Student engagement refers to the degree of attention, curiosity, interest, optimism, and passion that students show when they are learning or being taught, which extends to the level of motivation they have to learn and progress in their education. It is the essential ingredient for learning to occur. Student engagement is the province of every classroom from pre-kindergarten through graduate school. Obviously, the first step a teacher must take to assure that learning occurs is to provide a safe, orderly environment. In working with educators at levels from pre-school through college, I offer three essential components of classroom management they must develop before they begin to think about presenting content instruction: Caring, Rules, Practice
Caring: A truism in education states,“Students don’t care how much you know unless they know how much you care.” So HOW do students know a teacher cares? A first step is learning each student’s name as soon as possible, optimally at the first meeting. Taking the time and effort to identify each student yields benefits for the future. Teachers can utilize seating charts and a variety of mnemonic strategies to help them accomplish name recognition as soon as possible.
Students are people, too! Engage the students in brief but meaningful written or oral discussions about their interests and activities. These types of interactions are known as non-contingent. This means that the students need not perform a particular task or activity to receive attention from the teacher. These interactions can occur before or after class, in hallways, at lunch, at recess, etc. Some examples: What’s your favorite pastime? What was the best thing you did over the weekend? What’s your least favorite food? How did your team do yesterday? What do you enjoy doing with your family? Of course, these interactions will vary depending on the age range of the students.Demonstrating unconditional positive regard for each student is the hallmark of a caring teacher. So prevent the cycle of misbehavior and negative attention. Remember, for some students, negative attention for bad behavior is better than no attention at all.
Rules: While acquainting themselves with their students, teachers need to establish expectations and rules of behavior. Teachers should include their students in the development of acceptable behavior because they will be more invested in the outcome if they have a few choices about classroom rules. These guidelines should be clear and concise and posted in a prominent location. Here are a few examples:
1)Students will speak to the teacher and other students respectfully.
2) Class members will raise their hands and wait for acknowlegement before responding.
3) Students will leave their cell phones in their lockers.
4) Students will pay attention to the speaker.
Keep the list short, perhaps limited to five, so students can eventually internalize them. Choice is an important component of forming a cohesive team in the class. The rules should be formatted in positive terms, so they look less like commandments.
Practice: The class then needs to demonstrate the acceptable behavior for each of the established rules. The teacher models the correct behavior, and the students practice it. Only the teacher should demonstrate behavior that is not quite right or unacceptable, with students explaining why that behavior is incorrect.
Repetition is the key to learning in any domain, whether athletic, artistic, academic, or behavioral. While some educators may worry t devoting time to social-emotional teaching detracts from content instruction, research indicates that concern to be unfounded. According to one study: “Classroom routines can positively affect students’ academic performance as well as their behavior.” Thus, taking time at the beginning of the course can reap rewards for content instruction throughout the length of the term, semester, or year. In fact, many teachers discover that with effective classroom management they can complete the curriculum before schedule and that provides time for enrichment.
After all, isn’t learning the goal of student engagement?