Ultimate Student Engagement
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Complete Show Notes:
The year that I first started teaching 2nd grade, I had all of my students on the carpet in front of me, and I remember thinking to myself that I must have really nailed this lesson because they were actually paying attention.
Every single pair of eyes was glued on me, and I was thrilled. ☺️
Finally, when I finished the lesson (feeling a little uncomfortable because having all of their attention focused on me for the entire lesson was such an uncommon experience), I asked if there were any questions.
Marissa put up her hand. I was excited for the great follow-up discussion we were going to have about the grammar lesson I had just taught. She asked, “Mrs. Friesen, why aren’t you wearing lipstick?” Then a bunch of heads nodded – they were all wondering the same thing. They hadn’t heard a word I said, but this was really important to them.
I was ready to give up.
What was it going to take to get them actually interested in something I was teaching?
So, I do know what it feels like to feel like you are herding cats sometimes and how rare it is to have all of your students’ attention. However, know that this is entirely normal, especially at this time of the year.
October can be an especially challenging time of the year for new teachers because the excitement and nerves about the beginning of the year have subsided, and you are now into a routine that may or may not feel manageable to you.
It’s also been awhile since everyone has had a break so everyone is hanging on for Thanksgiving, at least in the U.S. So, as I mentioned in last week’s show, I really see it as my job to help you to make it through until the Thanksgiving break and then until Christmas.
Again, you are not alone, and I know you can do this, no matter how hard it feels right now.
So, it's my goal today to give you some really practical strategies that you can take and use right away in your classroom. If you are really struggling with getting your students engaged and paying attention, I recommend that you first go back to last week’s episode and listen to that one, because it will give you some foundational ideas about what you can do right away to trouble-shoot if you have a super chatty class.
Before we dive into these strategies, it’s worth talking about what we know about human nature for just a moment.
This might seem unrelated to what we’re talking about right now, but it isn’t at all.
So, just for a moment, indulge me - suspend your anxiety about what’s going on in your classroom right now, and if you’re somewhere where you can close your eyes, I want you to close your eyes and imagine your favorite dessert.
Think about seeing that dessert, and anticipating the first delicious bite. You’ve earned this dessert from working hard and not cheating on your diet all week, and you just can’t wait to enjoy it. Take your first bite, and fully taste that dessert in your mouth. Really experience how amazing it tastes. So good, right?
Now, I want you to imagine that you just found out that you are going to get to enjoy that dessert every day for the next week without any consequences. You won’t gain weight, you won’t feel bad about yourself for enjoying it, you just get to experience it.
Still really good, right? Maybe even better.
Then, I want you to imagine that you will now have this same dessert every single day for the whole year.
Does that change the experience for you a little bit?
Will you anticipate that dessert as much if you know you will have it every day at exactly the same time and in the same way?
Will the flavors become a little less enjoyable for you, less rich?
Likely, you will start to enjoy that dessert less and less over time the more you experience it because as good as it is, at the heart of things, human beings need and crave change.
And in teaching, it’s exactly the same way.
So, it’s now mid-October, and if you’ve been using the same bag of tricks, the same dessert, to motivate and inspire your students until now, the novelty and excitement and enjoyment - and therefore effectiveness – will likely be starting to wear off.
And, this is even more challenging because our energy levels are now somewhat depleted after the long days at the beginning of the year, so it’s harder to create the fun and to access the same level of creativity that we did in August and September.
That’s why this self-care that we keep hearing about but are often resistant to take precious time for is so important. If we aren’t filling ourselves up and taking time out and giving ourselves space to recharge, we will have very little left to give to our students. So I encourage you, if you’re in this space, to take the time to do that.
However, that’s also why there’s no need for you to panic or to wonder if you can set things straight in your classroom. Because very often, all you need is a reminder of simple ways to shift the energy in your classroom back to being positive.
I may not be telling you anything today that you don’t already know, but when we are in overwhelm, we often can’t see outside of our experience to think of solutions.
So, I see it as my job to remind us to think more flexibly and more creatively today, and although some of these ideas will be new for you, also to remind you of what you already know but just may not be implementing.
Sound good? Okay, let’s get started.
Here are 5 Positive, Easy, & Creative Ideas for Ultimate Student Engagement:
Change their perspective:
I mean this literally.
Sometimes, when we are having problems with student engagement, it comes down to something as simple as trying alternatives to teaching from the front of the room. Remember, sometimes, what keeps things fresh and new for our students is just a little bit of change.
So how about teaching from another space in the room? Have you ever considered having your students sit on the floor facing the back-bulletin board instead of the front of the room?
How about having all of your students sit on the floor in a large circle for a lesson that you would normally teach when they are in their desks?
How about doing a typically independent activity in pairs or in small groups?
How about teaching a particular lesson outside if you can?
What about teaching a lesson in the library or in another space in your school?
Could you switch classrooms with another teacher for a lesson to shake things up a bit?
What else could you do to give your students a different experience than the old pattern you’ve fallen into?
Change your method:
The second way that you can get students engaged is to put some effort into creating lessons that employ different teaching strategies than the typical “teaching from the front of the room” approach.
You are likely already using paired work and learning centers in your classroom, but what about getting more creative?
Could you use the jigsaw teaching method for one subject in your classroom?
If you don’t know what this is, it is when you divide your students into groups and give each member of the group a different piece of content to read and study. Then, when the groups come back together, their job is to teach their content to the rest of their group. Finally, you can give each group a small quiz to see how well they understand their content.
Instead of typical reader-response questions, why not have students interview each other to ask questions about the passage they just read to check for understanding and then go through the questions as a class, or have them do a quick online quiz?
Or why not have students create a poster to advertise the movie version of a book they’ve just read to showcase main characters, setting, and story arc?
Of course, don't forget to take advantage of the many ways that technology can inspire student learning and engagement. If you are reading a story that takes place in Japan or Australia, tell your students that you will show pictures or a short video about that country at the end of the lesson if everyone completes their work. National Geographic Kids has an entire range of fantastic videos that you can check out.
Finally, consider adding a bit of drama to your classes. My students always knew that we were going to do a science experiment when they saw me put on my white lab coat and speak in my Dr. Frankenstein voice, asking who would like to be my victim for my experiment. 😊 Students who thought they didn't like science suddenly liked it just a little bit more!
The possibilities are endless, but just as we talked about last week, when we get stuck with teaching from the front of the room all of the time, our students are going to become restless and much less engaged. The more creative and exciting our lessons are, the better chance we have of keeping them engaged.
Now of course, this isn’t always the case. You might be thinking, “Lori, I am already creating so many fun and engaging lessons with my students, and they are just not staying on task.”
If that’s true for you, that’s actually a fantastic problem to have, because there are many more ideas we can implement if you're already doing these things.
As the amazing Marie Forleo says, "Everything is figure-outable," and if something we’re already doing doesn’t work, we just need to keep trying different things until we figure it out. So let’s move on.
Consider easy games to adapt to any content:
If you aren’t using games consistently in your classroom, especially to review content, you are missing out on one of the easiest and most effective ways to maximize student engagement in your classroom.
Maybe you used games at the beginning of the year and then forgot about them, or maybe you got stuck because you think that games require a whole lot of time to prepare, and if that’s the case, I want you to go back to Episode #12 where I talk about the best 6 games to play with your students to review content without wasting time.
Games are the ultimate student engagement tool, and the games I teach you in that episode are ones that you can create once and then easily adapt to any subject or specific content.
I teach you a game called “Slap!” and no, it does involve hitting anyone 😊, I share an easy and low prep version of Student Jeopardy, a game called “Whiteboard Winners” that is quick and super fun, whole-class Snakes & Ladders, and finally, of course, a quick & easy version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?
There is no end to the kinds of games you can play with your students to get them uber-engaged and focused on content that they need to learn.
Also, just the promise of a game can be as powerful as the game itself when you tell your students that if they stay focused and get the work done that you’ve asked them to, they will get to play a game to review what they’ve learned.
Use competition to your advantage:
If you’ve already tried changing your students’ perspective by shaking things up and having class in different places and spaces, you’re already implementing some pretty cool teaching strategies, and you’re using games consistently to keep your students engaged, then it’s time to get a little more strategic.
Kids are competitive by nature, so you just may want to use this to your advantage, especially when it comes to having kids compete in small groups against each other.
Now, at this time of the year with the weather getting a little cooler, I love to use the Hot Chocolate Motivator.
Here's how it works: Each row of students or each group of students, depending on how you have your classroom organized, has a brightly colored paper “Hot Chocolate Mug” with a little ziplock bag tucked inside which I put on display on the whiteboard.
The mug is clear so you can see through it, and throughout the month, each group tries to earn mini-marshmallows to put in the mug through following rules and routines.
At the end of the month, the group that has the most mini marshmallows in their mug earns hot chocolate with the teacher during small group reading time.
My students absolutely love this and it works like a charm during the cooler winter months, and the best part is that you can do this with any age of students – and it doesn’t cost a whole lot of money!
The trick is to let your students brainstorm other ideas with you for positive rewards they would be willing to work for, and then create a challenge around that reward. The possibilities are endless!
Give your students something new & awesome to look forward to once they’ve finished their work:
Let's face it - no matter how awesome you are as a teacher, there is always content that isn't fascinating or of particular interest to your students. Part of learning is realizing that sometimes work isn't fun, but that doesn't make it any less important.
How many times do you remember just barely getting through an assignment in university because you decided to reward yourself with a night out with your friends once the work is done? I know I certainly did that!
I know we aren't really supposed to talk about it, but that's the reality - and it's the same for the students in your classroom.
Remember, our goal is to get students more engaged, especially when they don't love a particular subject or area of study. Therefore, it works really well to give students a little boost of something new and fun to try when they finish their work throughout the day.
Of course, this will look different for you depending on what you are already doing for your fast finishers, but some creative ideas I love include having seasonal free time activities so that your students are freshly motivated throughout the year to stay focused and get their work done.
Every month or even every couple of months, teach your students during your morning meeting about the new fast finisher activity you’ve set up for them so that they are motivated to try it out.
For example, in the lower elementary grades, you can try changing out play-doh mats with seasonal challenges throughout the year. Just click here to see an example of what I mean!
Some other ideas include: Introduce a new board game that your students can play every month or two (don’t keep the same ones out all year long), or create a clickable list of adorable animal videos that your students will love, or change out “how to draw” animals or super heroes books throughout the year.
I think you might be surprised by how continuing to change things up throughout the year is going to dramatically increase student motivation and engagement!
So there you have it.
Ultimate student engagement is really all about continuing to think flexibly and creatively, but that’s super hard to do when you are feeling overwhelmed and exhausted.
Sometimes it just takes a little outside perspective to remember what you could do differently to fall back in love with teaching again – and make it to the Thanksgiving or Christmas break!
I hope these ideas have inspired you to try something new in your classroom this week to get your students back on track.
Have You Taken the Quiz Yet? 😉
Last week I told you about a brand-new quiz that I just released called What’s Your Classroom Management Style?
This quiz is designed to help you to better understand the strengths you have in your classroom management and to help you to get clear on specific routines or procedures that will help you to maximize student engagement and success.
Just scroll down (or click here) to take the quiz now!
I hope that you have a wonderful week and remember - just because you are a beginning elementary teacher, there is no need for you to struggle like one!
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Until next week - bye for now.
Dr. Lori Friesen | Beginning Teacher Mentor
Creator of the R.E.A.D.Y. for School Academy, Dr. Lori Friesen has mentored thousands of beginning teachers across the country through her workshops and courses. Host of the popular podcast, Beginning Teacher Talk, and creator of the innovative literacy program for 1st and 2nd grade, Dogs Help Kids Read and Succeed, Dr. Lori is dedicated to serving educators and inspiring learners. Learn more at drlorifriesen.com and at howdogshelpkids.com.
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