Sunday, May 4, 2014

Increasing Student Engagement

The topic of this past week's middle school Twitter chat was student engagement.  Like many teachers, I encounter a lack of student engagement on a daily basis.  The extra layer that I deal with is the fact that many of my disengaged students are used to earning good grades due to their ESOL status.  When they enter my classroom, they quickly learn that this status does not make them unique and that since all instruction is tailored to their proficiency level, I expect them to actually complete assignments. I spend quite a bit of time (some would claim too much time), working with these students.  While I cannot claim to have totally turned around every single disengaged student, the majority of them demonstrate adequate measurable growth by the end of the year.  I can also claim to have never failed a student who attended school on a regular basis.  Here are some of my secrets:
  • Communicate and Care: I strive to have a personal conversation with each student every day. The conversation can be as complex as helping a student deal with a personal problem or something as simple as "Hey, nice goal in yesterday's game."  Students have my e-mail address and if they took the time to write it down, my phone number.  I often arrive at work an hour and a half early and have an open door policy.  I welcome the opportunity to assist students and although most of my disengaged students do not make early morning visits or communicate with me outside of school, they know that I am on their side.  The fact that I care makes them care just a little bit and they are more willing to complete assignments.  While I've yet to award an A to a disengaged student, at this point in the year, I'm proud to say that many of them have lifted their D's to C's and B's.
  • Preferential Seating: In cases where communicating and caring are not enough, disengaged students are awarded a seat next to my desk.  This ensures that these students do not slip under the radar and is my visual reminder to pay extra attention to this group.  If nothing else, the promise of a new seat in exchange for an increase in output motivates these students to give just a little more.
  • Everyone Likes Something: One way to encourage engagement is to make learning relevant. While it's not realistic to tailor lesson plans to students' interests on a daily basis, one area where many of us have latitude is with novel selections.  One of my seventh grade classes contains a number of disengaged students.  One assignment that resonated with these students was reading The Outsiders.  The main character Ponyboy, struggles to find a sense of identity. During this struggle, he is involved in a murder, smokes, fights, and runs away from his brother who was awarded custody after their parents' death.  This novel was a big hit and many of my most disengaged students became my biggest allies by imploring their classmates to quiet down so that Ms. Ninja will let them read the book.

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