Teachers are struggling right now to maintain an engaging learning environment, whether teaching in person or online or a bit of both. For in-person classes, distancing and masks might make it seem like you cannot connect as well. For online classes, it might seem hard to find time for one-to-one conversations with students or to organize small group collaborative projects. Imagine how your students are feeling! Engagement is critical to the teaching-learning process and without it the real enjoyment of teaching and learning can fall short.
We have had wonderful opportunities recently to observe teachers in the United States, throughout the Pacific, and in Bahrain, and from those experiences we have been able to witness incredible ways to engage all students regardless of the space students are currently learning in. Students are no different than we are: They also like to know how the learning relates to their interests and the relevance of learning the content. When creating your 20–90-minute lesson, make sure you connect it and the activities to your students’ interests. There must be buy-in and relevance to ignite a desire to want to learn more and spend their time and energy doing so.
We have observed a boring standard being taught, but when the teacher creates an enticing hook, the students’ eyes are on their screens waiting for what is coming next or leaning forward in their chairs to capture the teacher’s next move. It is magical!
After the winter holiday, when the days seem a little less exciting than at the beginning of the school year, it is a great time to get reacquainted with your students while learning more about their interests and passions. Here are three quick ways that teachers can do that.
- Create a short, five-question survey to find out what your students are interested in learning more about. Examples of the questions might be: What would you like to research and learn more about? What would you like to teach your classmates? What is your favorite subject in school and why? If you could solve one problem in this world, what would it be? What makes school engaging?
- Students learn content by teaching others, so share the stage and assign sections of the unit you are teaching to small groups of students, providing the parameters of what you would like them to cover and teach the rest of the class. Use success criteria and encourage them to teach the way they like to be taught. You will be amazed at what they create and the engagement that takes place during the learning.
- Asking questions instead of giving answers can be a way of building curiosity in your lessons. Have the students ask as many questions as they can about a topic, phenomenon, or problem they have experienced in their world. Generating an online or in-class question board can help students take ownership of their learning and it will help teachers connect these questions to the standards you are teaching.
- Start as early as kindergarten with the idea that school is a place to investigate what sparks your curiosity and that this spark can lead you to a career you love. Exploring different careers and what they do to contribute to the world can expose children to jobs they may not have heard of while preparing them for jobs that have not been created yet. Invite experts to help mentor students with the projects they are working on, either online or in person.
This is certainly an interesting time in our world, and we know there are struggles, but there are amazing successes and celebrations happening in teaching and learning environments all over the world. We would love for you to share a way you have engaged your students during the pandemic. What have you tried that successfully increased engagement, either online or in person? Please use the comments feature and send us questions, tips, strategies, or ideas. We are all working to improve the engagement of students because we know once we have engaged them, the learning easily follows.
Cheryl Abla is a managing consultant at McREL International.
Jeanette Simenson-Gurolnick is a managing consultant at McREL International.