There is a marked distinction between teachers who seek merely to entertain and those who actually engage, just as there is a difference between teachers who cater to rather than captivate kids. Our ultimate goal as facilitators is for our students to be fully committed to academic pursuits that mean something to them personally and move them profoundly.
By adding one or more of the following engagement techniques—the 10 Cs, I call them—teachers of all grade levels and subject areas can refashion any lesson into an exciting, enriching educational experience for all. Best of all, infusing your classroom with both wonder and worth always enhances your quality and depth of instruction. Cultivating student involvement doesn’t entail compromise or invite complacency, so use these strategies liberally and often.
Engagement Through Empowerment
1. Curiosity: Tap into the natural inquisitiveness of children through the use of intrigue, prediction, and inquiry. Allowing students to create their own questions based on careful analysis and thoughtful inference puts them in charge of their learning. To add a deeper layer of scholarship and ownership, require students to employ evidence and explanation in order to find answers to their own and their classmates’ questions.
2. Choice: Students feel valued when given a degree of control over their education and respond positively when elements of autonomy are incorporated into class activities. Kids greet the simplest either/or opportunities with enthusiasm, but facilitators can capitalize on this by occasionally offering menus of choices so students can decide how to approach or show off their learning.
3. Creativity: Choice is not just being given the authority to decide between one thing and the other. Investment and authenticity are also enhanced when students are encouraged to express themselves organically and with originality. Move students from being passive consumers of information to active creators by welcoming their ingenuity and imagination.
4. Construction: Project- or problem-based learning forms purpose and practicality for students who naturally crave meaning and hands-on participation. When students create, build, or solve something personally impactful, the buy-in is palpable. These grand, ongoing projects also establish a through line of anticipation, significance, and commitment that keeps students eagerly coming back for more.
Engagement Through Community
5. Collaboration: Working together toward a common goal is invigorating, advantageous, and enlightening. Whether this collaboration is done among pairs of students, small groups, or the entire class, do not settle for mere cooperation. True collaboration necessitates at least two people working closely on a particularly challenging or complex task. If most students can readily accomplish an assignment individually, do not designate that particular task as collaborative.
Related Article: Teaching Group Work: Building Student Collaboration and Agency
6. Camaraderie: The esprit de corps that fascinating facilitators engender in their students must not be underestimated. A sense of belonging, essential contribution, common mission, and mutual celebration transforms what could be an isolating school experience into one filled with rapport and relationships.
Engagement Through Expertise
7. Controversy: Students spontaneously respond to pointed, provocative comments and ideas. They love to add their two cents, especially where issues of justice, equity, and freedom are concerned. Work to elevate your students’ impassioned reactions, particularly when those responses are uninformed, into eloquent expressions of opinion and insight. Teach your students respectful debate skills and awaken within them the fire of self-expression.
8. Critique: When specifically asking students for their judgment, the intent is not for them to merely tear things apart and criticize but to expose both the strengths and weaknesses of what is being critiqued. Practice with this type of analysis also prepares students to evaluate their own work, as well as that of their peers, with increasing balance and clarity.
9. Commentary: Every child likes to feel smart, necessary, and listened to. Giving students voice entails providing the encouragement and support that increase confidence. Add the skills of articulation and explication, and kids increasingly open up to share their pertinent, personal ideas and experiences. If you want your students to talk and write like experts, then train and treat them like experts.
10. Critical thinking: Take students beyond what they already know, believe, can do, or think they are interested in. Also take students below the surface to explore and discover new insights and connections to what they previously knew or believed. Finally, take students back inward to reflect on their prior assumptions and to think critically about what they have read or been told. These opportunities for astute analysis ignite the inner scholar that resides in every child.
These 10 avenues of self-expression are potent ways to augment student achievement. Therefore, every teacher’s investment in student engagement matters. And this makes school meaningful—which only inspires further student investment.