There are many ways to increase student engagement. My favourite way is through group work. It makes differentiation so simple. Students are engaged at the level that is just right for them and it makes planning simple.
What I aim at
Personally, I think through what I am required to teach, and ask myself a key question: how can ALL my students be fully engaged in that aspect of learning? I need to have them be active in their learning; moving, drawing, writing, talking, roleplaying, questioning, solving – this is how I increase student engagement. I recognise right at the start that it is up to me, the classroom leader, to create new ways for them to learn.
It might be using chalkboards or whiteboards, electronic devices or getting down on the floor instead of sitting at desks. Whatever comes to mind is, I think, worth checking out and trying out. And if or when I find it is not working well for all the students, I keep on changing it around until it does. It is an imperative; be creative! And do not stop being creative.
Group Work to Increase Student Engagement
It started for me when I was teaching in Solomon Islands, where the Australian Principal told me “There’s no shipment arrived. We don’t have any paper or exercise books. Be creative“. So, I found some masonite, cut it into 1-foot square boards, added chalkboard paint and the kids loved them. Far better than paper since mistakes could be erased easily.
To keep 72 students [yes, seventy-two] engaged, we worked in small groups.
- Paint a picture word and share their painting with the class after.
- Practice writing and picture coding your letters on the chalkboards.
- Pairs: Partner A pick a card and call a sound. Partner B write it on chalkboards.
- Team Game: Race with your phonic card to match it on the alphabet wall.
- Pairs with SSO: Partner A writes the letter. Partner B must say the sound.
- Listen to the Reader on tape and follow along – [phonics focus in text].
- Conference with the teacher about the text.
Whole Class Work with 72!
Sometimes we had whole class work. I would call out a sound, and the students would try to write the sound on their chalkboards and pictogram it. It was fast and fun: to be done within a quick countdown of ten to zero. Hold your chalkboard to your chest, don’t let anyone see your answer, I want to know if you all know it. Peer competition, chasing the target, everyone winning it’s all so…. engaging!
Okay everyone, show it! All 72 students would hold up their boards with glee.
To increase student engagement I would pick out different students to come forward to share their answers and drop a marble in the table group jar if all the group got the right answer. The table scores grew, the groups moved ahead, everyone on the table had to contribute; no-one gets left out – engagement!
Those who got it wrong never felt bad because they were never asked to show it to other students and could rub it out as soon as they saw the demonstrations at the front by their fellow students. They also quickly learned the sounds, everyone’s a winner!
Back in Australia
Now, of course, I have small groups working on mini-whiteboards, iPods, iPads, computer desktops. What have you got handy? Or can easily get – or make (one creative activity leading to another), and so it can become great value too!
I believe we can all engage our students using this strategy. It’s not difficult and makes teaching fun. It is much more likely to happen by taking time to rethink different ways of doing what you already do. Variety is the spice of life so they say. Do we want all your students to learn, to improve, to achieve? Of course, we do. OK, be creative!
Do you have a simple strategy you have developed? If you think you haven’t, then reconsider awhile what you will teach tomorrow. How you might do it differently to engage every student in positive learning. Try it out. Then if you’re game please share what you found in the comments below.