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Hi ya’ll, today I want to discuss one of the critical aspects of a booming and lively learning environment. And that’s student engagement. I know I frequently rant about the active participation of students in the classroom, but I always do it for good reason. A student that is actively engaging with you and actively engaging in classroom activities is a student who will learn the most and as teachers, we love nothing more than these bright little buildings with a passion for learning.
Now engagement has a causal relationship with motivation. In an elementary classroom, students may be full of curiosity (as in any child’s case) but they may not have the appropriate motivations and if they don’t have the appropriate motivations their curiosities might stray them from engaging in the classroom. As teachers, it’s going to be our responsibility to nudge them in the right direction, and trust me, if you can direct your student’s motivation in the elementary classroom, it’s going to last through most of their education.
EASY WAYS TO INCREASE STUDENT ENGAGEMENT And STUDENT MOTIVATION
If you’re looking to motivate and looking to improve engagement, you’ll want to evaluate the learning environment you’re fostering for your students. Once you have a grasp of the current situation, you can only improve it.
As adults we can only afford a certain amount of our attention to a given task actively, this is even more true for elementary students who are not only easily distracted but have a significantly shorter attention span. If you want to increase a student’s engagement in the classroom you first have to make sure he or she is engaged. To do this you need to ensure you are not being monotonous. It is easy to grab an elementary student’s attention and it’s very easy to lose it.
To this end, visual and audible cues are your best friends. Use humor, story-telling, pictures, or anything age and grade-appropriate to keep your students attention. Jolt them with surprise add activities in the middle of the class, like small sing-along songs. A fun classroom will keep students motivated to chip in their learning hours productively.
Goal Oriented Activities
A very good way of improving student motivation is to have them do goal-oriented activities. This can encompass group work and playing games to learn (check out our article about using games to learn in the classroom). You can delegate tasks such as creating a poster or arranging objects according to their shapes and almost anything else you can imagine.
Doing this allows students to break away from solo bookwork and lets them assess their own capabilities. Group work also encourages the development of interpersonal skills though you may want to engineer the groups yourself to avoid troublesome partnerships.
Eliminate Dead Time
Dead time refers to the point between lessons where there are no clear learning objectives and students don’t really have anything to do. While carefully scheduled elementary classrooms may rarely come across this situation, no classroom is immune to it.
Dead time presents brief windows where students can easily lose motivation to learn. If their engagement is broken, it may be difficult to re-engage them. As a consequence, you want to ensure that while your class is full of breathing rooms, they are always serving a purpose.
We suggest using low-order activities, that can keep the students engaged but are not very demanding. You may play fun and instructive videos on YouTube, or you may have students engage in small activities such as self-reflection tasks or to discuss an easy topic with a partner.
Hear Your Students Out
Treating your elementary students as adults with decision-making power can motivate them to participate in activities, especially if they are the ones suggesting it. Don’t be the one that dictates how everything is done, when possible, ask your students what they want to do or how they want to do it. For example, ask them if they want to do a classroom activity as a group or solo. Alternatively, ask them for feedback during class, if the activity is too hard, or if there is some other way they would prefer to do it.
A good way to improve engagement is to ask inquisitive and open-ended questions. Students are less likely to respond to yes or no questions if they are not sure about their answers. However, they may be more responsive to questions that have no right or no wrong answer. Similarly, you may want to ask equitable questions that can have both direct and indirect answers.
And when asking questions, always make sure to engage with the student yourself. Don’t leave them at their answers. Let them know why you think their answer is right or how it can be even better.
Reinforce with Feedback
For elementary students, while you don’t want to be too generous with compliments such that they become complacent, you do want to be encouraging with positive feedback always. Regardless of outcomes, praise their effort. Let them know that their efforts amount to something. Celebrate their achievements and support them with feedback. This will build your student’s confidence and improve their comfort level with you. Both of which will help in improving motivation and consequently engagement.
DO YOUR HOMEWORK
We discussed a few ways you can improve engagement and motivation in the classroom. But just remember that students need someone to engage not something. There is no magical book or box you can use to improve classroom productivity. The best thing you can do is lead by example and be the change in your classroom. Be highly motivated yourself and engage your students whenever the opportunity arises. All of this will cumulate and make your classroom the cool place to learn.