All too often I have heard colleagues pondering over situations in which students are found on their smart phones rather than engaged in class. As a former elementary school teacher who now instructs students at the college level, I wonder if this could be because the students are not fully engaged in the content being presented. These students may not just be updating their current status on their social media account or texting a friend about plans that day, but simply, they may not be engaged in a way that best meets their ever-changing learning needs.
Syllabi are now being written to include technology guidelines regarding social media or texting in class in an effort to maintain students’ focus. Frustrated professors and instructors often find themselves repeating the same information while wondering why their students are not focusing their attention to the lecture. Perhaps it is the responsibility of the educator to create an atmosphere of learning that engages the student in the content so immensely they ignore the temptation to get off-task or to “update their status.”
Jacob Kounin, an educational psychologist in the late 1960s, studied how highly effective teachers managed off-task behavior in a classroom. He found that teachers who could plan smooth, organized, and interesting lessons that allowed student participation had less classroom behavioral concerns (Charles & Cole, 2019). We should apply Kounin’s findings to today’s college classroom and ask ourselves, ‘How can educators provide a more interesting delivery of lessons that would, in turn, minimize off-task behavior and spark students’ interests?’
In today’s digital world, we rely heavily on communication while working with others through presentations, committee meetings, collaboration, online conference calls, emailing, texting, video chatting, and social media, and we owe it to our students to provide as much experience with these skills prior to entering the work force. It is our job as educators to captivate our learners and light a fire within them in order for connections of learning within their own world to occur.
A more interactive method of instruction that has worked for my students is to provide a list of upcoming topics for cooperative groups to present on as a tie-in to the chapters or class discussions. This method encourages some autonomy and responsibility for learning, as well as provides students with practice in working with others. It also practices communication and public speaking skills upon the delivery of information to their peers in the class.
If time is a factor, another interactive method would be to allow students to create videos of themselves presenting content through an online learning platform and share it with the class. Getting students out of their seat and more involved is a start to getting them physically and cognitively engaged in the lesson.
Case studies assigned in small groups of their choosing are also another very interactive and practical approach to encouraging the application of skills within a content area. Through this application of content knowledge and discussion of each group’s method for solving the case study, peers within the course also learn various thought processes and are exposed to a variety of viewpoints and approaches to solving the case study. This type of in-class activity provides students with a variety of tools for solving problems within his or her future profession.
Keeping Lectures Interactive
Whether you choose to make some minor adjustments to your instruction now or are willing to make major changes in your future lessons, think about the content to be presented but also think about the delivery. Research your audience and determine what your students need you to do in order for them to fully understand and connect with the content. If lecture is still the best method of delivering your content, here are five basic methods to help you to provide engaging and interactive, lecture-based lessons for your students:
- Present your content in a more engaging way by coming from behind the podium or away from the presentation board and walk the four corners of the classroom while you are discussing your content.
- Make eye contact with your students during lecture and discussion.
- Vary the inflection in your voice to sound interesting and engaging when discussing the content that you are teaching.
- Learn the content so well that you tell it to your students as if it were a story.
- Involve your students in classroom discussion by encouraging them to make connections to their lives and by posing questions throughout your lectures so that students take time to think, respond, and voice their own opinions.
Educators are not simply the messengers or deliverers of the content. We have all been called to this profession because we have the desire and skills to share our knowledge with a new generation. Go forth and educate your students so effectively that they forget about their phones, tablets, current social media status, or other responsibilities for the time being and become so engrossed in your lesson that not only does learning take place, but deep, lifelong connections to their own personal worlds are also established.
Stefanie R. Sorbet, EdD is assistant professor at the University of Central Arkansas in the Department of Elementary, Literacy, and Special Education.
Charles, C.M., Cole, K.M., (2019). Building Classroom Management Methods and Models. Pearson, Upper Saddle River, NJ, 12th. 80-81.