The Rules of Engagement

So this is a little bit of a rant to start. This comes after reading several articles and talking with so many people about that big word that seems to be a hot topic of conversation especially now, engagement, how to create engaging content, how to engage your students, how to make what you do in class resonate with your learners in your audience. Engaging your students has always been a best practice when it comes to instruction, but it has become a hotter topic after we have dealt with lockdowns and teaching remotely. I cannot tell you how many educational influencers out there I have heard blame the entirety of student engagement and learning loss on remote teaching alone. In my opinion, I don’t find that the case. Well, let’s backtrack a hot second. I do think that remote learning definitely was a small contributing factor to the shrinking of student attention spans and did not allow students to develop social and emotional skills as fast as previous generations, but we can’t blame it all on being separated for so long.

What we see from a different perspective is a consistent general decline in student engagement using current practices. Which leads to a general decline in learning loss because they are not engaged. For the most part from year to year, this decline is not as noticeable because we see these students all the time. Then we are thrown out of the classroom for consecutive years before being asked to jump back in full-time. That unnoticeable decline is now noticeable because we haven’t had to deal with it for a while. All this just didn’t magically happen, it was always there because, with the new societal innovations, we see almost every day now, things change quicker than they used to. Students are just learning differently, and it’s time to help meet them where they are at.

So how do we meet them there? Where do we change our practices in order to find connection and make core moments for them? These are just some tips and tricks to help.

  • Just Ask – Having a conversation with your students about their interests and what they like to do can lead to such a special connection where they feel you care and want to hear what they have to say. Once they know that, they listen closer to be able to contribute to the conversation. “But what if it just turns into chaos when I open the discussion?” Limit the number of shares and let students know that before you start. Saying “I’m going to take 5 hands to share” gives them a level of expectation. Once the 5 hands are done they know it’s time to move on. Building in conversations like this into a normal lesson lets them know they will all get their turn at some time.
  • Interactive Resources – I don’t mean engaging, I mean interactive. What is the difference? The hands-on aspect. A movie can be engaging, but it’s not really that interactive. Resources that students can interact with and manipulate allow them to explore and build routines without a barrier. These don’t always have to be a digital resource, but with the attention spans of so many individuals now (not just kids! but Adults too!) digital resources tend to build a stronger connection with audiences. Try composing together using Garageband, try playing games like Staffwars, try to bring out egg shakers, and play to the beat.
  • Letting them Lead – Yes, students can lead activities and games. Give them a shot in a controlled environment. Not every student might want to do this so never force them, but a lot of your more vocal students might jump at the chance to lead the class or be the leader of a small group to make something really fun.
  • Play Music they Like – Especially in the older grades, playing Hot Cross Buns on the recorder just doesn’t do it for them anymore. When I was in the classroom, one of my proudest moments was building a choir program up from practically nothing to over 70 students in just a few years. Why? because I added music to the repertoire that was current and that they wanted to sing. Of course, I always had a few songs in there that were ‘for me’ to work on technique, but we always had a few songs in there that they could not wait to sing. You don’t have to go that big though, even the simple art of turning on Spotify during a quiet period can mean so much.
  • Time Together – Of course, whole class time does a lot but giving students time to be in small groups or partners to discuss, create, make, or brainstorm connects them with their peers over a common learning goal further adding to the core memories in their safe learning spaces.
  • PLAY – Time to play is essential and allows learners to explore at their own pace with minimal expectations but maximum imagination and creativity. Allow for activities and lessons that allow for some free time with just minimal guidance. This sort of guided play leaves room for positive environment building.

There are so many more ways to engage out there, thanks to amazing innovating educators. In what ways are you changing your practices in order to better reach your students?

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