We know that student engagement is key. Often we moan that “if only the students were more engaged…”. But perhaps it is not the students. Perhaps it is the environment we create. After all, these students are engaged in other environments. It is not their personality. A teacher I know said she noticed a class was disengaged during a practice activity for the summative task. Upon reflection she realized they were bored. They didn’t need to do the task. She moved on and all was fine.
Pacing in a classroom can make all the difference to student engagement. Teachers, in an honest desire to ensure that all students are “getting it”, tend to teach too long and say too much. We have to remember that as the teacher talking, we are having a great time. But what about your audience?
When you pick up the pace, shorten time frames, decrease teacher talk and provide challenge, students become more engaged. Here are some practices that increase pacing and, thus, increase student engagement.
- Mini-lessons are mini. Try not to talk for more than 7 consecutive minutes. If that is your goal you will feel guilty after 10-12. After that long no one is listening anyways. We want students to spend most of their time in class actually doing instead of listening. Doing is engaging.
- Learning cycles are short. Try to create units/learning cycles that last 2-4 weeks maximum. This creates “flow”. It is easy to sustain interest in a topic that long. It is more difficult to maintain interest for 10 weeks. Interest is engaging.
- Return to key concepts frequently over the course of the year through shorter learning cycles. Students need percolating time. Students need to repeat and practice. Practice is better when it is spread out over time. You don’t learn to program you car’s clock because you only do it twice a year. So, instead of trying to teaching everything at once, pick up the pace but come back to the key ideas again and again. Familiarity is engaging.
- Students have ample talk time with each other without it being so long that they get off topic. We understand that students need time to have focussed discussion but that when it is planned, purposeful and reasonably short, they stay on task. Collaboration is engaging.
- By providing small group instruction at either the back table or as you circulate among groups you are providing just right instruction for specific groups of students. Kids are hearing only that which is relevant to their learning. Feedback is engaging.
- Let students struggle by not telling them everything. How can you create challenge and discord? Do you create problematic situations? Do you create inquiry? When you provide just enough information to get students thinking but not so much that they are only completing a task, they are challenged. Challenge is engaging.
- Challenge students to get work done quickly. They read books in a 2 week time frame, the have long chunks of time to write or do math so that they can get it done, they work on projects during class time. When we give students only a little bit of work time during class, tasks can take forever to complete. We want students to get lots done. Accomplishment is engaging.