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Achieving Quality Student Engagement

Picture a group of undergrad science students sitting through a 3-hour Biochemistry lecture. It seemed like the ceiling and window were a magnet for the instructor, for she literally did not make eye contact with her students. It was in those moments that I recognized that I was committing suicide by just sitting through each dry, dull and dreary lecture. It was there that I vowed to never imitate such a teaching style. Consequently, it has been a top priority of mine, to engage my students in meaningful learning. How does a teacher engage his or her students? Why should students be engaged in the lesson? This brief expository seeks to highlight techniques that have proven helpful when enlisting and maintaining the students’ attention.

Enthusiasm is one of the key techniques that arrests students’ interest.

“The archbishop of Canterbury had put to [a celebrated actor] the question why actors in a play affect their audiences so powerfully by speaking of things imaginary, while ministers of the gospel often affect theirs so little by speaking of things real. “With due submission to your grace,” replied the actor, “permit me to say that the reason is plain: It lies in the power of enthusiasm (emphasis added). We on the stage speak of things imaginary as if they were real, and you in the pulpit speak of things real as if they were imaginary.”[1] When the teacher expresses enthusiasm by the countenance, the voice and posture, the students are more likely to believe and grasp the concept being taught. What is your typical attitude in the classroom? Is it “clear and sunny, cloudy with a chance of storms, or severe thunderstorms with heavy downpours and possible tornadoes?”[2]

Education that involves the forcing of information on the unready mind is found to be quite ineffective. The mental powers and interest must be aroused before the mind is receptive for the day’s objective. Then, and only then can learning be attained. The act of asking questions is one means of generating student inquiry. But, just merely asking questions is not the goal. Students must be encouraged to think, explain and justify their responses. Consequently, it is imperative that the teacher asks high order thinking questions, not just the low level questions (which are indeed essential). Blooms Taxonomy has a hierarchy of questions that will generate student inquiry on any and every topic. Questions that begin with: why and how are high order questions, while questions that begin with: what, when and where are low order questions. Not only should the teacher ask questions, but students should also be encouraged to question the lesson and create questions that can be answered by the teacher or their peers. The teacher can then use the students’ generated questions on future assignments or assessments. How surprised the student(s) would be to see that the teacher uses his or her question(s) on assignment? I believe that will boost the confidence of any student.

Additionally, students should be given wait-time after the teacher poses a question. In wait-time, the teacher asks a question, all students are given time to think about the question and then the teacher randomly solicits answers. Why should the teacher use wait-time? Well, all students are allowed to think before speaking as opposed to the brightest and quickest students. The responses are of better quality because students are given time to share their best answers instead of the first thing that comes to their minds. Additionally, there will be a decrease in student responses like: “I don’t know”.

Students need an environment where they work and play or learn and apply. This is where the teacher breaks up the lesson into lecture-activity-lecture-activity. This will give the impression of changing the pace in the classroom. Activities can include: (a) Take-A-Stand, where students stand if they agree or disagree with an answer, (b) Think-Pair-Share, where students think independently, pair up with a peer and then share their solutions/answers, (c) 4 Corner-the teacher poses a question and the students move to the corner that has their answer, (d) Slates- this is where students write their answers to the teacher’s question and raise the slate to show their answers.

Picture a group of students whose eyes are fixed on the instructor. The ceiling, windows and classmates have lost their magnetic attraction because the teacher has arrested the students’ interest. He or she does this with interactive activities, thought-provoking questions and a time of reflection. Furthermore, she makes eye contact with his/her students and her enthusiasm is just infectious. And the above is a recipe for achieving quality student engagement.

1] White, E.G. (1903). Education. Nampa, ID: Pacific Press Publishing Association

[2] Breaux, A., and Whitake, T. (2015). Seven Simple Secrets. New York, NY: Routledge

 Written by Nicola Richardson - Education Dept. Chair of Private College
Located in Arkansas U.S.A.
Droolees LLC Education Blog Contributor


Meet Nicola- "I am a teacher and also a student- currently enrolled in the school of Christ. My greatest joys involve teaching and ministering to those who need a helping hand. I enjoy cooking, sleeping and reading"

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