Sunday, July 8, 2012

How Can Teachers Keep Students Engaged in Learning?

A school pupil at the Bridge Learning Campus reads to his teacher at the school in Bristol, England (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)
By Kim Amburgey

How many of us can remember not wanting to get up and go to school? Even as an "A" student, I can certainly remember feeling that way! The days spent filling in worksheets and completing textbook pages were often torturous! They were so BORING!

As an educator now, I have come to discover it doesn't have to be that way. There are so many ways to thoughtfully teach children by truly engaging them in the content they are learning.

Making their learning relevant, hands-on, collaborative, project-based, providing them with choice, and simply differentiating their instruction are just a few effective teaching strategies educators can use to make learning engaging in their classrooms!

With pressures from standardized test results, many educators are resistant to break away from lectures, textbooks, and worksheets, as these vehicles of learning ensure they are "covering" everything needed to be successful on those tests. Think about, however, the amount of learning students are getting out of those activities.

As a simple example, do you think a 10-year old would get more out of a worksheet with probability questions, or a hands-on activity and reflection that focuses on probability? When students find the work they do to be fun and engaging, they are better connected to the content of the activity.

It is a traditional practice for teachers to stand in front of her audience of students and tell them everything she knows about a topic. She assumes, of course, that the kids are taking it all in. I still have notebooks from college where the notes I was taking on those "engaging" lectures turned into straight lines due to falling asleep!

Yes, some teachers can make lectures fabulously entertaining, which helps immensely; however, most teachers, due to time constraints and pressures, don't take the time to do that.

What's wrong with letting students explore new content when learning? Why not foster their sense of wonder? Instead of lecturing about democracy, let them explore about it through a Web Quest.

Instead of telling kids all about physical and chemical change, let them make discoveries about it through experiments. Instead of teaching students research skills through making them research a specific topic, let them decide what they want to learn more about and research that.

There are endless ways to help engage students in the classroom. Through utilizing various effective teaching strategies, the opportunities to increase student engagement are endless. Truly, by even changing one practice, a teacher can increase her students' achievement in the classroom. Isn't it worth it?

Kim Amburgey is an educator in a democratic, multi-age public school, where she and her teaching partner incorporate various teaching strategies to increase the engagement of their students. Several of these strategies extend educator's thinking beyond the traditional classroom practices.

Visit Kim's blog at to learn more about some of these strategies!

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