Allegedly attention spans have decreased. We know students are connected like never before. It is a different world with more things calling for our attention than ever before. However, ask any student and they will tell you how many hours they commit to the things that they like. The top of the list usually is an interactive game, their favourite sport or the latest movie.
Teachers are challenged daily delivering curriculum that students cannot yet see the
relevance of. Engagement journals offer the following advise:
1.Differentiate the curriculum (that is tailor the instruction to meet the individual’s needs).
2. Set the work just outside the student’s locus of control (not too hard that they give up, not to easy that they switch off).
3. Backward map from the outcome you want them to achieve.
Plan your lesson sequences backwards. What is the final outcome that the student needs to achieve. Then map the skills you will need to teach them in order to achieve this outcome.
4. Incorporate project based learning (have a definite start finish and milestones to make a tangible product ie a speech, multimedia presentation or physical tangible item.
5. Develop students capacity to be a self directed learner. (This requires teaching them emotional intelligence and perseverance).
6. Be the facilitator of knowledge and encourage social learning. Social learning is a powerful tool in levelling the playing field for all students.
I would add
1. Build the relationship. Usually students who are distracted do not have a connection with you yet. Sometimes they do not have a connection with anyone.
2. Reflect with a colleague to deconstruct the elements of the learning situation. This means reassess seating plans, lesson content and the delivery of content.
3. Look for the tiny win. Over the course of your time with the student these add up to be big wins. Keep counting them and they will help to keep you motivated to keep
4. If you feel like you have exhausted all options refer them to another colleague or another class. Sometimes schools are unaware of how students severe emotional trauma is affecting their learning. A colleague with a different skill set to yours may be able to achieve a different outcome.
5. Plan something fun. Sometimes we forget that we need to recharge and refresh. When you are refreshed you are better equipped to get the best from your students.
How do I know? 7 years in education. I have taught across multiple age groups, different schools and different socio-economic backgrounds. I have taught highly dis-engaged students, at risk students, students with varying physical and emotional challenges.
Sometimes I have just accepted the present limitations and other times I worked around them. This is the reality. One can be over ambitious however the key is to realise the boundaries and do the best with what one has. That is all anyone can ask.
In my spare time I talk to practicing child psychologists, child care workers and parents. I am part of a number of teachers associations and community groups. I read all I can on the latest educational theories and then apply them, adapting them to my students until I find something that works for me. The theories that work for certain academics in certain other countries do not always adapt so readily to an Australian context and sometimes your school will push you to try regardless.
However if you have the courage to know yourself and say “no but how about this instead” you will come out on top because you would have remained authentic to your unique teaching style. If you have the courage to be service focussed and professional when a student has openly displayed a dislike of you or your teaching style you will have success. This takes a few years sometimes and requires leaving behind any ego one has. How? You just tell the student that you want them to succeed regardless of how they interact with you.
In this way your success is that they have not walked out on school just because your personalities do not compliment each other. We will not get along with everyone. It is challenging to accept this fact.
The light at the end of the tunnel is that, that little teenager who verbally disrespected you to your face publicly grows to be a lovely adult who seeks you out years later to formally apologise. They usually explain their personal difficulties at the time. You just happen to be there for them to vent on because no other adult stuck around for so long.
I am not condoning taking verbal abuse. I am encouraging the art of detachment. 99% of the time it is not you, that 1% when it is, that is when you should book your next holiday or a break. We are only human. If you can (like me) adopt a perseverance attitude it becomes easier.
Some days are trickier than others. I feel like giving up. I accept this feeling now. However I chat with a colleague or the students friends, or a parent and this gives me what I need to get through. I accept now, that I cannot always get the change I want.
Only what the student will allow. This is challenging. Read it again. Only what the student will allow. If you take all emotion out and take a data approach, you can usually see improvement between two set points in time. It does happen. Keep coming back to those wins. If you can keep your eyes on those you will change hundreds of students lives.
You will increase engagement perhaps not by your content but by your character. You would have contributed to making a better world by not giving up on that student who everyone else had already written off.
Feel free to comment below or connect here
It is my intention only to offer what has worked for me in the hopes you find something useful that will work for you. I am grateful to be able to have the privilege to teach.
Improving Student Engagement: Ten proposals for action by Nick Zepke (School of Educational
Studies, Massey University, New Zealand). Click here
More about the author:
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