Lots of folks have their own ideas of engagement, and we see engagement up and down the scale. For some it might be a teacher asking questions from time to time during the lecture. For others, student projects and partnering or small group stations are engaging. For still others, the room looks like organized chaos, yet everybody is on task.
So as I visited schools this week, I asked middle school students (although these apply to all grade levels) to tell me some ways to engage them in learning. Although most of these you could have predicted, I think it’s good to be reminded of them. And besides that, to hear it from students themselves, I think it is more impactful. Here is the Top Ten List, in no particular order, of what middle school students across several school in my district told me:
- Let us move around some. “We don’t want you to let us go crazy, but allowing us to move around the room, sort of energizes us.” Most students like coming to the board to work a problem or validate their responses. There is some science to getting up and moving around and getting the blood pumping that helps them function.
- Allow us to Communicate and Collaborate. It’s hard for us to sit still for a long period of time, much less have us to be absolutely quiet for an hour. Even if it’s as simple as standing and stretching for a minute, and saying something to our friends…it’s better than nothing. They like it when their teachers say things like, “Turn and Talk to a partner for 15 seconds about…”
- Let us be Creative. Even students realize that they will get off track talking about everything except the lesson, but most of them would be focused on the topic if given the chance to work with partners or small groups. Students say they tend to be more creative when they can bounce ideas off of one another. They say, “Give us a chance to prove we can do it.”
- Dump the Worksheets. Yes, it’s the easiest way to complete assignments…but students really don’t like them. The more simplistic the worksheet (fill in the blank), the less material retained. “When we go into class and our teacher hands us a worksheet…it’s like, oh no…another worksheet. Let’s just fill it out and get it over with.”
- Vary your teaching styles. Every once in a while, it’s nice for students to know that they will be doing something different than just taking notes or copying from the board…that’s boring. Most tend to “check-out” mentally after too many lectures…sometimes even before the class starts, because they know that’s what is going to be happening in the class that day.
- Make sure instructions are clear. Students admit that they don’t always listen like they should when directions are given…and they miss parts of the instructions. Said one young lady, “If the teacher gets our attention first, then gives us clear directions, it’s easier.”
- Students tend to like Rubrics. Students say that they would rather know up front, what is expected. Students also said that they would love to see a completed project or assignment, where possible, to give them a picture of what their project is to look like when completed.
- Let us use technology. Technology is sort of where we live. We know we have to follow school rules as fa as personal devices, but we like to use computers…so give us a change to use those tools.
- We like hands-on projects. A student said, “You know that old saying about if I hear it, I remember a certain amount…if I see it I remember a little bit more, and if I do it I remember even more? Well that’s true.” Enough said.
- Make it Relevant. Students want to know that what they are doing has some meaning for them other than busy work. “Telling us how this might help us in the future or where we may have experienced this topic or subject in the past, somehow makes it more real…more valuable to us.”