the stacks, engage with the online circulation system, find the book, check it out, and go back to class. It also helps to keep a class bookshelf, either digitally or in hard copy, where students can share books they’ve enjoyed with one another.

3. Victoria Mendoza: Video warm-ups and brain breaks

As a kindergarten teacher, I find videos make great warm-up exercises. The videos on the Boclips for Teachers platform offer content covering all ages and school subjects. Young kids love to sing and dance, and videos with songs about the alphabet are a great way to get the party started some days. All the videos are educational, and there are so many that I know I’ll be able to find something relevant to the lesson I’m working on.

When we practice with math, for example, we might begin by watching a video to practice counting to 100 or reviewing our shapes. Other times, we may watch a video about particular letters or sight words we’re working on, just to reinforce concepts that we’ve covered during other activities. My students only get one recess, and that can be pretty tough on such young children. I’ve been using video to supplement lessons and give my students a brain break. I’ve found that these short breaks are critical and essential to helping my students stay engaged and regain focus!

About the Author:

Catherine Castillo is the coordinator of 21st-century numeracy at Springfield Public Schools. Follow her on Twitter: @MsCastillosMath.

Dr. Gene Kerns is the Chief Academic Officer at Renaissance. He is a third-generation educator and has served as a public-school teacher, adjunct faculty member, professional development trainer, district supervisor of academic services, and academic advisor at one of the nation’s top edtech companies. He has trained and consulted internationally and is the author of two books. Follow him on Twitter: @GeneKerns.

Victoria Mendoza is a kindergarten teacher in Georgia. Follow her on Twitter: @learninginrm509.


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