1.3 Engaging Students in Learning. Just eight short months ago, I believed engaging students in learning meant teaching information to my students in a way that was not boring to them. Now, at the end of my internship, engaging students in learning means so much more. It means teaching information in a way that they can connect with. It means differentiating information to each student’s level of understanding. It means including activities that spark thought and encourage questioning. It means creating lesson plans that are clearly defined and organized. As I have grown as an educator, my philosophy of teaching has grown from a basic understanding of the importance of engagement to a belief that students learn from active involvement in the learning process.
“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn. – Benjamin Franklin
I have learned that a large part of engaging students in learning is creating lesson plans that are clear, concise and include activities that enable students to learn. There are so many little details that can facilitate the engagement of student’s ability to learn. A few months ago, I created a lesson plan to teach telling time. The goal of the activity was to see if my students could determine how long 1 minute was by starting with their heads down and eyes closed and when they believed a minute had passed, they were told to give me a thumbs up. I taught this lesson to my first group of students and found that the momentum I was trying to build was fizzled out by little movement and engagement. When I taught this lesson with my next session of students, I changed it by having the students stand up when they believed a minute had passed. This time, students shot straight out of the seats excited to find out how much time had passed compared to my first session who barely opened their eyes as they raised their thumbs. The degree of movement between a thumbs up and students standing up out of their seats made a considerable difference to the amount of engagement my students had in the activity.
I have learned that teachers can use a continuum of strategies during whole-group instruction to maintain student engagement, gather information to inform future instruction, and monitor student progress. This continuum ranges from proactive strategies that promote engagement to reactive strategies in response to students who become disengaged (Nagro, Hooks, Fraser, & Cornelius, 2016). To me, this means that if something is not working, I need to change it! As a novice teacher, everything is new to me. The strategies, theories, evidence-based practices and planning is all new. As I create lesson plans and activities, I assess myself. I assess the level of engagement from my students, I assess the degree to which their knowledge has grown and I assess the the degree to which they understand each lesson. Through trial and error, I’ve been learning as I go. I continuously learn what works, does not work and what could be done more effectively. I have learned that change does not mean failure. If one strategy or practice does not work I am not afraid to grow and change.
I have also learned the importance of utilizing my classroom paraeducators to better facilitate the learning process. Involving paraeducators in planning and decision making can have a positive effect on student learning (Riggs, 2004). Working as a team creates a positive environment, additional support for students and opportunities for a variety of activities. Next school year, I will have 2 paraeducators assigned to my classroom of 9 students. While some teachers may not be favorable to the idea of that much additional support for such a small number of students, I feel that this is great benefit to my classroom because it gives me the opportunity to create lesson plans that are full of engaging activities that are offered in a variety of levels of understanding.
Riggs, C. G. (2004). To teachers: What paraeducators want you to know. Teaching Exceptional Children, 36(5), 8-12.
Nagro, S. A., Hooks, S. D., Fraser, D. W., & Cornelius, K. E. (2016). Whole-group response strategies to promote student engagement in inclusive classrooms. Teaching Exceptional Children, 48(5), 243-249. doi:10.1177/0040059916640749