In today’s fast-paced digitally immersed world, it can be nearly impossible to keep students motivated to learn. Many don’t see the point because all the information in the world can be accessed instantly, often on devices that fit in the palm of one’s hand. It is hard for them to imagine having to search the library, dig through the card catalog to find a book, or spend time flipping through volume after volume of an encyclopedia set just to gather a few tidbits of information. Here you will find listed the top 10 keys that can help you to engage your students, and keep them motivated to learn and grow throughout the school year. (Parents, don’t worry, these tips can easily be modified for use in the home as well!)
Defining Educational Leadership
Educational leadership is defined as any individual in the school that has a decision-making role. This usually refers to individuals who hold high positions in the hierarchy of the school district. Key examples are the superintendent, the school principals, and curriculum directors. These individuals are the ones that are primarily responsible for the way that the students in each school district are being taught. With the nationwide implementation of the Common Core curriculum, it can be difficult to customize the way students learn. Still, it’s important for instructors to do what they can to help students remain motivated throughout the entire year. The responsibility of ensuring the minds of their students are properly molded is perhaps the most important for an educational leader. Only one responsibility stands higher: motivating students to problem solve and think for themselves.
This, above all other things, is why it is so vitally important to keep these students motivated and interested in learning. It is the job of the parents, the teachers, and those in educational leadership to help foster the creation of the next generation of doctors and lawyers, scientists, writers, artists, and thinkers.
Part of the problem lies in the fact that many of these individuals have to teach a relatively stagnant curriculum for years, perhaps even decades. They’ve become so hidebound that it’s difficult to innovate and adapt when things change so suddenly. They may be phenomenal instructors but it can be hard for them to keep up with the changes that need to be made to current instructional techniques, leaving room for a lack of depth in understanding. Without that depth, it can be difficult to help keep themselves and their students motivated and enthusiastic about their education.
Key Drivers of Student Engagement
Keeping your students (or your children, we haven’t forgotten the parents. You are your child’s first teacher, after all) motivated and engaged in their schooling is difficult, at best. Here we’ve gathered the top 10 drivers for student engagement and explored ways that they can be best applied to current or future curriculums.
We all know that these classrooms are restricted in what they are able to teach. Within that restriction, do whatever you can to make the lessons relevant to today’s world. Many schools are already taking the first steps toward this end by including digital tools like laptops in the classroom or replacing their bulky textbooks with slim and lightweight iPads or other tablet computers. Create a virtual classroom that your students can access from home or from their mobile device. This enables them to use a medium that they are familiar with to ask questions, debate points, or simply to deliver their assignments. This can actually encourage more debate and discussion because many children who have been raised in this digital age are more comfortable expressing their thoughts or opinions through digital mediums than they are face to face. While this shouldn’t replace classroom discussions or oral presentations, it does provide another facet to classroom learning that many students may be more receptive to.
There was a TED talk that went viral recently by a young man named Logan LaPlante. This 13 year old participates in what is known as hackschooling where he effectively plans, creates, and carries out his own curriculum. There are other schools nationwide that are beginning to implement similar programs where the students get to choose what they want to learn and how they wish to learn it. This can be the easiest way to keep your students motivated, though it obviously isn’t for everyone. Even if hackschooling isn’t an option, there are always ways to personalize your student’s schooling experience. It’s simple: Talk. To. Your. Students. Find out what they want to learn, and how they want to learn it, and from there, figure out ways to implement this style of learning into your teaching.
Once your students graduate from school and move out into the real world, much will change. One thing that will often remain the same is that they will be required to work with other people, many of which they may not like. Encourage your students to collaborate with each other, with other instructors, or with professionals outside the school. Don’t say “Write me a report about a career that you would like after you graduate”. Instead (and this may require a bit of extra work on your part), set up shadow days where your students can spend a day or a weekend following a professional around during his or her daily routine. The collaboration, both within and without, can be an invaluable tool for keeping your students engaged and motivated.
It is easier than ever for students and teachers to stay connected. Many college instructors and high school teachers even provide their cell phone numbers to facilitate this connection. Sometimes, the easiest way to keep a student motivated is to connect to him or her. This simple act of acknowledgment and the offer of assistance, even if it is never utilized, is an effective way to promote student engagement. Just a quick text message saying, “Hey, I am available if you have any questions”, is often enough to remind the student that he or she is not in this alone and can contact their teacher without fear of reprisal. Student to student connections are also essential and should be fostered wherever possible.
Setting goals, actual achievable goals, is something many of us were never taught. It doesn’t help to say “Set a goal and work toward it!” because that doesn’t teach the students to set a goal that is within reach. This leaves them with a goal that is seemingly unattainable and a negative outlook on their life and their achievements. Teach your students how to set achievable goals, and how to break their goals down into steps. These small steps will make it much easier to achieve the main goal, and when they have reached that final step, these students will look back in astonishment that they have made it that far.
Everyone needs a pat on the back now and then, and a little constructive criticism never hurt anybody. Take a little extra time to provide some feedback for your students on their work. This can be as simple as some extra notes on their paper, or a text message stating that you were happy with their work but would like to offer some feedback if they were willing. This can be a simple and surprisingly effective way to engage the students and make them more enthusiastic about their work. Think about yourself. Would you rather hear “Good job” and leave it at that or “Your work is fantastic, can we talk about it more in depth?” For most adults, the latter is preferable, so why would it be any different for students?
Your students are not going to be motivated or enthusiastic about a subject unless you are excited to be teaching it to them. This needs to be legitimate enthusiasm though; you’d be surprised how easily these savvy students can see through a fake smile or faux excitement. If you find yourself facing a subject that you are having trouble becoming excited about, expect to face trouble engaging your students as well. Spend some time on Google looking for a way to get the kids excited. If you’re starting a chapter on genetics, for example, show the clip of Mr. DNA from Jurassic Park and make double helixes out of toothpicks, Twizzlers and gum drops! This is just one example for one subject, but you’d be surprised what Google can teach you about teaching!
This doesn’t necessarily mean you should have a messy desk and no plan for the day, but sometimes straying outside of your normally organized lesson plan can have a fantastically positive effect when it comes to motivating your students. Don’t quash a seemingly random discussion even if it strays a little bit away from the plan for the day. This sharing of ideas can encourage your students to express themselves when they would have otherwise stayed quiet, as well as getting them excited about coming to class. Who wouldn’t want to come to class when the discussion could start out about the impact of “Of Mice and Men” and easily spiral off into the stigmatization of people with mental illness. This is a phenomenal way to motivate your students and keep them engaged while enabling you to broaden their minds and help to develop their way of thinking.
Don’t discount the power of video games, especially to a student who’s been raised in the digital generation. Many of these students can easily sit for hours on end playing a single game in order to find out all the secrets, complete all the puzzles, and learn the whole story. Employing games in the classroom can help to harness that single-minded dedication into something educational. The Valve classic PORTAL has actually been used to teach basic physics in the classroom. Even the mobile game Angry Birds employs a physics engine that is advanced enough to teach the basics of motion and momentum to even young children. (Check out this video for more information about the impact of video games in the classroom)
This can refer to world history, local history, or the history of your student in question. “Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it”, or so the old saying goes, and you can use history in nearly any subject to link it to today’s lesson. If you’re teaching a lesson on math, use an anecdote about the construction of a well-known structure like the empire state building. If you’re teaching a lesson about creative writing, encourage your students to use an event from their own past. Memories of being lost in a grocery store or separated from a loved one make a great basis for powerful and heart-wrenching stories. There is not a single subject that cannot benefit from a historical anecdote or two.
It is important to keep in mind that these strategies and drivers are not foolproof and may not work to motivate and engage every single student. Don’t let that discourage you though. The great minds of tomorrow are in your hands today and it is of the utmost importance that you use every tool at your disposable to make them want to become great. Make your plan and take it one step and one student at a time. Don’t think that these just apply to high school or adult students either! Every teacher from Pre-k through college needs to help to instill a love of learning in each and every student. Who knows maybe you’ll come up with a motivational technique or engagement driver that is even more effective than the ones that have been listed here. Good luck!