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. And 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.
Students 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 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.