Many school systems and teachers struggle with the issue of student engagement and under-performing students — not only on the individual level, but for entire classrooms. Lessons that allow students to feel bored, disengaged or distant from the material will more often than not fail to penetrate young minds, resulting in poor test scores and lackluster in-class participation.
The fast, dazzling pace of today’s popular culture has become the new norm for children. The traditional “sage on the stage” method of teaching needs to incorporate a more engaging, challenging approach for the 21st century student. An interactive learning model that includes a few key tenets can help educators better connect to modern-day learners.
Oliver holds that all lesson material must be presented in a way that makes it as accessible and relevant to the student’s own frame of reference as possible. Teachers must choose their vocabulary carefully in presenting these lessons, employing only the terms needed to get the information across and providing illustrations or other keys to help students learn and use these terms with confidence. Colorful charts, graphic organizers or other visual aids may prove especially helpful.
The days when teachers could simply drone away from a prepared text for an hour at a time have vanished forever. Today’s students have grown up in a world of fast-paced, colorful, challenging interactivity, so today’s teachers must not only educate but also engage. This engagement must occur on the emotional, intellectual and physical levels.
By engaging students’ emotions, teachers can get the lesson on a fast track toward relevance. Oliver recommends using multimedia depicting beloved references from real life, such as favorite cartoons, music groups or TV characters. This welcome familiarity immediately strikes a chord in the students’ own psyche and gives them something to relate to. The teacher can then use this emotional resonance by linking what the students have just seen to a critical piece of information in the lesson.
Once the lesson begins, Oliver argues, it must present a constant challenge right up to the ring of the bell. Slow or boring patches will entice at least some students to drift away, possibly for the entire class period. Teachers can throw down the intellectual gauntlet early by posing an essential question for students to answer by the end of class — not a simple yes or no answer, but an extended answer demonstrating a clear, high-level grasp of the lesson. This challenge will help keep the kids actively listening and thinking. Information should then come at a cracking pace, peppered with quick questions and answers. This high-energy information feed not only keeps the students engaged but ensures that the necessarily course material gets covered.
Even the most attentive young students may have trouble resisting the fidgets after 10 to 15 minutes of “chair time.” Oliver recommends that teachers schedule some kind of interactive activity at these junctures to get the kids moving around and working together. These activities can prove an entertaining yet educational way of keeping the energy level up in the classroom.
The structure of the education experience partly dictates the success of the other strategies mentioned above. By setting a course agenda that moves at a brisk pace and contains clearly-defined milestones, teachers can deliver the information students need while keeping them engaged. Oliver suggests several basic structural items that she has employed with great success. Beginning the lesson with an essential question, for example, sets the tone and gives students something to think about right from the start of class. Switching between lecture segments and other activities can capture students’ attention and alleviate the threat of boredom. Asking a handful of high-level questions about the subject matter forces students to apply their new learning immediately. Summarizing the material at the end of each class gives students an opportunity to display their new found knowledge. The final result is a class that genuinely learns — and performs.