I have been taking a closer look at student engagement as of late, and I want to share a few tips and tricks that increased my students’ engagement in the classroom. I never take the tact that I am the best at anything, so I am not saying, by any means, that I am the most engaging teacher you could find. However, I always notice that my students do seem to really enjoy attending my classes. They groan when it’s time for them to go to their next class, and they often tell me they wish they could stay in my class all day. I never asked them why, but if I had to guess it would boil down to the things that I will list here. Keep in mind that I have taught 3rd,5th,6th,7th,and 8th grades. I did all of these things in all of these grades with much success.
#1 There is order in my classroom.
Order is not easy to obtain, as you know, in a classroom with more of them than me. Too many classrooms are not led by the teacher, the students run the show! I am, or have never been, a dictatorial leader, but I make no bones about being the leader of my classroom. Yes, I have done the whole, “let me see whose name is on the door of the classroom” and go outside and proclaim to my surprise that my name is out there, and so I will be running my classroom today. However, I still maintain that the environment in my classroom is positive and inclusive. At the same time, students know when they walk in the door, that Mr. Glosson, the adult in the room, will maintain order and we will learn something today. We may not learn the most exciting, extensive learning in history, but we will learn something before we leave. I find when students believe they will be attending a poorly managed class where chaos ensues every day, they become much less engaged. And, why not? I firmly believe that students want to have a purpose at school, and they know that purpose is to learn. If they cannot achieve that goal, they become disengaged and disinterested in performing well in that classroom. This is why the same student can be firmly engaged in one classroom, and go across the hall and be the kid that sits in the back and does nothing- they aren’t apart of the chaos, but the chaos is hindering them from learning, so they are disgusted with the entire program and check out.
I can’t say I blame them.
I have always fought to maintain order in my classroom, not only for my own sanity, but for the purpose of doing right by all the students that will get discouraged and uninterested in classrooms without it.
#2 I allow them to know I care without overdoing it.
It’s the cardinal rule of connecting with young people. They need to know you care, but you can’t tell them you care. I know. It’s crazy. But it works like a charm. Students seem to be attracted to me like a magnet, and I never get why. I use to think because I was younger and closer to their age, but whenever they would guess how old I am, they would say 45 or 50. For context- I’m only 29 and they’ve being saying this since I was 23. Insert eye roll emoji. What I have come to realize is that they want to tell me about their personal life because I don’t ask and I don’t pry. However, what I will do is talk to them when they talk to me. And I always start every week off with, “what did ya’ll do this weekend?” These two things: talking to them when they approached me and checking in with vague and general questions makes my students know that I’m not only interested in forcing “knowledge” and “standards” down their heads.
#3 I make everything about them.
Let me explain. I make all the content that I’m teaching about them. For example, here is a standard that I had to teach my fifth graders a couple of years ago. “SS5H Discuss important cultural elements of the 1930s; include Duke Ellington, Margaret Mitchell, and Jesse Owens.” I mean, really? I barely knew any of these figures, and I am three times older than my students. Telling them about Duke, Margaret, and Jesse is one thing, making them care enough to know about them is quite another. So, make it about them. I would ask them who their favorite musicians are at the time. Okay, now their engagement is up to a level 3. Then, I go to YouTube, in real time, and play a music video of one of the artists they named. WOW! Now they’re up to a level 7 in engagement. Then, I tell them that Duke Ellington was way more talented than whoever they named. I play a video of Duke Ellington, and the crowd goes wild! Their engagement is at a level 20, and the scale only goes up to 10. Why? Because they’re trying to prove to me why I’m out of my mind and a total old person. Now, they’re hooked and I can teach them all I want about the 1930s Duke Ellington. To top it off and keep this student engagement train in high gear, I allow the students to make a music poster of their favorite artist performing with Duke Ellington at a local concert. The catch: they have to include 5 facts about Duke Ellington that I did not mention in class.
And that, my friends, is how you take their self-interests and use it to your advantage.