Getting Students Engaged

If you were to quietly observe either an in-person or virtual classroom today, would you be able to pick out the students learning and those who were not? If you know anything about student engagement you certainly would. 

According to the Glossary of Education Reform, “student engagement refers to the degree of attention, curiosity, interest, optimism, and passion that students show when they are learning or being taught, which extends to the level of motivation they have to learn and progress in their education.”

In other words, for teaching to be effective and for learning to occur, students need to pay attention in class, have both curiosity and interest in the learning materials, be optimistic and passionate about their ability to learn, and be motivated to put forth their best effort.

Now picture that same class of 25-31 students or so and think about how difficult it would be for you to make sure each student stays actively engaged during your entire lesson. It certainly isn’t an easy job. In fact, sometimes it feels entirely impossible.

All teachers agree that engaged students learn more while unengaged students learn little to nothing. Those unengaged students tend to get bored and turn their attention to disrupting the rest of the class.

What can teachers do to increase engagement in their classrooms? Having a solid understanding of what engagement looks like and what they want from their students is the first step.  Because engagement may be different for different teachers or subjects, each teacher needs to assess what they expect from their students when it comes to activities and participation.

Engaged students:

  • Stay alert
  • Listen attentively
  • Take notes
  • Answer questions from the teacher
  • Follow directions
  • Ask in-depth questions of their own
  • Make connections to real-world applications
  • Participate in activities
  • Interact respectfully with their peers

In essence, what student engagement really means is that each individual is taking ownership of their own learning and completing the actions necessary to learn new information.

Teachers expect that their classes will be filled with a handful of students who already love learning and are prepared to receive new information, a majority of students who are willing and able to take ownership of their learning under the right circumstances, and a small number of students who struggle to learn.

Teaching becomes less about the content or materials and more about discovering what each student needs now.  They then need to immediately deploy a strategy on how to support them to become successful learners.  Not an easy task. 

The best way to get all students paying attention during class is to get them involved in a learning activity.  Listening to anyone for a long period of time is boring.  But planning hands-on activities where students are working with peers, participating in discussions, and putting skills to practical use is interesting and demands actions by the students.   Learning is doing so getting your class doing things makes learning easy.  

Activity and project-based learning is super easy in virtual classrooms using Jigsaw Interactive.  Not only can you get students working together in the main classroom but you can break them off into small groups that have customized content, activities and instructions.