Dec. 16, 2016
As we near the end of the first semester, the topic of
student engagement is top of mind for a lot of us. We often wonder about the
best way to keep students engaged throughout the year.
I’ve always believed that the combination of strong
relationships with students and a really great lesson plan is the best
classroom management plan. If these two factors are present in your classroom,
things will run smoothly and students will be happy learners.
Here are some ways I increase student engagement in my
First, all work in the classroom should be meaningful work. We
never “do worksheets” and assignments are not seen as busywork by students. We
are always working toward an end goal — the unit’s summative assessment — and I
communicate clearly with students the “why” of the lesson. This is particularly
important with adolescent learners, who are naturally questioning authority and
love to wonder why decisions are made.
Second, students should have some degree of choice each day.
For example, they may get a choice of which document to investigate during a
small group discussion. They might get to choose from which historical perspective
to write an essay. Sometimes, they get to choose their partner for a
Think-Pair-Share. However you can incorporate student choice, it goes a long
way in getting students engaged on a daily basis because it creates ownership
over their work.
Third, students need to feel like the work has real-world
applications. In my classroom, we talk throughout a unit about not just the
content knowledge, but the skills students are learning each day. I make this
explicit to the students and we discuss how they could use these skills in the
future. Also, each project we complete is designed to have a real-world audience.
For example, my seventh-grade students are researching an assortment of
religious conflicts (which they got to choose) and their end product will be a
proposal to the U.N. Security Council about how to maintain peace and security
in the impacted region. This gives them a focus and purpose that they wouldn’t
get if they were simply writing an essay or presenting to classmates.
As we continue to plan for second semester, how can we
design lesson and unit plans to increase student engagement? Giving students a
very clear purpose, choice and real-world applications is a start!