Three Insights Into What Engages Students
Educators are always making their best guesses as to what they think will engage their students in their learning. Some of these ideas are very good. Others are nothing more than a shot in the dark. Heather Wolpert-Gawron had a novel idea: ask her 8th grade students. She published some of their responses in an article for Edutopia, but they are worth discussing again.
“Students will always be extremely excited when using technology.”
The fact that today’s digitally-native students are engaged by technology isn’t earth-shaking, but one student suggested that technology actually has cognitive benefits. “When we use tech, it engages me more and lets me understand the concept more clearly,” the student said. It seems the brains of today’s students truly are wired differently and technology is the best way to gain entry.
“I like to explore beyond the range of what normal textbooks allow us to do…”
Students are too smart to blindly work through a textbook anymore. They want learning content that can help them in the real world. They particularly find themselves drawn to project-based learning. “Something challenging and not easy, something that tests your strengths as a student and stimulates your brain, so it becomes easier to deal with similar problems when you are grown up and have a job.”
If you can’t directly relate the topic at hand to the modern world, it’s fine. One student told a story about a history teacher, focusing on things like the medieval world and the Renaissance—topics that aren’t easy to tie to today’s technology. The teacher simply closed each class by asking students to make the past-present connections themselves. That’s all it took to engage them.
“Students are more engaged when they feel they are in a ‘partnership’ with their teacher.”
Many of the students talked about how the teacher’s mindset can be an engagement force on its own. The first step is having enthusiasm in the classroom. “I also believe that enthusiasm in the classroom really makes a student engaged in classroom discussions. Because even if you have wonderful information, if you don’t sound interested you are not going to get your students’ attention. I also believe that excitement and enthusiasm is contagious.”
The teacher-student dynamic doesn’t have to be one of dominance and subordinance. Students want a voice in what goes on in the classroom. “Personally, I think that students don’t really like to be treated as ‘students.’ Teachers can learn from us students. They need to ask for our input on how the students feel about a project, a test, etc.”