10 Years of Teaching: How Do I Keep My Students Engaged?

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Five years ago, I wrote a series of seven articles called “Questions That Will Save Your Career” that still remain among the most visited articles on this site. When I wrote those, I had successfully completed my 5th year in education. This summer, after 10 years, I am revisiting some of these older concepts. Today, I revisit How Do I Keep My Students Engaged?

  1. How Do I Keep My Students Quiet?
  2. How Do I Keep My Students Engaged?
  3. How Do I Keep My Students Interested?
  4. How Do I Keep My Students Learning?
  5. How Do I Keep My Students Away From Me?
  6. How Do I Keep My School Administration Happy?
  7. How Do I Keep My Sanity?
  8. 10 Years of Teaching: How Do I Keep My Students Quiet?
  9. 10 Years of Teaching: How Do I Keep My Students Engaged?
  10. 10 Years of Teaching: How Do I Keep My Students Interested?
  11. 10 Years of Teaching: How Do I Keep My Students Learning?
  12. 10 Years of Teaching: How Do I Keep My Students Away From Me?
  13. 10 Years of Teaching: How Do I Keep My School Administration Happy?
  14. 10 Years of Teaching: How Do I Keep My Sanity?

The first time around, I wrote about how to keep the entire class on task. That is a big problem for younger teachers no doubt, and there is some valuable information in the original article. But that’s not the direction I’m going today. Now that I have matured as a teacher, I am much more capable of individualizing instruction and helping the best students excel while the struggling students still get the attention they deserve. But first…

How can you tell if a student is engaged in learning?

As I have grown in my understanding of teaching, I have learned a couple of things about active learning:

  • The fact that a student is following directions is not evidence that the student is learning.
  • The fact that a student is not following directions is not evidence that the student is not learning.

Participation does not necessarily equal engagement

With these two concepts in mind, we realize that it is a bit more challenging to determine if active learning is taking place on a student-by-student basis. Some of my hardest working students follow instructions but get bored to tears when I am explaining and reexplaining and re-reexplaining the same simple concept. Yet they stick to the assignment. So if I really want my upper echelon of students to truly thrive in my class, I need to find some means of differentiating instruction.

  1. Individual/small group work
    I set up a Google Voice number so that the students can call in and pass off lines from their book. Those who were ahead of the class and I felt I could trust got to go off and work in a small group and get ahead even faster. The keys to this setup were trust and accountability. If my iPhone didn’t pop up and tell me that they were leaving voicemails every 2-3 minutes, I would go investigate and refocus them.
  2. Peer tutoring
    Sometimes a new student would move in or a few of them would just totally not get a concept. I find that kids are better able to speak “kid” than I am sometimes. I get too technical with my terms or whatever. We all know that one of the best ways to really learn a concept is to teach it. The added benefit of having one of the top students teach one of the newer or struggling ones is that they both are able to learn and better reinforce the concepts. It’s a win-win deal!
  3. Divide and conquer
    If you are fortunate enough to be in a situation where there are two teachers (or even a paraprofessional) available to work with the class, then there’s often tremendous benefits by splitting into two different adult-guided groups. This way you can teach two completely different concepts simultaneously. If you have two rooms it works best, but I have used this concept in a standard classroom too.
READ  Questions That Will Save Your Career

These are concepts that many successful marching bands use frequently with two band directors working with different sections on the field, the drumline off on the sideline working on their own thing, colorguard in the gym, and a drill instructor or drum major working with a student who was sick and missed the previous rehearsal.

At the root of any differentiation needs to be ultimately student learning. If the students are learning and if they come to class knowing they will get something out of it, it becomes easier and easier to manage their behavior and keep them engaged.

About Joel Wagner 522 Articles
Joel Wagner (@sywtt) began teaching band in 2002. Though he had a lot of information, his classes were out of control. He found himself tired, frustrated, disrespected by students, lonely, and on the brink of quitting. He had had enough. He resigned from his school district right before spring break of his second year and made it his personal mission to learn to be a great teacher. So You Want To Teach? is the ongoing story of that quest for educational excellence.

1 Comment on 10 Years of Teaching: How Do I Keep My Students Engaged?

  1. Enjoyed this article. Like our curricular scope and sequence, there are developmental patterns to our professional growth and understandings. I'm more than 20 years on the other side of the desk and still enjoy reflecting, challenging notions, exploring new ways of doing school.

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