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Tips for Maximizing Engagement in the K-12 Classroom

When students are distracted and engagement in the classroom drops, teachers often reach for the proverbial box of tricks to reel in attention. Whether playing entertaining videos or giving bored students complex, time-sucking activities, these attempts often fail because materials do not engage students: teachers do.

Educators hoping to generate lasting engagement without flashy props must understand learning strategies and best practices used in the classroom. Teachers everywhere have heard the common student question: “When will I ever use this?” Those who answer this question well will engage students with content relevant to life beyond school. Educators can use anecdotes, case studies, and real-life examples from outside the classroom to ground teaching in the real world and maximize engagement.

An advanced education degree in curriculum and instruction with an instructional coach/leader focus can equip education professionals with the necessary tools to foster and inspire long-term engagement in learners.

Making Connections

Students need several elements to feel comfortable and encouraged to participate in school. While nuances exist for every age group, all students need strong teacher relationships and a space to collaborate with classmates. To connect, they must feel their emotional needs are being met.

U.S. News and World Report notes that student motivation plummeted when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Educators agree many students returned to school and in-person classes with lower confidence, less investment, and less motivation to learn.

John Marshall Reeve, “the author of Supporting Students’ Motivation: Strategies for Success,” says that “if you really want to help student motivation, rather than work with the students, the best thing you can do is work with their teachers.”

Researchers agree children are naturally motivated, but motivation only grows if three critical factors are met. Students need autonomy, competency, and relevancy in learning to feel like they have control over something, are good at something and getting better, and are connected to someone.

Promoting Student Engagement

Schools must address these needs, and educators must use best practices to encourage student engagement. When educators and learning institutions fail to address these needs, disengagement results.

Teachers can keep students committed with Universal Design for Learning (UDL) guidelines, created by educators who understand engagement as the cornerstone for creating expert learners. Its seven strategies to increase engagement are as follows:

  1. Make learning relevant
  2. Remove barriers
  3. Include choice and voice
  4. Create safe spaces
  5. Encourage social learning
  6. Make feedback important
  7. Set learning goals

Educators know that motivation decreases as students get older, so they must learn to adapt engagement strategies to the age group, course material, and individual. For example, a Gallup survey of 500,000 students found that roughly 8 in 10 elementary students felt curious, attentive, and optimistic about their learning. However, by high school, that plummeted to just 4 in 10.

Addressing Student Reality

When teachers understand students’ lives, they become more intentional when planning for learning. Weaving in social and emotional lessons throughout the year and addressing the digital realities of students are essential strategies to adopt, according to an article recently posted on Common Sense Education.

As the world continues to change and familiar pandemic stressors evolve both in the classroom and at home, educators must be mindful. Students at every level need extra time to process what they are going through, and teachers must find ways to provide that. Fortunately, various resources are available to help address social and emotional wellness.

Sparking interest and participation in class by understanding student needs and psychology is a surefire way to bring them into the learning fold. Education professionals looking to increase student participation and enrich learning environments might consider Emporia State University’s online Master of Science (M.S.) in Curriculum and Instruction – Instructional Coach/Teacher Leader PreK-12 program. The curriculum’s online classes, such as Contemporary Teaching and Learning Strategies, which emphasizes classroom and instructional organization practices, and Curriculum Leadership: Models & Strategies, help focus professional knowledge and expertise. Graduates will elevate their careers while also maximizing engagement in the classroom.

Learn more about Emporia State’s M.S. in Curriculum & Instruction – Instructional Coach/Teacher Leader PreK-12 online program.

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