Improving student engagement
Too many teachers are frustrated that their students are more interested in their smart phones than the subject matter being covered in class. When a student checks his phone, the typical response by the teacher is to take the phone away and punish the student for being distracted and disrespectful. The student will get angry and leave the classroom in a rage.
This anecdote is all too common. Some of today’s students care more about their social media and mobile devices than the classroom. They’re not interested in the course content, have no inclination to study and could care less about the latest exam. Rather than lament this, teachers should learn from it. Student engagement is difficult to achieve, and teachers have to work for it.
Why Are Your Students Bored?
There’s nothing more frustrating than a sea of bored, disinterested students. One student may fall asleep during an important lecture, and another may check his cell phone. While disheartening, these student engagement warning signs convey important information that every teacher should take into account.
Rather than punish the students for not paying attention, teachers should think about why they aren’t paying attention in the first place. Education experts Richard Strong, Harvey F. Silver and Amy Robinson interviewed a number of teachers and students to explain the secret to successful student engagement. “Engaging work,” they wrote, “was work that stimulated [students’] curiosity, permitted them to express their creativity, and fostered positive relationships with others.”
Easier said than done, perhaps, but according to Strong, Silver and Robinson, students were also very specific about what they didn’t like in the classroom: “Work that was repetitive, that required little or no thought, and that was forced on them by others.”
So what, exactly, are teachers doing that deters student engagement? Much of the problem is the traditional education model and many of the failed teaching techniques that are still incorporated into the classroom.
Many teachers, for example, still believe that lectures are effective, despite the overwhelming evidence that demonstrates otherwise. It shouldn’t surprise teachers to see their students doze off when they stand in front of them all class period and deliver the same dry, stale talking points. Lectures stymie the student engagement process.
In addition, teachers are still clinging to old-fashioned textbooks—those thick ones that have many editions and cost over $100.00. These textbooks once had a place in the classroom, but as consumption habits have shifted over time and students are getting most of their information from the Internet, it seems counterproductive to have them carry these clunky textbooks that haven’t been updated since the 1990s.
Perhaps most importantly, students are annoyed that they have to complete the same types of projects for different classes. Whether it’s literature or social studies, students are forced to study for mundane standardized tests and write similar research papers. Of course, students should learn to develop these skills, but if this is all they’re doing, student engagement will not come into fruition.
Make Students Curious Again
The reason why teachers struggle with student engagement is because they don’t make as much of an effort to update the classroom for the 21st century. Teachers can use LiveTiles Mosaic to design a digital classroom that makes their students curious again.
Rather than assign a boring textbook reading, for example, teachers can add Ted Talks videos into the digital classroom. These are short 20 minute videos that are meant to stimulate discussion, and they are categorized by subject so that teachers don’t have to waste too much time searching for the right ones.
Teachers can use Ted Talks videos to expand their students’ learning horizons. According to education expert Maryellen Weimer, teachers should “create educational experiences for students that are challenging and enriching and extend their academic abilities.” That is, students want teachers to push them, and the more they have to use critical thinking skills to reflect, question, conjecture, evaluate and make connections, the more engaged they will be. Ask students to write about a provocative Ted Talk, and student engagement will dramatically improve.
Source: LiveTiles Mosaic
Does this mean that students shouldn’t be required to read? Not at all. In fact, teachers can use tools like OneNote to upload more contemporary readings, or link to a relevant article that they found online. The point is that an Office 365 education goes beyond the textbook to offer students a diverse array of digital content. By assigning readings and videos that are contemporary and relevant, student engagement will improve because students will feel as if what they’re learning matters to their lives and the contemporary world.
Source: LiveTiles Mosaic
Encourage Creativity in the Classroom
Students spend a lot of time developing their test-taking and writing skills, but rarely get the chance to express their creativity. When their creativity is stifled, they lose interest in the class and begin to tune out.
One way to solve this is to integrate presentation software like Sway into the classroom. Sway allows users to combine text and media to create a presentation. The presentation tool is stored on Microsoft’s servers and can be viewed and edited anytime. Sway is a fun way to enhance student engagement and get the creative juices flowing again.
PowerPoint is another digital tool that allows students to express their creativity. Teachers can assign group projects and require students to present their PowerPoint to the entire class. Creative assignments like these make students feel more invested in their work and are bound to boost student engagement.
Source: LiveTiles Mosaic
To further benefit student engagement, teachers can use Mosaic to add Spotify to the digital classroom. Many students today use Spotify to play their music, and this is bound to capture their attention.
In replace of a reading one day, for example, teachers can ask students to pick a song and write a fictional short story about it, or an interpretation of the song’s major themes. As teacher Laura Treble explains, creative touches like these “contributes to what should be our ultimate goal as educators: inspiring students to become curious, engaged, and interested in the world around them and within them.”
Source: LiveTiles Mosaic
Develop Classroom Community
The classroom is more than just a place to learn. It’s also a social space. Students spend the vast majority of time at school, and in order for them to stay engaged, they must feel like they belong to a community. Strong relationships in the classroom strengthen student engagement and lead to more successful students.
Many teachers try to create a sense of community, but struggle to connect in overcrowded classes. At the same time, there are the inevitable shy students who are incredibly intelligent but too timid to participate in person.
Every student counts, and every relationship in the classroom contributes something positive or negative to the overall environment. Since most young people today are connected on social media, teachers, as well, would be wise to establish a social network for the classroom to enhance student engagement.
Yammer, for example, is an online space in which teachers and students can share important information and insights. Students can post an interesting article they read, or a cool video. Teachers can congratulate their students on a particularly engaging discussion. Whatever the post may be, Yammer is a online space that reminds teachers and student that the digital classroom is more than just a learning space—it’s a community where student engagement matters.
Source: LiveTiles Mosaic
However, some teachers worry that a social network for the class will only expose vulnerable students to cyber-bullying and further traumatize them. They fear that their goals of cultivating student engagement and establishing a healthy online community will only backfire. These are understandable concerns, but as youth researchers danah boyd and Alice Marwick explain, there is a significant disconnect between what teachers and other authority figures consider bullying and what students consider to be the insignificant drama of daily life.
Boyd and Marwick write, “Teenagers say drama when they want to diminish the importance of something. Repeatedly, teenagers would refer to something as ‘just stupid drama,’ ‘something girls do,’ or ‘so high school.’ We learned that drama can be fun and entertaining; it can be serious or totally ridiculous; it can be a way to get attention or feel validated. But mostly we learned that young people use the term drama because it is empowering.”
This doesn’t mean that cyber-bullying doesn’t exist, or that teachers should look the other way. In fact, it should comfort teachers to know that Yammer can be moderated in case cyber-bullying does take place in the digital classroom. An active moderator should encourage cyber-bullies to think twice about posting anything nasty in the digital classroom, and it will give the bullied assurance that this particular digital environment is a safe space.
When teachers add Yammer to the digital classroom, they indirectly let students know that they understand youth culture. Yammer will empower students and make them feel that their teachers trust them and their communication habits–that teachers can distinguish between legitimate cyber-bullying and superfluous drama. This interactive digital environment will improve student engagement as it creates a healthy, transparent relationship between teachers and students.
With so many apps, devices and screens, it’s almost impossible to capture and hold a young person’s attention. However, this is the job of the teacher if she wants to be successful. There will inevitably be those days when students are tired and unable to concentrate, but overall, they should feel excited about coming to class. A surefire way for teachers to improve student engagement is to embrace technology and join the digital classroom.