Everything Your Brain Needs to Know about Engagement

40 Strategies to Enhance Student Engagement

WHAT IS ENGAGEMENT?

Ask yourself, what affinity did you engage in when you were 12 that you had an absolute passion for? That is the definition of engagement. What does engagement feel like? Lean forward in your chair, than lean back. Feel the difference?

Schoenbach and Cynthia Greenleaf define engagement: “By adding the word ‘engaged,’ we mean to distinguish between the skilled by rote and unsophisticated kind of academic literacy that many ‘successful’ students master, and the more analytic, critical, and discipline specific ways of making meaning emblematic of engaged learners.” Adam Fletcher says students are engaged “…when they are attracted to their work, persist despite challenges and obstacles, and take visible delight in accomplishing their work.”

HOW BORED ARE STUDENTS?

Engagement is not the problem. Students are very engaged in video games, sports, and Facebook. Many simply aren’t engaged in what teachers are selling.

How bored are students? A veteran teacher shadowed kids for 2 days in a high school and found out.

“The drop in student engagement for each year students are in school is our monumental, collective national failure,” asserts Brandon Busteed, the executive director of Gallup Education. Disengagement isn’t merely the plight of a few outlier students in your classroom. In the early grades, eight out of ten students are engaged. By middle school, the number is six out ten, then four out of ten in high school, according to a 2013 Gallop Poll.

HOW TO MAKE ANY PRESENTATION ENGAGING

Name the enemy. Answer: a) “Why now?” b) Show the promised land before you get there; c) Identify obstacles and then show how to overcome them–all described here.

Imitate how producer, and director J.J. Abrams creates compelling narratives with a mystery box. Watch his speech here.

Make sure that you have one big thing to look forward to in every class you teach.

Maybe don’t lecture for 90 minute straight.

LOWER ANXIETY

Have students adopt an “approach state” rather than an “avoidance state.” I start each class with “good news” to set a positive emotional tone. Introduce positive stress; within the first 2 classes, have students stand up, mingle, and learn everyone’s name in 12 minutes.

INTEGRATE GAME MECHANICS INTO YOUR CLASS

Read 36 learning principles that video games get right by James Gee.

SuperBetter, a new book by Jane McGonigal, describes how you can apply game principles to real life. Listen to her interview here.

ENGAGE STUDENTS IN RICH CURRICULUM

Teach ELA using a Literacy Practices Framework in which students make goals, plans, beliefs, roles, and norms; construct and enact identities; relate to and collaborate with others; synthesize and connect texts; construct multimodal texts; and adopt a critical engagement perspective.

DO WHAT RESEARCH RECOMMENDS

Follow Kristy Cooper’s advice, based on her research. Connective instruction is 7x more impactful than lively teaching and academic rigor. In connective instruction, according to Andrew Martin, the teacher helps students make personal connections to the class, content, and learning by a) Promoting relevance: relating content to students’ lives; b) Conveying care: understanding learners’ perspectives; c) Showing concern for students’ well-being: demonstrating knowledge of students’ lives; d) Providing affirmation: telling students they are capable of doing well; using praise, written feedback, and opportunities for success; e) Relating to students through humor: showing that you enjoy working with young people (not as a class, as individuals); f) Enabling self-expression: connecting learning and identity by encouraging students’ expression of ideas, values, and conceptions of self.

KEEP KIDS LAUGHING AND MOVING

Use killer energizers.

Students who gesture more demonstrate higher fluid intelligence. Participants with higher fluid intelligence therefore engaged in more active mental representation during problem solving.

Instead of facilitating stations, Jennifer Gonzalez recommends using chat stations— discussion prompts that students visit just like stations, but instead of performing a complex task, they just have a quick discussion.”

HAVE STUDENTS SET GOALS

See the Woop Character Lab approach.

RICH PEDAGOGY IS INHERENTLY ENGAGING

Engage students by following project learning principles.

Or conduct role-playing simulations by following these lesson plans.

Read more about simulation principles.

ALIGN PRACTICES TO FLOW THEORY

Watch an 18-minute video about Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s theory of flow. Csikszentmihalyi defined eight dimensions of the flow experience, cited in Edutech Wiki as 1) Clear goals and immediate feedback; 2) Equilibrium between the level of challenge and personal skill; 3) Merging of action and awareness; 4) Focused concentration; 5) Sense of potential control; 6) Loss of self-consciousness; 7) Time distortion; 8) Autotelic or self-rewarding experience.

Take a look at this graphic organizer on flow or read more on the subject here.

A QUICK WRITING PRACTICE ENHANCES INTEREST AND ACHIEVEMENT

Chris S. Hulleman of the University of Virginia shows that interest and motivation is enhanced when we find something personally valuable. He randomly selected half of a pool of high school science students to summarize what they had learned in their class. The other half wrote about the usefulness of science in their own lives. The later group had significantly higher grades and reported more interest in science.

ENGAGE AND SUPPORT ENGLISH LANGUAGE LEARNERS

Use the Chunk-challenge-chew-chat-check model by Emily Mather.

Provide students with thick writing prompts.

USE LEVERS OF CONTROL (If You Want to Be a Cult Leader)

Read the checklist of control mechanisms commonly used by cults and here and here. Most teams use some of these principles…just don’t use them all.

USE STUDENTS NAMES

Here’s how to remember students’ names.

HOW TO ENGAGE RESISTANT LEARNERS

 Tell unmotivated students aspirational stories.

GOT GRIT?

“Gritty people use passion to produce persistence toward long-term ends,” writes Dave Stuart.

 MAKE MATERIALS CULTURALLY RELEVANT

Culturally relevant texts help students to read better “because they contain relevant prior knowledge of these students.” Without culturally relevant texts, there is not enough context for comprehension.

MAKE HOMEWORK MORE ENGAGING

Sheila Valencia, a professor at the University of Washington, recommends that all homework assignments contain three parts: 1) The purpose; 2) Directions on how readers are supposed to go about it; 3) What readers are supposed to learn.

Give students homework choices, like St. Augustine School’s Takeaway Homework Menu (PDF).

 USE IMAGES

 “The picture superiority effect essentially says that people will only remember about 10% of what you say just two days after you say it, but if you attach what you say to a simple concrete visual that represents what you say, people will remember 65%.”

Research indicates that when students doodle a concept they understand it better and feel more engaged.

“75 percent of the sensory neurons in our brains are processing visual information. Our other senses are also critical, but vision is by far the most important.”

Pictures are correctly recalled 1.5 times as often as printed words.

Sketchnoting resources are here and here.

Visual mental imagery draws on many of the same mechanisms used in visual perception. Imagination counts!

STRESS KILLS ENGAGEMENT

Instead of asking students to take a test with 20 questions, add 5 more. Group the questions so you can direct the student to “answer four of these five.” Having some room for making errors relaxes learners.

TEAM IT OUT!

A sense of working together cues motivation. In an experiment, those who felt like they were working on a puzzle “together” with peers worked on the puzzle 48% longer than those who thought they were working alone.

Implement cooperative learning and use “teamwork tactics.” See rules and advice and five elements of the approach.

Engage reluctant learners with the wingman approach (short video).

TRIGGER EMOTIONS

The easiest way to learn is through “arousal” says Janet Zadin, neuroscience and education expert. “The more modalities by which you encode information, the easier is to learn.”

CLOSE WITH A VISUAL PUNCH

Dr. Lodge McCammon’s popular 1-Take Paperslide Video Strategy. Use a video camera or your cell phone to create paperslide videos in the classroom and then watch them the next time class meets.

FINALLY…

Download a white paper on increasing student engagement at your school. Finally, read the Golden rules of engagement.

If you like my writing, you’ll love my funny teaching memoir, Dinkytown Braves, free on Kindle Unlimited and $10.33 as a paperback. Also check out Rethinking Classroom Design  (Rowan & Littlefield) co-written with Blake Wiggs or The Best Lesson Series: Literature: 15 Master Teachers Share What Works, edited by Brian Sztabnik. Please leave a review on Amazon to make my day!

Todd Finley

Edutopia Blogger and Asst. Editor || ECU Ed Professor || Founder of Todd's Brain at www.todd-finley.com || Books: Dinkytown Braves and Rethinking Classroom Design.

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