Student engagement can look different in every classroom and learning experience. It can look like hands raised, loud talking, drawing, building, interacting, discussing, etc. There are several verbs that can describe student engagement and can occur in both virtual and brick-and-mortar settings. Students need to be provided opportunities to construct meaning, discover, and learn. These opportunities need to spark attention, curiosity, interest, and passion so student motivation comes naturally. As teachers, we can pull out all the bells and whistles with new tools, games, manipulatives, but when it comes down to it, there are a few facts about student engagement that we cannot ignore.
FACT 1: Student Engagement is tied directly to relevance & real-life experiences.
Did you ever hear a student ask, “Why do I need to learn this?” This is a student seeking relevance. They want to know the value of learning the content or engaging in the activity. This is a great opportunity to make a real-life connection and demonstrate to students the various ways they can use the skills or content in the real world and in the future. It needs to be worth knowing so give students context when presenting activities or content. It would also be wise to seek their input on how it could be relevant or their ideas on application. You would be amazed at the ideas your students have.
FACT 2: Student Engagement is connected to student confidence.
Oh no, not the red pen again! Anyone else dread seeing a paper or test all marked up with red ink? I remember that feeling, it was like a punch in the gut and I clearly remember my attitude changing. I would get quiet and it took a while for me to participate again. In other words, my engagement level changed. I wish I had a teacher in those situations to model a growth mindset for me instead of just handing over a paper covered in red ink. Student confidence has a direct correlation to engagement. If students are in an environment where they are comfortable making mistakes then they will continue to engage. Modeling and demonstrating a growth mindset will lead to continued student engagement, even when mastery has not been obtained. Demonstrating the power of “yet” is so important.
FACT 3: Student engagement looks different for every student, class, and teacher.
When I think back to my first teacher interview years ago I was asked a question about what my class would look like if an administrator walked by. My response? LOUD! I wanted students in my Spanish class to be talking in Spanish loudly, moving around the room conversing, participating in gross motor activities, etc. Here I am almost 15 years later, teaching in a virtual classroom, and guess what!? My response to that question would still be similar, but I have learned over the years that it isn’t about MY vision or MY needs. It is about the needs of my students and the value of getting to know my students’ needs and interests. Knowing that every student, class, and teacher is different enables us to provide different opportunities for learning or choices for discovery. Students can demonstrate mastery in a variety of ways, it isn’t about the path or the details on the way. There are reasons why students act and perform in school the way they do, it is our responsibility to get to know our students to understand why and then find ways with relevance, and confidence to provide them different opportunities to engage and learn.
Anita Young is a Virtual Learning Specialist for the World of Learning Institute.
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