Engaging students in the classroom is more and more challenging in a culture that makes constant demands on their attention. While we may be on the other side of the pandemic at this point, multiple years of altered school schedules and at-home learning, along with isolation and burnout, have made it even harder for teachers to keep students engaged. The work we do at Livestream Learning Studio is designed to support teachers and schools looking for meaningful ways to engage students.
In this article, we’ll review the importance of student engagement, provide some practical ideas for creatively engaging students and discuss ways to actually measure engagement in the classroom.
First, let’s jump in and review the basics. Why is it actually important to engage students?
Why Is Student Engagement Important?
It’s clear that engaging students—and reengaging students—is crucial for their overall learning and academic success. When students are actively engaged, they become more motivated and attentive, and they contribute to the creation of a healthy classroom environment. Meaningful engagement in the classroom is linked to the following:
Improved Learning Outcomes
Engaged students are more likely to comprehend and retain information, resulting in improved academic performance. When students are actively involved in the learning process, they develop critical thinking skills, problem-solving abilities and a deeper understanding of the subject matter.
Engagement ignites a sense of curiosity and intrinsic motivation within students. When students are interested in what they are learning, they are more likely to be enthusiastic, participate actively and take ownership of their education.
Positive Classroom Environment
Student engagement fosters a positive classroom atmosphere, where students feel valued and supported. A collaborative and interactive learning environment encourages students to voice their opinions, work together and develop essential social skills.
How to Engage Students
The benefits of student engagement may be obvious, but finding the best ways to engage students—and then maintain that engagement—is the hard part. It’s important to remember that engagement isn’t about finding the one perfect way to keep students’ attention; it’s about taking a multifaceted approach that incorporates a variety of engagement and reengagement strategies.
Rather than expecting to capture students’ attention 100% of the time, we can create classrooms where we name and acknowledge distractions and reground in the learning process. And we can approach engagement in creative, innovative ways that also center students’ social and emotional development.
With that in mind, let’s explore eight effective tools for helping students engage in class:
Start Off Strong
Setting the stage for active learning is an essential step towards achieving your objectives for the day, and there are many ways to get students engaged in class from the get-go. You can kick off your time together with a warm-up or grounding practice—a movement-based physical activity or breathing exercise, a thought-provoking puzzle to figure out in pairs or a one-sentence check-in about a specific question that’s linked to students’ personal experiences.
Transitioning consciously from out-of-class time to in-class time encourages students to focus on the present, while it also honors the larger forces at work in their lives. A strong start can prompt them to engage more deeply in the learning process throughout the rest of the class.
A simple but important way to engage students at the beginning of class is to set the expectations for the day clearly and intentionally. That means not only naming your learning objectives, but also reminding students of the importance of engagement itself. The start of class might also be a time to review any agreements or guidelines you’ve created to promote a healthy classroom culture. Students need to know why engagement benefits them and deepens their learning—and how learning objectives are meaningful to their lives.
We’re living in a world where technology is all around us. Part of what it means to engage students today is recognizing the tools they’re most excited to engage with. Interactive whiteboards, educational apps, VR and AR technologies, online collaboration platforms (like Google Workspace), online discussion forums and presentation tools (like PowerPoint or Prezi) can make learning more dynamic and meaningful. For instance, students can create multimedia presentations, participate in virtual field trips or collaborate on projects using digital platforms, which fosters creativity and active engagement in the classroom.
In addition, livestream events can create imaginative, interactive experiences that capture and maintain students’ attention and meet teachers’ core curricular and social-emotional learning goals. Especially if you don’t have access to more complex technologies, a livestream event can significantly deepen students’ engagement in class in meaningful ways that take some of the burden off of teachers to create complex technology-based assignments.
Try Out Gamification
“Gamification” might be a bit of a buzzword these days, but it’s also a way to make learning more interactive and relevant for a generation of students already living in a game-centered world. Gamification merges elements of meaningful play and deep learning. Consider using educational games, quizzes and competitions to motivate students and create a friendly learning environment. By introducing a fun, competitive element to a lesson, you’re encouraging students to develop a deeper relationship with the material.
Analog games that engage students can be as basic as a bingo competition or mock-Jeopardy! contest. But if you’re able to incorporate digital games or livestream events, they can sometimes do even more to transform complex subjects into exciting adventures. For instance, math games can turn problem-solving into a challenging quest, while science simulations allow students to conduct virtual experiments in a risk-free environment. By introducing game-based learning, educators tap into students’ intrinsic motivation and problem-solving skills.
Integrate the Arts
Meaningful arts integration not only promotes student engagement; it also deepens social emotional learning and serves as a powerful tool for meeting your core curricular goals.
Incorporate music, drama, dance and visual arts into lessons to provide alternative avenues for expression and exploration. You can engage students in creative activities to nurture their imaginations, self-expression and emotional development.
The arts provide innumerable ways to keep students engaged. Integrate music into various core curricular subjects, such as history, literature and science, and have students create songs or raps that encapsulate historical events, literary themes or scientific concepts. Or use drama-based activities and role-play to bring literature, history or science to life. Students can perform scenes from a novel, act out historical debates or recreate scientific processes through dance and improvisation.
Arts integration is also a helpful tool for reengaging students. You can use simple theater games in groups, pairs or individually to recenter students in their bodies and refocus their attention on the lesson at hand.
Use Visual Aids
Visual aids are powerful tools to enhance student engagement and understanding. Incorporate charts, graphs, diagrams and infographics to visually represent complex concepts and information. Visual representations help students grasp information more effectively, stimulate their visual senses and improve retention.
You can even engage students more deeply by having them create their own visual aids or artistic representations. Guide students to design visual representations of core curricular concepts, key events or specific character arcs. You can also prompt them to use art to illustrate scenes from a story, depict historical figures or portray scientific phenomena. Engaging students with visual aids and visual art activities helps them understand and connect more deeply with topics they are already reading about and discussing.
Make Real-World Connections
Establishing connections between classroom content, real-world situations and personal experiences is a sure-fire way to make learning more relevant and engaging. It’s always important to help students understand how the concepts they are learning about are applicable to their lives outside the classroom. As they focus on practical relevance, students are more likely to be motivated and actively engaged in the learning process. Journaling, meaningful class discussion and paired sharing can promote personal identification with course material.
Certain kinds of projects can also help engage students in their communities or encourage them to address social issues beyond their personal experiences. You can collaborate with local organizations to create murals, sculptures or public installations that convey meaningful messages, or ask students to research social or political issues that directly affect their neighborhoods or families. If you’re able to bring in guest speakers and experts, they can often help students understand real-world applications of concepts, though often it’s just as effective to invite guests remotely who can connect students with curricular content through livestream learning.
Focus on Collaboration and Teamwork
Engagement can thrive when students collaborate in ways that hold them accountable to each other. Foster collaboration among students by incorporating group work, team projects and peer discussions. Collaborative learning provides opportunities for students to interact, share ideas and learn from one another.
Group discussions can actively involve all students through open-ended questions or thought-provoking scenarios related to the lesson. You can even use a jigsaw technique to divide a complex topic into smaller components by assigning different subtopics to small groups of students who become experts in their assigned area and then share their expertise with the whole group to create a comprehensive understanding of a topic.
Other collaborative activities, like peer teaching (in which students take turns playing “teacher”), as well as group role-play and simulations, can engage students bodily and emotionally, as well as intellectually. Students can work together to act out historical events, conduct mock interviews or simulate scientific experiments. Students can even engage in collaborative writing projects (both creative and analytical), in which they jointly create stories, reports or research papers. Collaborative writing allows students to build on one another’s ideas, learn from different writing styles and develop their written communication skills.
Pace, Vary and Activate Lessons
No matter how hard we try to pay attention these days, there are constant demands diverting us from the topic or task at hand. One of the most straightforward ways to engage students is to vary your instructional methodology, pay attention to pacing and emphasize active learning.
Use videos and livestream learning opportunities to refocus students’ attention after discussions, lectures or written assignments. Introduce puzzles and brainteasers as a tool for reengaging students after more intensive exploration of a topic. In general, you’ll want to incorporate active learning strategies that encourage students’ participation and involvement in the learning process; try out group brainstorming, problem-solving exercises and hands-on experiments. Be aware too of how much time each activity is taking up—varying instructional time for each type of activity keeps students on their toes and anticipating what’s to come.
How to Measure Student Engagement
Increasing student engagement is great in theory, but how do you actually measure it? The last thing teachers need is one more thing to assess in isolation.
Ideally, assessing student engagement happens in conjunction with assessing student understanding of core curricular material. Formative assessments can be an effective tool for both at once. These assessments are generally low-stakes, often ungraded activities carried out in the midst of an instructional unit. They allow teachers to see if a particular lesson is tough or if the teaching strategies just aren’t connecting with students; educators can then adjust lessons to engage students more deeply going forward. Combining formative assessments with students’ self-assessments and feedback forms even gives teachers a way of documenting and measuring engagement. Let’s finish up here by looking at some methods to measure student engagement:
One of the oldest tools teachers have for tracking student progress is careful observation of their behaviors, interactions and participation during class activities. Observe both individual students and groups to gain a comprehensive understanding of engagement levels.
Surveys and Questionnaires
Administer surveys or questionnaires to gather student feedback about their learning experiences, interests and preferences. These can be conducted periodically to assess changes in engagement over time. Analyze the responses to gain insights into students’ perceptions of their own engagement.
Self-Assessment and Reflection
Encourage students to reflect on their own engagement and learning progress. Promote self-assessment through journaling, goal-setting or periodic reflections. Students can assess their levels of engagement, identify areas for improvement and set goals to enhance their learning experience.
Use formative assessment strategies, like quizzes, exit tickets or short written responses, to gauge student understanding and assess levels of engagement. Formative assessments can even be creative. For example, you could ask students to make short performances that highlight the main points of a reading or illustrate a scientific concept you’ve covered—and then have them evaluate their own participation in the group. Analyze the quality of student responses and their levels of involvement to gain insights into engagement levels.
Engagement in the classroom is crucial for students’ overall learning experience, motivation and academic achievement. By implementing a combination of active learning strategies, incorporating the arts and technology and promoting student autonomy and collaboration, teachers can create an environment where students are actively involved and invested in their education. Even simply acknowledging the attention-dividing culture we live in and supporting students to take control of their own learning process can be transformative. In the end, measuring student engagement helps educators make informed decisions about how to adjust their instruction and improve the learning experience. Every time we make an effort to engage students in meaningful ways, we create a dynamic and stimulating classroom environment that nurtures curiosity and encourages a lifelong love of learning.