Educators often ask for advice on student engagement. It’s a sort of “catch-all” phrase that really means, “How can I get my students to care about what I’m talking about?” The truth is, most academic struggles, discipline problems, and general absentmindedness, are rooted in engagement issues. You can certainly utilize strategies such as the ones I wrote about in It’s All About the Samples. For this post however, I’d like to challenge you to go even deeper.
Rather than just layering these strategies on top of your existing classroom structure, consider revamping your entire classroom dynamic so that it is engineered to promote a sense of curiosity and inquiry. I’ll give you my favorite poet’s website as an example. Sarah Kay is a spoken-word poet most famous for a poem she recited at a TED Talk.
When I first heard this poem, I was intrigued, so I went to her website to learn more about her. I was even more intrigued afterword. You see, websites are usually “judged” on how user-friendly they are, how easy it is to find what you’re looking for, and how few clicks it takes to get there. Sarah’s website has none of that going for it, but it has something richer. It’s an odd and eclectic compilation of graphics – rain boots, a lamppost, a bicycle, etc. The user must hover over an image to get any hint of what’s behind it, and that hint isn’t particularly descriptive. Yet, you’re compelled. There’s an innate sense of inquiry. Why do rain boots represent “contact” or the lamppost, “videos”? Check it out for yourself.
So here’s the challenge: how can you make your classroom more like this website?
Creativity and Wonder
Here are some characteristics to consider with the power of inquiry:
- Sparing, but purposeful, words
- Compelling graphics
- Symbolism that makes you wonder
- Style that reflects your authentic self
- Clear statement of vision/belief
- Hidden surprises
How can you translate those characteristics into your classroom? What would your students say? Can they help?
A Dose of Intrigue
It will take creative thinking, but I think there’s a lesson to be found for educators in Sarah Kay’s website. Just as unwrapped presents during the holidays yield an anticipation and engagement level far greater than the day after the presents are opened, a classroom that hides its intellectual treasures wisely yields a perpetual dose of intrigue, curiosity, and inspiration.