10 Simple Strategies for Re-engaging Students


This post was written by Andrew Marcinek.  The original article can be found here.

bored_Students_Class_Tired_ClassroomLast week I observed a tired classroom.

My English 101 class looked bored and uninterested in the discussion we were having. I observed one student intently working on a crossword puzzle. He was engaged. Another student was sneaking a peek at her mobile device every so often and then quickly looked back in my direction. She was almost engaged. Some students were simply staring at me so intently that I assumed they had painted eyes on the exterior of their eyelids.

Quick. React. What do you do hot shot? What. Do. You. Do?

There have been many conversations about transforming classrooms and in fact just one this week on transforming the entire educational system in #edchat. Change can be overwhelming for anyone, whether you are a new teacher or if you are a year away from retirement, but what is a good pace for change in our classrooms? Do we really need to overhaul the entire system overnight or simply take a micro approach and create small, incremental steps within our own classroom?

I came home from class and watched several videos by Michael Wesch, scanned Twitter for insight, and put on some music to ease my troubled mind. Then I reacted. I did not have time to sit around and wait. These students needed me and I was not living up to my personal standards. I took those tired faces and placed them around my computer monitor and reexamined my approach to English 101. Here's what we did.

Without disrupting the progression of the classroom too much, I decided to present the class with some new expectations for the class. I added a class wiki to facilitate our new path. Here is my list of expectations:

1. Have fun! I hope that this project will make writing a paper a more engaging process. Many times, students go through the motions in pursuit of the grade while missing out on the learning. This is where I hope this project will take us in a different direction. Too many times in higher education grades are obtained and learning is left behind. This is where that routine changes. I want you to become an expert on the issue you are covering and enjoy the process of research and writing.

2. Learn beyond the walls.  Every week we enter our classroom and shut the door. There are no windows, one computer, and eight outlets. However, most of you possess devices that connect you to the outside world and to numerous contacts. Some of you are probably reading this on a mobile device. What is wrong with this picture? It is a skewed vision of what learning should be. Therefore, this project will take our class beyond the walls and windowless concrete and carry us into a world that is constantly connected and moving.

3. Expand your audience.  I read your paper. I edit your paper. I grade your paper. Yawn. While I am an objective, worthy audience, I am simply one person. Today's student has the ability to reach out to millions on a daily basis and simply ask, "Is this good?" This project will present many windows to your work and engage you in a learning community beyond the walls of the Science Center. Learning should be transparent and open. Please allow others to collaborate with you as we engage in a new learning community.

4. Collaborate. One of our best resources as learners is our ability to connect. We can connect like never before and have the opportunity to engage with others from around the world on a daily basis. If we can learn anything from the web 2.0 generation it is that the ability to share and learn from each other is limitless.

5. Deconstruct an issue transparently.  This project will open up your research and allow others to see how you are progressing. This project will model an environment of constructive criticism and intellectual discourse. There is no room for bullying or inappropriate criticism. This environment will employ transparency so that we can share and learn from each other.

6. Make many mistakes along the way.  Unlike traditional assignments where mistakes are marked wrong, this project will mark your mistakes as learning steps. I encourage you to take risks and seek out information beyond what you think may or may not be right. In this forum, being right is hardly the end goal. Rather, the pursuit of greater understanding while exercising all of your options within a moral and ethical framework.

7. Share.  What happens when you take notes within a notebook? You eventually close that notebook and put it into a bag, or drawer. Only you possess that information. This is hardly the way our world works today and hardly the way we will conduct our research for this project. By conducting research that is transparent, it will allow us to use a variety of sources and learn from each other.

8. Provide Constructive Criticism. One of the benefits of transparent learning is the ability to not only receive feedback from the instructor but to seek feedback from a much larger audience. This community we are creating will allow us to bounce ideas and critique work as we progress. While I will also take part in this critique, I urge you to consult your classmates for feedback and suggestions.

9. Eat a sandwich.  A sandwich is like a well-constructed argumentative essay. It contains many layers but is constructed in a central...Ok, I can't continue with this nonsense. Just make a sandwich and enjoy it.

10. Engage Others.  This type of work will require you to engage an audience and be a participatory learner. It is hard to sit back and coast in this format and will require each student to be an active participant in the learning process. I look forward to learning from each of you and creating a community of resources.

After I made this list, I sat back and imagined the project unfolding. What did this student learn from my English 101 class? How are they different? My learning objectives were clearly stated from the beginning, but I wanted more for them. I wanted them to go beyond reading critically, critical analysis, evaluating a writing task for purpose, audience, etc. I wanted them to not only write about this world, but also engage with it. My hope is that they understand that learning can take on various forms. The classroom is only one learning environment.

No matter the level of teaching experience we have all encountered moments where we feel disconnected from our students. This hardly means we are an awful teacher and need to forget everything we have learned and start over, but simply react. Find the best way to connect with students and realize that not all connections will suit every student.

Connections can be made through a variety of ways. The key is not to overhaul the entire system, but simply adapt and change as you progress. Set a course for learning and be prepared for rough seas. Create a practical alternative or adaptation that blends elements of what we have been doing and what we would like to do better. The connections will follow.