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4 Ways to Boost Student Engagement in the Classroom

By Amanda Shelley

Along with many other issues brought forth by the shifts in education through the COVID-19 pandemic, student engagement has resurfaced. How do we keep students actively engaged in the classroom, let alone through a computer screen?

Student engagement is often thought of as making learning fun and interactive. Unfortunately, this idea of engagement can seemingly take away the rigor of a task or water down the content. It’s time to shift our thinking from “fun and interactive” engagement to “intellectual” engagement.

Ask yourself “Are my students intellectually engaged in their learning?”

Zaretta Hammond said it best in a recent ASCD article on student engagement:

“… we make up ground by actually using intellectual curiosity to turbocharge students’ engagement.”

We can do this by making students a vital part of their own learning – building agency so that they can take ownership of their learning. When students are not engaged cognitively, they disengage.

We can do this equitably for all students by providing them with teacher clarity which drives feedback, which in turn increases student engagement resulting in increased student achievement. After all, “equity is about making sure every student is a powerful learner,” said Hammond. With the right strategies in place, we can give students the power to succeed.

 

Here are 4 strategies for boosting student engagement in your classroom now and in the future.

 

1. Teacher Clarity

John Hattie and the Visible Learning Network identified teacher clarity as a high-impact teaching strategy. Teacher clarity, simply stated, is making students aware of what they are learning and how they will be successful in learning it. John Hattie ranks this strategy as having an effect size of 0.75, meaning it has the potential to accelerate student learning more than 1 year during a single year of instruction.

This is best done by providing students with clear Learning Targets and Success Criteria. The Learning Target gives students the big picture of what they will be learning, and the Success Criteria tell them how they will know when they’ve learned it. Learning Targets and Success Criteria empower students to take ownership of their learning.

To reach the full extent of teacher clarity, teachers can’t simply post these on the board or share them at the beginning of a lesson.

“We need to give them some ownership of their learning and ways of tracking their own progress. As humans, we love to know where we are in relation to a goal or achievement – there’s a part of our mental make-up called progress principle that ignites this kind of motivation.”

Hammond, ASCD, 2021

 

2. Self-Assessment / Feedback

Like Teacher Clarity, Feedback has been identified by John Hattie as a high-impact teaching strategy with an effect size of 0.70.

“Feedback that prompts a student to seek more information or reconsider her approach and reasoning, or points out a path to pursue, gives the student agency and puts her in the driver’s seat of her own learning.”

- Hattie, Visible Learning, 2017

In addition to John Hattie, Hammond also believes in the power of feedback. “[Students can] extend and stretch themselves cognitively to get better through feedback.”

Teachers must check in on student learning throughout the lesson and provide students time to reflect. These check-ins give students an opportunity to self-assess and determine if they are meeting the learning target and success criteria.

We can do this by considering these feedback questions:

  1. “Where am I going?” (Identified by the Learning Target and Success Criteria)
  2. “How am I going?” (Reflection and Self- Assessment)
  3. “Where to next?” (Feedback)

 

“Feedback is designed to close the gap between students’ current level of understanding or performance and the expected level of performance.”

- Hattie, Visible Learning, 2012

 

3. Classroom Discussion

Feedback provides opportunities for students and teachers to engage in meaningful conversations through classroom discussion. With an effect size of 0.82, classroom discussion has the potential to accelerate student learning up to and beyond 2 years during a single year of instruction.

According to Hammond, students need “opportunities to be in discourse – not just talked at.”

Classroom discussion prompts not only engage students, but they can provide all students entry points to access content – ultimately deepening their understanding of the content.

 

4. Accelerated Learning

While the strategies above can be incorporated into daily instruction, we can't leave out the effects of the pandemic on student learning.

“The reality is that students have unfinished learning…not "learning loss." Brains are learning machines. That is what they do. The reality is that all our students learned something during the pandemic. The problem is that we're not leveraging that.”

Hammond, ASCD, 2021

In short, Hammond encourages us to “stop saying that students lost something…figure out what they did learn” and build upon that to accelerate learning.

Teachers must focus on bringing students up to speed with their current grade level based on what they already know. Connect new content to previously learned content. This allows students to recall information, connect it to new concepts and engage with rigorous content. Which in return, increases student confidence and creates a more positive experience as they engage.

“As kids start to see they’re moving towards competence, they become more confident and engaged. That’s the motivation cycle, and it can accelerate learning without an emphasis on “loss.”

- Hammond, ASCD, 2021

 

Student Ownership = Engagement = Student Achievement

Although the pandemic has created issues in education, it has also resurfaced critical areas of education that, at the core, define student achievement – like student engagement. Through high-impact strategies like teacher clarity, feedback, and classroom discussion not only can we intellectually engage students, but we can also accelerate their learning. It is time we put the learning back in the hands of the students by providing them with the strategies that ensure their success in the classroom and beyond.

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Tags: Student Engagement

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