Whether your students take the bus to school or run downstairs to the computer room, keeping them engaged in their classwork throughout the day is the best way for them to master content and progress to the next level of their education.
But not all students do this, or at least, do it well. So how can teachers and principals up their game to keep students engaged and make sure each child stays focused and ready to learn?
As teacher for more than 20 years, I have 6 tips to help keep students engaged throughout the day, whether they are in a traditional or a virtual classroom.
1. Start with a question. I love my coffee. Probably too much. But kids need other stimuli to get them going. I suggest you begin each day with a with a warm-up question or icebreaker that gets students talking to you and each other right away. Let them shake off the mental cobwebs. Giving them some time to talk about how they are doing or about something that interests them is a good way to get them going–all while you are still working through your second cup.
2. Set expectations. Speaking of engagement, set the expectation right away that all students must participate in some way. In online settings, some are happy to speak up using the video and microphone, but if they are uncomfortable or unable to do that, they can use the chat and other features to fully participate. You can even use a tool like popsicle sticks or drawing names from a hat to vary who is called on to share during a lesson. Students are more likely to stay engaged and pay attention knowing it could be them who gets selected next.
3. Make it relevant. Connect each day’s material to something you just taught them, or something the students have experience with, so they feel confident they can succeed in mastering the new content. Ask the class to chime in with examples from their own lives.
4. Mix it up a bit. Students can work in pairs or groups for one assignment, and by themselves for another. Plan ahead to use different tools and features so students don’t get bored with the same thing lesson after lesson.
5. Be the change. Model what you want to see from students. In my virtual classroom, if I want students to use their video, I use my video. Think out loud so students can be part of your thought process and use it as a model for their own thinking. Pre-teach content-specific vocabulary and model how students might keep a vocabulary journal of their own by including pictures, mnemonic devices, and sentences containing the word. And always provide an example before sending students off to complete an assignment on their own.
6. Give them feedback. Whether they’ll admit it or not, students love feedback. It validates what they’ve done and gives them easy ideas on how to do it better next time. Give meaningful feedback throughout the lesson. If students do something well, be specific about what they did well. Provide constructive comments that let students know that even if they are not there YET, they will get there and everyone in the class can be part of that. For example, “Good work, Joe! Your response is on the right track, but we need a little more information to fully explain the concept. Can anyone add to what Joe got us started with so that we all have a better understanding?” This is the place that we, as educators, can put it back on the students, to help them fill in the gaps themselves.
With these simple strategies, we can make it easier for students to thrive, easier for them to succeed, and easier for the teacher to keep them engaged.
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