This post was written by guest contributor Sarah Weedman.
With so many unknowns as I prepare to go back into the classroom, I am focusing on student engagement strategies for the new school year. I am always looking for ways to increase student engagement and intrinsic motivation in my classroom. One thing that usually shocks people is that I do not use Dojo. Dojo is a popular app that allows teachers to give points to their students throughout the day. I want to be clear that I do not see anything wrong with this method, and I believe there is a time and place for Dojo. However, in my classroom, I strive to find student engagement strategies that will promote students’ internal drive to learn and create lasting results.
Two books that have really challenged me in my career are Teach like a Pirate and Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Both of these books promote the idea of encouraging students to find what motivates them and creating a desire to learn and succeed. When students are actively engaged in their learning undesirable behaviors decrease and student output increases.
One student engagement strategy I use to create an environment that doesn’t rely on a point system is call and response. Yes, I know you have heard it a million times, but let me teach you how I use it. Rather than having the teacher be the only person allowed to get the class’s attention, give the power to the students. In my classroom, students can use their calls and responses to make requests, provide information, encourage each other or express appropriate frustrations. This obviously takes some coaching, so let me walk you through two scenarios:
Student is trying to write a summary.
Student: “Class, class!”
Class: “Yes, yes!”
Student: “I am noticing that we are using outdoor voices. Can you please lower your voice to a whisper?”
Class: “Yes. Thank you for your feedback.”
In this scenario, the student was prepared with the appropriate tools to ease their frustration without interrupting other students or creating a scene (kicking, screaming, etc.). The student was able to appropriately express what he needed in order to continue to learn.
Student B was asked to edit their summary.
Student A: “Macaroni and cheese!”
Class: “Everybody freeze!”
Student A: “I am noticing that Student B had a hard time rewriting his paper, but he kept trying and accepted Ms. Weedman’s feedback. Can we give him a Holy Moly?”
Class: “Holy Moly- Guacamole!”
In this scenario, the student recognized a peer exhibiting resiliency and verbally praised them. These simple words of affirmation boost student engagement and output. It also helps to normalize accepting challenges and feedback and promotes an environment where it is okay to not be perfect the first time.
I always spend the first few weeks of school developing this skill set and strategy with my students. We talk about appropriate ways to use call and response. My students understand that it’s not something to be done during class time. We also have a rule that students’ feedback/praise sentences must start with “I’m noticing…” because this sentence stem helps them set up their statement to be polite rather than them shouting out “SHUT UP!” (just keeping it real!). I wanted to share this tip because almost every teacher is using call and response in their classrooms already.
Kagan, a professional development workshops for teachers, also offers effective student engagement strategies. I have been fortunate to have attended two of their trainings that have helped my development as a teacher. My personal favorite is a strategy called mix, pair, share. Here is how I implement mix, pair, share in my classroom:
Instead of gathering on the carpet or staying in their seats to answer questions, students roam around the room. When the music stops, that is their signal to pair up by high-fiving the person closest to them. I ask a question and give them adequate think time and students take turns sharing their answer. I usually will say the student with the longest/shortest hair goes first. Partner 1 shares first for the entire allotted time and then I will say switch and partner 2 will share. This way students are engaged and every student can answer and be a part of the conversation. As the students are sharing, I am constantly walking around the room, monitoring and participating in conversation with them. I also love the moments this provides the students with.
Lastly, I wanted to share a strategy that would translate to online learning. With the uncertainty around COVID-19, there is a strong possibility that we may not be able to return to the classroom at the beginning of this school year. I am a huge supporter of project-based learning but I am aware of the amount of resources and time it would take for my students to complete a physical project at home. I have previously used the platform KidBlog to allow my students to create blogs to demonstrate their learning. KidBlog is a user-friendly website that allows to students to create webpages that are secured. As a second-grade teacher in Kentucky, we teach about community, jobs and being a globally and culturally competent citizen in our social studies standards and district guidelines. I am looking forward to engaging my students in creating their own website where they can upload pictures of their community and write about important members in their community and how they want to contribute to their neighborhoods. Having them make that connections and identify their part and impact in a community will be much more impactful than just reading about someone else’s. As a teacher, this will also help me learn more about the student and make connections with them. I am working so hard to brainstorm more ways to engage and connect with them while being safe at home.
Giving up total teacher control can be hard at first, but providing my students with the power to command the class’s attention appropriately, actively engage each other in conversation and create their own virtual projects has greatly improved my student engagement, drive and classroom management while decreasing undesirable behaviors.
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This blog post was written by Kentucky teacher, Sarah Weedman. You can follow her on Instagram.