New Teacher Student Engagement Tips

New teacher student engagement tips are everywhere. Sadly, most of them are (in my humble opinion) wrong. It’s always about some new gimmick or gadget. All The Ways I Screwed Up My First Year of TeachingAnd although I love gimmicks and gadgets as much as the next teacher, they do not guarantee student engagement. In this excerpt from All The Ways I Screwed Up My First Year of Teaching, you will learn the secret to create student engagement. And luckily, it’s really not that complicated.

“If that teacher would just make math more interesting, the students in her class wouldn’t act up all the time.”

How many times have you heard this? I hear it from parents, from students, from principals, and even from other teachers. All humans have experienced an instructor so boring our brains melted away and leaked out our ears. Who can blame students for acting up in a situation like that? A spit wad hitting the teacher’s ear at least adds a little drama.

As a new teacher looking to create student engagement, I decide boredom is not going to happen in my class. My eager students will look up in surprise when it’s time for recess. “What, already?” they will say. “Couldn’t we stay in to finish our work?”

New Teacher Student Engagement Tip #1 – Entertainment Isn’t Always Engaging

To make sure my class is never boring, I design lots of lessons using M&Ms, dice, dominoes, and popup books. I read with a dra-MAT-ic voice, and utilize games.

Around the World is a favorite. Maybe you’ve played it. The teacher holds up a math flash card, and two students compete to see who can be the first to call out the answer. The winner gets to move on to the next student, and the ultimate winner is the one who can make it all the way around the room. My students love Around the World, and so do I (not much lesson planning.) It’s entertaining and suspenseful. Why, then, do they still act up?

It’s because entertainment does not create student engagement.

It’s not a bad idea to entertain, but engagement is so much better.

New Teacher Student Engagement TipsStudents are engaged when they are actively involved in an activity. They are entertained when something has their attention. Engagement is active, and entertainment is passive. It’s not a bad idea to entertain, but engagement is so much better.

How many students are engaged in the Around the World game? The one that’s challenging, and the one being challenged – two, out of thirty kids.  Maybe one or two others are engaged, too, such as the one who knows all the math facts, and is feeding them to his friends in exchange for the dessert from their lunches. The audience may be entertained by the suspense of the competition, but it’s like watching TV. No participation is required.

New Teacher Student Engagement Tip #2 – Fancy Materials Don’t Create Student Engagement

Fancy materials are fine, but they don’t create student engagement either. In fact, sometimes they pretty much guarantee distraction. Students can use dominoes in ways that don’t involve performing math operations with the dots. Believe me.

Yes, make your lessons interesting, but don’t expect it to guarantee angelic behavior.

Students misbehave for many reasons. Only one of them is boredom. Others can be lack of sleep, hunger, the need for attention, curiosity about what will happen if a “rule” is broken, revenge, impulsiveness, ignorance of expectations, and many others. Yes, make your lessons interesting, but don’t expect it to guarantee angelic behavior.

New Teacher Student Engagement TipsNew Teacher Student Engagement Tip #3 – Novelty Doesn’t Create Student Engagement

Don’t expect students to behave better during fancy or unusual lessons. In fact, students are likely to act up to find behavior limits for the new activity. Many of your students like their routines and hate change (just like many adults.)

Don’t feel guilty for planning a “plain” lesson every once in awhile.

It’s fine to use innovative activities, but just make sure you lay a good foundation, and teach expectations carefully. Also, don’t feel guilty for planning a “plain” lesson every once in awhile. In fact, if you have a mixture of “plain” and “exciting” lessons, the exciting ones will be even more stimulating.

Student involvement creates student engagement. The people who are working are the people who are learning. If you work hard to read in a dramatic voice, you learn more than your audience. In Around the World, the teacher and the two competing students are learning (unless one student isn’t even trying, because he knows he doesn’t have a chance against your star math student. In that case, two people are learning, you and the star math student. And since both of you already know your math facts, what’s the point?)

You Can’t Be That Entertaining, Anyway

Realize you won’t be more entertaining than 3DTV, video games, the latest iPad app, the soccer World Cup, or American Idol. Your job is not to out-entertain, but to help the students learn and feel great about themselves for learning. Strive to get as many students as possible involved in the lesson, not provide the most over-the-top drama.

Strive to get as many students as possible involved in the lesson, not provide the most over-the-top drama.

Not every student will love every lesson, but every lesson has the potential to awaken a lifelong passion in at least one student. Let your passion and enthusiasm for learning shine through whenever you can, and you will not need the gimmicks to create student engagement.

Student engagement is an essential classroom management strategy for new teachers, but it’s not the only one. Each week I send a new classroom management hint to thousands of teachers just like you. Would you like to join us? Follow this link to get started.

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Why a Successful Student Teacher Can Fail as a First-Year Teacher

All The Ways I Screwed Up My First Year of TeachingI was a very successful student teacher, but a complete failure as a first-year teacher.  How could a great student teacher become a horrible first-year teacher? Part of the problem was the success itself, which my mentor teacher created for me. In this excerpt from my first book, All the Ways I Screwed Up My First Year of Teaching, you’ll learn several ways that successful student teaching can actually harm your teaching career.

I gaze out over the sea of little faces shining up at me as I read aloud from a book about insects. All is peaceful and calm. Moments earlier, the office called to cancel an assembly, and I needed to quickly adjust. No problem for me, amazing student teacher I am! I can handle anything. I’m actually probably more like a “real” teacher than a student teacher. True, my cooperating teacher is in the room, but she’s not doing anything except smiling at me from time to time.

As a Student Teacher, Parents Loved Me

A parent of one of the more wiggly students walks into the room. The master teacher greets her, and invites her into the hallway for a little chat. Later, when the students are working on another project, she introduces us. I invite the parent to participate in class, and show her the box of volunteer work. Soon she is busy cutting out materials. I’m such a great teacher! Even the parents love me!

My Student Teacher Self Could Handle the Toughest Students

One of the students in “my” class is a runner. At six years old, he’s a refugee from a horrible situation in the Middle East, and he freaks out and runs out of the room any time he gets a chance. My master teacher attends meetings after school about him all the time. Other teachers in the staff room tell me they can’t figure out how I can handle it. I lower my eyes modestly. “It’s not really that bad,” I say.

Problem-Solving Was Easy When I Was a Student Teacher

One day I forget to plan a lesson, because I took a college exam the previous day. I don’t worry about it too much. I go to the cupboard of ready-to-go filler activities and pick one. No problem! Most people would be overwhelmed, going to college full-time, working part time, and student teaching. Not me! I have it handled!

Why a Successful Student Teacher Can Fail as a First-Year TeacherMy First-Year Teaching Disaster

Fast forward to halfway through my first year of teaching in Hawaii. The parents are upset with me, no one volunteers in my room, the students are far from angelic, and my desk is a huge volcano of paper, spewing student work and lesson plans everywhere.

What happened?

At first, I blame the school community. The principal isn’t supportive, the schedule is impossible, I don’t have enough plan time, I don’t have enough materials, and on and on. Later I blame the community at large. The people here don’t provide enough discipline for their kids at home, so they don’t know how to act at school. The people are prejudiced against me because I’m a “foreigner” from the Mainland. The people are too lazy to help out in the classroom.

The support provided for me during student teaching was invisible to me until years later.

None of this is true. The truth is, I wasn’t nearly as experienced a teacher as I thought I was, and I made a lot of mistakes an experienced teacher would know how to avoid. The support provided for me during student teaching was invisible to me until years later.

Watching An Expert Doesn’t Make You An Expert

successful-student-teacher2Before I took over her class, my master teacher set up discipline expectations for the students and taught them how she expected them to behave. She arranged the classroom to support the students in their learning, and she established the curriculum long before she gave me the insect unit to teach. True, I watched her, and she graciously explained what she was doing, but watching a demonstration is not the same as making it happen.

Think of a professional basketball player, dribbling between his legs, floating effortlessly to the hoop past three defenders, and making a slam-dunk. He can tell you all about his training program. He can even break down the moves for you and explain it all step by step. That doesn’t mean you can duplicate his results when he hands you the basketball.

Fool-Proofing for the Student Teacher

If the master teacher is any good, she isn’t going to let you fail, either. When you make a mistake, she’ll help you fix it, both for your sake and for the sake of her students. It’s like a parent teaching a little kid to swim. The kid might think he’s swimming on his own, but no one’s going to let him drown.

In the same way, my master teacher headed off many problems for me before they even developed. When she was in the back of the room smiling at me, she was working to create those filler activities for the closet. She was developing intervention strategies for the refugee kid, setting up the volunteer area, tactfully explaining my presence to the wiggly student’s parent, and finding insect books for the class library.

I’m glad I had a positive student teaching experience. I wouldn’t change anything about it, because it created in me the vision of myself as a successful teacher, a vision I clung to during the tough times. But I do wish I could somehow wave a magic wand in front of my New Teacher Self before she started teaching on her own, and reveal to her how much support her master teacher provided. I think it would have changed her attitude, and helped her to avoid many of the other mistakes she made her first year.

You may already realize your master teacher created the environment that helped you succeed as a student teacher. If so, you may be interested in getting up to speed on classroom management, and I have just the thing for you. How about a free weekly classroom management hint, and access to a resource library of dozens of resources for educators? Just click here and enter your email to get started.

 

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Are Class Meetings a Waste of Time?

Class meetings are becoming more and more common, especially at the elementary level. Are they worth the time?

Class meetings, like any other classroom management tool, can be abused. When I was a full-time elementary teacher my class had Morning Meeting every morning. As I remember it, we would do a greeting, have announcements, sing a campfire-type song, and play a game. Every Friday we would do Pretzels, which sometimes took 30 minutes and involved students complementing each other for being helpful and asking for restitution (in the form of a pretzel) for being hurtful.

Are Class Meetings a Waste of Time?I was all gung-ho about Morning Meeting at first. I noticed improvement in students’ listening and problem-solving skills. It was also fun and seemed to build rapport. But then the students got really good at dragging the greetings and games out, so that sometimes the meetings would take 45 minutes or more. When we played games like Do You Love Me, Honey (to try to make each other laugh) and Can You Do This Like I Do This (a guessing game) the students would get out of control and goofy. I started to think the meeting was a big waste of time.

Older kids are not going to tolerate anything they see as stupid, boring, or patronizing.

So when I moved on to middle school, I left it out entirely. Who has time for a 30-minute meeting in a 45-minute class period? Plus, what middle-schooler would be caught dead playing Do You Love Me Honey? Frankly, I just couldn’t see the point. Why work so hard to build rapport and community when I only saw my students 45 minutes a day for 9 weeks? So I ditched it.

The education community ditched it too, as school focused more and more on standards and curriculum and less on fun. And we suffered for it. Enrollment in my classroom management seminars exploded as student behavior escalated out of control. Students seemed so angry, and they acted out in disruptive, destructive, and sometimes even violent ways. Yikes!

Pensulum

Now the pendulum is swinging back and class meetings are “in” again. Some schools even mandate them. And I think, on the whole, this is a good thing. (Not the mandating, but the reemergence of circle time.) Class meetings can help in so many ways. They can:

  • Promote the development of speaking and listening skills
  • Help students form friendships and understand each other
  • Teach students problem-solving skills and give them the opportunity to practice in a safe environment
  • Allow the teacher to become aware of emerging problems before they escalate
  • Increase student buy-in to rules, procedures, and classroom norms
  • Create a forum for solving whole-class conflicts when they arise

…and more!

However, as I said in the beginning, class meetings CAN be a waste of time. It can be difficult with today’s large class sizes for everyone to get a chance to speak, and it can be hard for younger students and students with short attention spans (in other words, everyone) to listen for that long. Introverted or shy students can feel unsafe. Meetings can become too heavy or too silly. And older kids are not going to tolerate anything they see as stupid, boring, or patronizing.

If you decide to make class meetings a part of your day, here are a few suggestions to make them beneficial for everyone.

Keep It SnappyKeep it Snappy

The entire meeting should take no longer than 10-15 minutes on a normal day. No long games or involved greetings (like I did.) If everyone is going to share, teach them how to share in five or six words. If you want longer sharing, limit it to two or three people per meeting. Use hand signals such as “fist-to-five” and “same-as” to give everyone a chance to participate at once, instead of slow, boring, one-at-a-time models.

It’s important to have a structure for the meeting, but don’t do identical activities each day.

Build In Variety

It’s important to have a structure for the meeting, but don’t do identical activities each day. For example, it’s great to have a greeting component for your meeting, but change up the greeting. Use a different language. Have a choral greeting on some days, and an individual greeting on others. Go around the circle sometimes, and sometimes allow students to choose their greet-ee. Don’t be as rigid I was with my set agenda (greeting, announcements, song, and game) every day. If you build in flexibility you will be able to adapt when you need extra time for problem-solving or when you need to cut it short.

Include Everyone

I used to make students who didn’t complete their homework do it during the game time. This was a mistake. Everyone needs to participate in the meeting.

Make it okay to pass or have a way they can participate anonymously, such as submitting discussion topics to a suggestion box.

Make Sure Everyone Is Safe

Some students will feel uncomfortable sharing. Make it okay to pass or have a way they can participate anonymously, such as submitting discussion topics to a suggestion box.

Avoid Heavy, Reactionary Meetings

If you only call a class meeting when there’s a problem, it may feel like scolding to your students. It may not be necessary to have a class meeting every day, but it is helpful to have them on a regular basis when things are “normal” so students are used to participating and feel safe doing so.

Keep It Relevant

Class meetings can and should be fun, but they should also feel purposeful and important. For older students, it may be appropriate to have a debriefing meeting at the end of the period where they can celebrate learning and work through any problems that came up during class. Ask students for discussion topics, and provide ways for them to safely share what’s happening in their lives.

Build In VarietyCreate Traditions and Positive Habits

This can be done in many ways and can be easily adapted to your style and the needs of the students. Use class meetings to teach students how to greet each other, how to give and receive compliments and show appreciation, and how to use centering techniques such as purposeful breathing. Create special signals (like saying “one-two-three-BREAK”) to end the meeting or transition to another activity.

Class meetings are a powerful tool that be used in many different ways, and there is always more to learn.

Class meetings are a powerful tool that be used in many different ways, and there is always more to learn. If you have a suggestion or question about class meetings, I invite you to share in the comments below.

Now go create a great day for yourself and your students!

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStrategies.com

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Classroom Rewards Systems That Work

Classroom rewards systems can be super effective at motivating students. They can also consume a huge amount of time and money, keep students from developing intrinsic motivation, and lose their effectiveness over time.

I couldn’t believe how well-behaved my students were the first week. They focused on their work. They raised their hands. Transitions took half the time. It was awesome! Then the problems started.

One year I implemented a money reward system in my classroom. Students earned Behavior Bucks for keeping their desks clean, turning in homework, walking quietly in the hallways, and a variety of other positive behaviors. They paid Behavior Bucks for interrupting, forgetting supplies, using disrespectful language, and so on.

behavior-bucksI couldn’t believe how well-behaved my students were the first week. They focused on their work. They raised their hands. Transitions took half the time. It was awesome!

Then the problems started. Students lost their Behavior Bucks wallets. A counterfeiter emerged. Bullies extorted Behavior Bucks from other kids. The students who needed the most motivation decided they didn’t care anymore, while others seemed to think of nothing else. I was no longer running my reward system. It was running me.

If you’d like your classroom reward system to work better than mine did, I suggest three things:

Keep it Simple

checklistWhether you’re using table points, marbles in a jar, tokens, or class currency, if it takes a lot of time or effort to keep up with, it will not be sustainable. Make sure your tracking system is quick and simple, and avoid long lists of ways to earn and lose incentives. If you have to put it on a chart so you and your students can remember it, it’s probably too complicated. I suggest offering incentives as they are needed in the moment, instead of making a list of what you will reward and what you will not.

Be Fair and Consistent

Don’t reward only one student for a behavior that several are exhibiting, or over-reward struggling students while ignoring students who always do the right thing. If you promise a reward, be sure to follow through. Also, don’t give a reward that isn’t earned or punish a whole group for the behavior of a few students.

Recognize and Motivate Instead of Manipulate and Control

thumbs-upUse your classroom rewards system to recognize what students are doing right. Students enjoy the challenge of working toward a goal. Many of them also feel good when someone notices something they did right. No one enjoys feeling like a puppet on a string. A reward system will succeed or fail based on how it makes your students feel. If they feel good, it will work. If they feel bad, it will fail.

Do you have a classroom reward system that works well for you? If so, I would love to hear about it! Please leave a comment below.

Now go create a great day for yourself and your students!

Katrina Ayres, PositiveTeachingStrategies.com

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