Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Keeping students engaged in the classroom (and online!)

Author

Jae Brieffies

Student Engagement Officer

We’ve all given, or received, a lacklustre classroom experience at some stage - this is especially the case when the classroom is virtual. Here are some tips - from students, teachers, and learning professionals alike - for keeping students engaged in their learning in both virtual and physical settings.


1. Enable students to make genuine choices about their learning to gain valuable experiance

Finland is a country with some of the highest educational standards in the world - yet it doesn’t use standardised tests, instead rewarding creativity and innovation through project-based learning and longer-term research. Project-based learning is strongly student-driven, enabling students to select problems and create solutions aligned with course material, while exercising their own strengths and interests, and engaging in workplace-ready learning for the future. Students are more likely to engage when they have genuine choice over how their learning manifests, and are encouraged to use creativity in understanding and applying their learnings. 

2. Encourage students to understand, not just recite

Conceptual understanding of a topic is one of the most effective ways to entrench student learning, preferred over recitation and memorisation. Aim to entrench students’ learnings by encouraging them to engage meaningfully with content - get them to teach each other, to present to the class on course topics, to create conversation starters, and ask and answer open-ended (rather than yes/no or set answer) questions. 


3. Keep it relevant to the real world

Students can frequently feel demotivated by the disconnect between their classroom learnings and the world at large. Starting the class with a news article, a recent development, challenge, or a funny story which engages with class content, and seeking out student opinions and contributions to it, will engage students with the content which comes after it. Another way to link content to reality is to notify your students of external opportunities relating to class content - for instance, events, media, news, and competitions. Students will have the opportunity to identify their learnings in the world around them, and apply them in diverse scenarios to further their understanding. 


4. Gamify learning

Making learning fun can be as simple as a Kahoot or a quiz - there’s barely a topic on which a Kahoot doesn’t already exist! You can also seek to foster some friendly competition amongst your class - split up the students into groups, and get them to debate each other on a set topic. This will challenge their analytical thinking, communication, and understanding of class content. 


5. Connect

As many students have pointed out, a lack of connection between students and their teachers can disincentivise engagement and communication in class. Use programs such as iyarn or Thrively to collect reliable data on how your students are going - how they feel they’re managing the class, how their mental health is - and be non-judgemental about the results! Follow up by making efforts to connect, taking time to get to know their interests, skills, and learning types, and using that to enhance their class experience. 


What about if you’re teaching online? We’ve got a few tips to engage students on Zoom too:


6. Make use of the quiz function 

The quiz function can be a great way to test knowledge or gather class opinions to start a lively debate on a class topic, and encourages students to tune into the content being delivered. 


7. Encourage a ‘camera and mic on’ class

Encourage students to participate actively by leaving their cameras and mics on for portions of the class. Create an environment in which they feel they can jump in to add input, ask questions, or pose hypotheticals to the class - this may take the form of a class discussion, debate, or open conversation session. 


8. Break down lessons into digestible chunks, and give regular, short, active breaks

It’s much easier to tune out when taking a class online - so break down lessons into manageable, focussed chunks, and encourage students to get up and look away from their screens during breaks. They’ll come back more focussed and ready to engage. 


Sources: 

ClassCraft, ‘7 best practices for student engagement

CNN, ‘West Virginia learns Finland's 'most honorable profession': Teacher

Getting Smart, ‘3 Key Ways to Inspire Student Engagement and Motivation

Additional Note: This article was written by,

Jae Brieffies

. This author is a member of YLAA's Youth Advisory Board. As our organisation continues to evolve, we want to make sure that we continue to represent and empower the voices of youth in their own affairs, that’s why we have created our first Youth Advisory Board - not only to ensure that our students’ interests are at the core of every aspect of our organisation, but also to give the young people we serve the opportunity to develop themselves personally, whilst contributing to our mission of ensuring a sustainable future for all youth.