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If there are two things all educators can agree upon, it’s that learning is important and that learning should be fun. There’s nothing like seeing a student’s face light up when they make a discovery or connect with the material. Additionally, we recognize that our students have the potential to be powerful instruments for good. Every great thinker, from Albert Einstein to Katherine Johnson, began their learning journey as a student. The knowledge they acquire in our classrooms could serve as the motivation toward the next great discovery!
Unfortunately, the last two years have been incredibly difficult for education. COVID-19 has drastically upended the plans and procedures of most schools. Teachers and students alike have been forced to change the way they approach learning. While many educators have risen to the occasion, there’s no denying that opportunities have been lost. This also means that juggling between hybrid and concurrent teaching has created a period of tension within schools. We’ll all have to re-learn the steps to daily life in the classroom once this is over.
Connecting the Content
There’s no doubt this year was going to be difficult, but 2020 also gave teachers some useful perspective. Whether classrooms are meeting virtually or in person, students respond to lessons which impact their lives and the people around them. Students care about keeping their friends and family healthy during a pandemic. They care about African American history and the effects of climate change on our world. The key to increasing student engagement is simply pinpointing what matters to your students and applying it to the information at hand.
Writing in Edutopia, Beth Pandolpho shares a view of what learning should look like as students slowly return to school,
“As more students return to in-person school in the near future, it seems wise to invest our time and energy on strategies to increase student engagement that work both virtually and in person. Like all of us, students are most engaged when their work honors their experiences, connects to their interests, and has the potential to lead them to improvement of themselves, their lives, and issues that matter to them. Teachers can increase student engagement by re-envisioning their curricula in the following ways.”
So, how do we go about making this vision a reality?
Setting the Stage
As we all begin matriculating back into our classrooms, here are a few things to keep in mind about increasing student engagement:
- Remember Purpose: Students have the capacity to create positive change. Whether it’s in their community or in the life of a single individual, knowing their actions make a difference can…well…make all the difference! One way to be purposeful in your lessons is through project-based learning. With PBL, students can apply their knowledge to create real, lasting change. This engages them in the learning process and allows them to really understand content — not just borrow it for long enough to pass the next test.
- Remember Urgency: Students are more likely to engage with a lesson when its relevant to their daily life. If something important is happening in the world, don’t put off discussion or investigation just because it’s not on the schedule. Explore relevant topics when they arise and consider how you can tie them into your regular content. This can include subjects like vaccines and how they work, the significance of the winter solstice, or the passing of a prominent public figure.
- Remember Identity: Every student needs to know that they matter. They need to know that their voice will be heard, and their experiences will be respected. A good way to ensure this is to diversify the books and historical figures highlighted in your classroom. When students see themselves reflected in the individuals championing STEM or making strides in history, they are more likely to engage with the material. Sometimes a little representation is all a student needs to pursue their studies.
There are still many long days ahead of us. Still, I believe increasing student engagement can happen so long as we remember the fundamentals of teaching. Our students are hungry for knowledge that will allow them to make an impact, empower their friends, and help them understand the challenges of life. When we create opportunities for them to accomplish all three, there’s no limit to what they can discover!