An engaging educational process not only expedites learning, it also develops creativity and critical thinking and enables students to have ownership over their learning. How does an educator engage her students in a world of diminished attention spans and instant gratification? We have compiled ten methods to increase student engagement; these are simple and easy to implement within standard lesson plans, but can greatly increase students’ involvement in the classroom.
1. The Socratic Method
Named after the classical Greek philosopher, this method involves “asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to illuminate ideas.” Parents know this method well- how often have you heard a three-year-old asking, “why?” when presented with new information and experiences? One of my favorite examples of this method is an educator who, using nothing but questions, led students to explore numeral systems outside of our base-10 system. Students connected base-10 to humans’ ten fingers and explored from there- with no input from the teacher but leading questions! You may be surprised by what your students can learn on their own when they are taught to ask the right kind of questions.
2. Your Values
Why are you a teacher? What drew you to education? It is difficult for us to accomplish goals if we are not clear about why our goals are so important to us. Similarly, if we are not clear about the value of what we are teaching, it is nearly impossible to convince students of that value. Connect in some way to what you are teaching. If it is important to you, it will be much easier for your students to recognize its importance.
3. Their Values
Of course, the same applies to your students! What is important in their lives? What problems do they want to solve? Take the time to learn about your students’ values and make connections to your subject matter.
If you watch young children at play, you can easily see how they physically engage the world around them in order to learn. Any time you can add a physical element to your subject matter, you are adding another avenue of understanding, especially for students who are primarily kinesthetic learners.
5. Make Connections
What kind of music would George Washington have listened to? How did World War II impact Albert Einstein? Making connections to other subjects can give students a broader understanding of a concept, or may help them to understand an idea in familiar terms. This concept is also found in the state standards set forth for many subjects, such as music.
6. Play a Game
Many teachers are well aware of the increased engagement of their students when learning takes place in the form of a game. Jeopardy-style challenges, spelling bees, races- they all add a challenging element to learning that can be very motivating. Be aware of your students’ personalities, however. Competition can be distressing for some, and you may need to introduce it carefully, in a structured environment.
7. Take it Outside
Field trips work for many reasons. By leaving the classroom, students get to make real-world connections to what was previously theory. Several of the above suggestions are aspects of field trips as well: the physical element is present, connections are made between subjects, and hands-on learning is taking place. A carefully planned field trip can be inspirational for students for months to come.
8. Teach the Teachers
You’ve probably begun explaining an idea to someone and suddenly realized how much you actually know about the subject. The act of teaching reinforces learning for the students, and often provides new perspectives on old ideas. This can take place in many ways in the classroom. Students can give a presentation, tutor a peer, or help to teach younger students. These all require structure and guidance, but can be immensely rewarding to everyone involved. You may even learn something new!
9. Get Help
Is your former college roommate a doctor? Can you find a local musician to talk about the science of sound? Bringing in special guests to speak to your students requires a little work, both with your administration and in evaluating the guests’ capability prior to having them, but can add depth to a subject. Technology is important, too. Remember that with Skype or Google Hangouts, you can provide guest speakers from around the world.
10. In or Out?
This final suggestion relates to all of our previous ideas and the overall concept of engaging education. Extrinsic motivation, (such as handing out candy to students with perfect scores on a quiz), may work for now, but our overall goal as educators should be to develop our students’ intrinsic motivation to learn and succeed. When your students discover what motivates them and learn to use and focus that energy, they will be unstoppable.
And as a final note- trust yourself! If you have taken the time to get to know yourself, your subject, and your students, you have put yourself in a position to affect change. Use our methods as a starting point, and your own innovation and creativity will lead to real results.