Last week’s post encouraged us to reconsider what student engagement means and entails. Today I’d like to explore just some of the things teachers can do to better promote it. I’m offering six ideas here and encourage you to add to the list.
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building student engagement
There are many ways to get students engaged in a classroom, but when topics are controversial or taboo, students may shy away from sharing their thoughts on the subject. In contrast, some may be so overly passionate about a topic that they proselytize their point. One tactic that helps students feel comfortable enough to speak about controversial topics is through debates that are structured and promote students’ preparedness in defending or opposing a particular stance on a topic.
Nearly every teacher has experienced students forgetting something important. This forgetfulness comes in various forms. It might involve not following instructions for an assignment, missing a due date, forgetting important details on a test, or even forgetting to take the test itself. Whatever the memory infraction, there are usually good reasons why students forget. Gratefully, there are a few simple ways teachers can build context to help students achieve deeper and longer lasting learning.
I was looking at one of my old teaching and learning books, Kenneth Eble’s 1988 book The Craft of Teaching. Some parts are now a bit dated, but many are not. It was one of those books that greatly influenced how a lot of us thought about teaching and learning back then.
But I found something in the book that was even older. Eble includes a discussion of and several quotes from an 1879 book (actually the ninth edition) by Josiah Fitch titled The Art of Questioning. Eble writes that it’s a small book and was originally aimed at British Sunday school teachers. Here’s the quote that caught my attention.
“What if the students revolt?” “What if I ask them to talk to a neighbor, and they simply refuse?” “What if they do not see active learning as teaching?” “What if they just want me to lecture?” “What if my teaching evaluation scores plummet?” “Even if I am excited about innovative teaching and learning, what if I encounter student resistance?”
When teachers try something different in the classroom and students resist, the teacher may back down. Often, this is due to fear of what will happen to their student evaluations and contract renewals. I have been told by many instructors that they once tried active learning but the students hated it, so they went back to what was tried and true. (Silverthorn, 2006, p. 139)
“What is one of your pet peeves?” That question is among those I might ask my students at the start of nearly every class session as a way of taking attendance. Asking about pet peeves always elicits a lively, engaged discussion. Faces light up, and everyone wants to share their own personal irritants. This engagement never happens when taking attendance is nothing more than reading names from the roster with an answer of “Here” or “Present.”
Do you ever wonder whether your students care about your course material? Do you question whether your students appreciate how the information you address in class is relevant to them? Do you feel like there is often a mismatch between your intentions for your class and what your students actually want to learn?
When you look around your classroom, do you see students texting under their desks, or worse yet, right out in the open? Do you have students who skip class, arrive late or leave early, or come unprepared? If so, Christy Price, EdD has some words of advice for you.
One of the first and most difficult tasks an online instructor faces is how to establish the presence of a learning community. Learning in isolation may be possible, but it’s neither enjoyable nor complete, and many online students end up quitting or failing the course simply because they miss the classmate support that is readily available in face-to-face classes. To ignore the importance of peer learning and personal connection in any classroom, including those in which participants might not physically meet, is to deny the significance of social interaction in learning.
Student engagement is a popular topic and the overwhelming majority of the information on this topic is concentrated on the big issues of keeping students engaged, such as the importance of faculty presence in the classroom, adhering to deadlines and responding to students in a timely manner, and giving thorough feedback on assignments.