Tuesday, December 29, 2015

6 Strategies to Start off the New Year with Greater Classroom Engagement

The New Year is here, so what is your plan to get the kids more engaged than ever?  The solution won't be found in that new lesson that you developed or that cool tech-tool that you discovered on Twitter.  The key to better classroom engagement is guaranteeing that each student optimizes every minute of his learning in your room.

Every student's minute counts.  Now, if you are allotted 50 minutes of instruction, and you waste or lose 5 minutes everyday due to poor behavior, disengaged minds or apathetic students, you give up 10% of your instruction every day (See 5 Fixes for the 1st 5 Minutes of Instruction).   I don't know about you, but I don't have 10% of time to give up on any given. Do you?

With that said, I'd like to offer some strategies that you can easily incorporate into your instruction immediately that will reduce your chances of losing valuable minutes of instruction while simultaneously increasing the chances that more students will be engaged in their learning in 2016.

1.  Routines & Procedures 
The best pair of tennis shoes always need to be tied before you go running.  Think of your routines and procedures as the shoes for your instruction.  If you don't tie them tight everyday, you will lose time having to tie and retie them throughout your run.  Spend time each day reviewing how students are expected to independently do everything such as:

  • enter the room & get started in the warm-up activity
  • request to leave the room 
  • sharpen a pencil 
  • retrieve all materials
  • ask for help if they have a problem
  • manage their materials independent of you
If students aren't reminded of the routines and procedures for the classroom on a daily basis, they will rely on their own routines and procedures to learn, and that will generally not lead to maximized engagement.

It must be emphasized that routines and procedures grow in effectiveness with praise and affirmation.  Spend time every day recognizing and thanking kids for doing things right, and the rest of the class will work hard to be praised as well.  What gets celebrated gets accelerated.

2.  Start off the period with Music
Haley Van Sandt was the first teacher that I saw use music consistently to engage kids in learning during the first 5 minutes of instruction without fail every single day.  As soon as the bell rang, Mandisa's "Good Morning" started, and the kids started singing and vibing to the music as they completed their warm-up work and readied themselves for the day's lesson.  Using a familiar song as a regular routine focuses students' thoughts on learning and what they need to do to be prepared for learning.

3. Excellence begins with Expectations
Before you begin any task, it is extremely helpful to set expectations for what you want kids to do.  If it is a normal activity, don't assume that all kids will know or remember the expectations.  Take 15 seconds to remind them of the expectations for that activity, or you'll lose 5 minutes redirecting and correcting off-task behavior (5 minutes = 10% of your instruction).  If it is a new activity, you will need to spend 2-4 minutes describe the learning behaviors necessary for students to complete the activity successfully.  Don't expect excellence.  Set expectations for students to reach excellence.

4. 3 B4 Me
Students can't truly maximize every minute of their learning if the only person they can ask for help is the teacher.  A "3 b4 Me" rule will help students own their learning by expecting them to solve their own problems without you.  Here are just a few places students can go before they go to you for assistance.

  • Anchor charts in the room,
  • Their notes,
  • Their classmates,
  • Google for things they don't know,
  • Dictionary.com for worlds they don't understand,
  • A print out of procedures for logging-in to websites.
In the real world, the most successful people are masters at solving their own problems.  "3 B4 Me" is a real world strategy to empower all kids to solve their own problems, and it keeps you available for the few problems that truly require the expertise that only you, the teacher, can provide.

5. Note-taking
Listening is not a very engaging activity.  In fact it's quite boring, and with every passing minute that students must listen to the teacher's lesson, their engagement decreases considerably.  Engaging lessons from the teacher require students to follow along, copy, imitate and/or summarize what the teacher is presenting. 

Note-taking and summarizing was noted by Marzano (see here) as one of the highest-yield strategies.  All students (K-12) should take notes everyday.  From copying what they teacher is doing in Kindergarten to using graphic organizers or notes with holes to take notes in elementary to using art to take notes in high school, note-taking is a powerful strategy that helps students deepen their learning of the content while you model learning for the kids.  If students aren't taking notes, how will they remember what you taught them?

6. Stop the Q&A and Start the 'Turn and Talk'
When you ask one student a question, the rest of the class disengages from the lesson.  If the goal is to get all students learning at high levels, pose a question and ask the students to turn and talk to their neighbor for 30 seconds.  This gives all students their opportunity to discuss their learning with one another, and there is a greater chance that all students will stay engaged in the lesson.

Why should you drop the Q&A? Well, every time you ask one student a question, the rest of the class is off the hook, and their learning essentially stops while they wait for that student to answer the question.  With turn and talk, every kid's learning keeps going, and you can monitor conversations and then hand pick 1 or 2 kids to share out what they discussed.  There will always be better engagement with turn and talk.

Make 2016 Ring with Engagement
Learning is accelerated with better engagement, and if we want all students to be active learners, we must make certain that all of them are active participants throughout every lesson that we provide.  By creating active learning environments that focus on optimizing every student's engagement, we actually foster each student's independence and autonomy that essentially transform their engagement into empowerment.  Imagine the kind of learning and growth we would see in every kid if we created a classroom where empowerment wasn't the goal, but the constant.

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