Homeschooling your children is a HUGE undertaking. In reality, so is being a classroom teacher. I’ve done both. At one point I did them at the same time. That’s not a path I recommend often, but it can be done. One concern that comes up consistently in both homeschools and classrooms is this: How do I know the kids are learning? I wish I had a crystal ball and I could show you the future because I promise you they are learning. There are some things you can do to help with your worry though. The buzzword you’re looking for is to increase student engagement. Today I’m going to give you an easy-to-use list of student engagement strategies to inspire a love of learning.
NOT QUITE READY FOR STUDENT ENGAGEMENT– Check out this article for 5 TIPS FOR HOW TO ROTATE TOYS FOR A FUN AND ENGAGING SPACE. This sets you up for using engagement strategies when your learners are older!
Before you can use the list of student engagement strategies, it’s important to know what student engagement is. First and foremost it is not a substitute for relationship building, in fact, the most awesome student engagement strategy in the universe isn’t going to work unless you have two key components:
- Students who are actively involved in the learning process and
- Strong positive relationships between students, parents, and educators
These elements are true in BOTH homeschools and classrooms. If your relationship with your child is a little on the rocky side at the moment, you are going to need to work on that core element first before quality education is taking place. Think back to when you were in school. Did you have a teacher perhaps you didn’t quite “click” with? You had an ok year, but nothing to write home about. Now, how about THAT teacher. The one you’re in contact with on Facebook and Instagram because they were simply that over the top. Likely, before there was a list of student engagement strategies, the special teacher you are thinking of right now was using them!
What is Student Engagement?
What exactly is student engagement? The definition may vary based on articles you read or even training you receive. I have seen it defined as basic as students listening and raising their hands. Student engagement can also be how involved students are with the day-to-day operations of the school. It’s important to understand engagement is not a synonym for fun or entertaining – it’s not putting on the latest superhero movie, or letting kids use their cell phones in class.
For the purpose of the list of student engagement strategies I am providing for you, I am defining student engagement as follows:
Student Engagement means students see the value of the learning and are mentally engaging with the information, actively thinking, and forming meaningful associations between topics. Their thinking is challenging and varied.
This definition is coupled with our two key elements of students who are actively involved in learning and an environment where positive relationships are nurtured and thriving.
What does student engagement look like?
You will see Student Engagement across 3 major skill-building areas: Behavioral, Emotional, and Intellectual(Cognitive). As educators it’s important to provide a variety of activities across all three areas. When you notice a lesson or activity isn’t engaging, take action and adjust accordingly.
Students demonstrate behavioral engagement when they bring their supplies to class. They also follow instructions and begin working when instructed. Students are alert and listening. They take notes and ask/answer questions. Students work hard and try their best. Behavioral engagement occurs in group work when tasks are completed according to the role they are assigned. Collaboration takes place willingly. Teachers can encourage this type of student engagement with a clear schedule and structure that provides a safe routine. A firm but fair classroom management system with rewards and consequences helps encourage and maintain student engagement. Classroom management can be individualized for students who need help refocusing or turning in assignments and does not need to be a one size fits all system. Using Brain Breaks is also an example of behavioral student engagement.
Emotional engagement is demonstrated through eye contact when you are teaching. These children seem happy to be at school. Students seem to enjoy their work, taking pride in what they turn in. Participation in discussion is lively and energetic, sometimes their excitement can cause blurting! They interact respectfully during group work and are enthusiastic about their task. Teachers can help promote emotional engagement by working on relationship building. Partnering new students with a peer mentor, setting and visiting goals regularly as well as having key adults take an interest in student life OUTSIDE of school are all key factors in emotional student engagement.
Intellectual or Cognitive Engagement
Often you don’t have to tell a student what is needed for a lesson when they are Intellectually engaged. Connections and in-depth questions flow easily. As they advance in their educational journey, they can seek more information on very interesting topics. Providing a book basket or other supplemental materials encourages self-directed learning. These students may try to “take charge: during group work. Taking notes and adding to the discussion from their knowledge base. Giving students choice on topics to study, or choice on how to express their understanding of topics are popular engagement strategies in the intellectual realm. Using project-based learning and differentiation are additional strategies to increase intellectual engagement.
How do you measure student engagement?
We want to measure engagement, yes. But the REAL worry is always if our kids (students) are behind. How are they going to perform on assessments? Especially concerning are the State assessments! Engagement plays a big part in the overall picture, including these that are often out of our control.
When my own kids were little and I took them to visit my mom she would always give them a “quiz” about what they were learning. She didn’t mean to test them, she was just worried about if they were keeping up. I mean what if I had to go back to work and put them into school, what then? On the other hand, when we went to the bank there was a teller who asked open-ended questions each week. She wanted to know about what TOPICS the kids were learning and patiently gave each of them a chance to speak, no matter how long the line was! In their own way, both women were assessing student engagement and retention of materials.
Recognizing True Engagement
True engagement, however, is easy to spot in both a homeschool or a classroom. As much as possible, students must be actively involved in lessons and topic selection, and relationships must always come first!
Academic types like to see the levels of engagement classified into a hierarchy. At the base, you have the lowest level, the work avoiders. I often thought if these students would put as much effort into their assignments as they do avoiding the work, there wouldn’t be a problem! Just above the work avoiders, you have the halfhearted students. They put in a minimal level just to get by because they have to. As the pyramid progresses upward the shift toward responsible workers narrows until it reaches the very top where the fully active, independent learners reside.
Much can impact student engagement in the pyramid’s structure including past educational experience, learning challenges, home life, etc. This is why the KEY factor in engagement is the connection a student has with their teacher, or in the case of homeschooling, their parents. It is crucial to understand the unique learning needs of each student. One way classroom teachers can accomplish this is through surveys. Use a beginning of year survey, a mid-year, and an end of the year survey you can pass onto the new teacher.
List of Student Engagement Strategies
I never truly set out to be “that” teacher, but it didn’t take long before I recognized I did things differently than other teachers. I tend to march to my own drum, I always have. That is likely a contributing factor in my decision to homeschool. I recognized early on it was more engaging for all of us if we were sitting on the floor in small groups using the encyclopedias to map where the major league baseball teams played because spring training started. We also enjoyed a rousing game of duck, duck, goose out on the lawn in the middle of a Social Studies lesson. I’m pretty sure I invented Brain Breaks in the 1990s. I’m a firm believer that playing with your kids forms connections.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of student engagement strategies. I encourage you to use these ideas in your homes and classrooms as you see fit with the learners you have. I may have taught 4th grade more than any other grade level my entire career, but I never quite did the same thing twice, because I never had the same group twice. The list of student engagement strategies is meant to be a living breathing list of ideas you draw from year after year.
- Break down large tasks
- Separate due dates for big projects
- Provide checklists
- Use chore charts
- Post a daily schedule
- If students struggle with executive function tasks like time management, organization, and remembering details you can provide appropriate lists and cues to help.
If you happen to be homeschooling preschool, here are some great strategies for setting up a schedule! HOW TO CREATE AND ESTABLISH AN EASY SCHEDULE FOR PRESCHOOL AT HOME
Use student interest
Remember one major KEY to student engagement is that students must be actively involved in the learning process. Using student interest is one of the TOP ways to maximize this element of engagement.
- The year my class played soccer at recess EVERY DAY…all it took was watching them and listening when they came in from recess to realize this.
- Conduct surveys, then USE the data, don’t fight the video game trend, embrace it
- Include student cultures and interests in your lessons – use their names, siblings’ names, and interests in word problems, short stories, morning messages, etc. whenever possible.
- What motivates learners to do better? Stickers on papers? Brag Tags? Candy Awards? Points on an app like Class Dojo? Use those, change yearly if necessary.
Hook students with stories about YOU!
I get it your private life is your private life. You don’t need to go into THAT much detail, but your students need to see you as a person. They want to know your dog’s name. Even what you eat for breakfast. Share what’s relevant. Let your students’ share as well. I said it before, and I’ll say it again: Engagement can only be built where strong, positive relationships exist. They don’t have to call you by your first name, but Mrs. or Mr. Stuffy pants should stay home. Be real with your class. How about celebrating YOUR birthday?
- Silent read when they silent read
- Visit centers and do an activity or two – don’t just watch
- Complete the gallery walk
- Participate in brain breaks.
- Cross the monkey bars, kick the ball at recess
Use games whenever possible, to practice skills – to collaborate, to encourage thinking. Games rely on the cognitive/ intellectual area of student engagement. It helps them build strategies, problem solve and use critical thinking skills. Emphasize learning not winning.
- Stump the teacher
- Left side vs right side
- Review jeopardy
You can learn all about “Game Schooling” from the Gypsy Homeschooler in her post: Gameschooling 101
Another great read on the topic: 5 Powerful Ways to Increase Student Engagement in Math with Gamification for Education. While it may have a Math focus, there is plenty of excellent information on Gamification in general!
- Self-checking mystery pictures
- Flipped Lessons
- Blended Learning
- Boom Cards
If you have never heard of boom cards, check out this post all about how to use boom cards to increase student engagement!
- Group Work
- Think Pair Share
- Create pods with student desks
- Peer editing (can be done paper-pencil as well as digitally)
- Class website/blog
- Gallery Walk
- Centers/stations (not just for primary kids!)
- Brain Breaks
- Freedom to sharpen a pencil or get tissue without permission when appropriate.
- Instead of thumbs up / down – have them move to an area of the room. (If you think we should complete this for homework go to the front of the room. If you think we should finish tomorrow – go to the back of the room.)
- As homeschoolers, we forget these things WORK for us too. Set up centers, do a gallery walk. Take the book basket outside…
- Posters to support the topics you are discussing
- Bulletin boards (homeschools can have these too!)
- Provide a print-rich environment using anchor charts on walls and desks
Flexible Seating may or may not be an option for your home or classroom. Think outside the box. Sitting at a desk all day isn’t always the greatest. Even once a week in a reading area with bean bag chairs is a great option!
- Stations around the room,
- “True” flexible seating: bean bags, stools, etc.
- Take the lesson outside to the grass, steps, and the playground.
Students are more engaged when they can choose how to demonstrate learning through choice boards, genius hour, etc. Allow them to choose their books for book reports, independent reading, etc.
- Choice boards
- work in a group or alone
- Students choose how to present learning (goes with the choice board – poster, diorama, take a test, etc)
- Check-in – thumbs up/down who needs more time? Should we work on it tomorrow or take it home for homework?
Check out our free choice learning ideas POST
Allow students to present work often
- Have learners present when in groups
- Use a “Brag Board” to display work. Learners must share why they are hanging it.
- Learners can make presentations on behalf of another student
- Avoid the questions with the obvious answers.
- Challenge students to explain MORE or why they answered the way they did.
- Encourage them NOT to raise their hand until signaled so you can provide “think time”.
- Use a randomizer to call students like sticks, cards, or an app. They can always say “pass”. Or give a signal to raise hands after think time has occurred. Vary thinking time to keep them on their toes!
Hands-on Activities / Brain-based learning
- Creating 3D models
- Using “money” and setting up a store
- Using dominoes for math problems
- Board games
These are not by any means an all inclusive list of engagement strategies, or examples of how you can use them. In fact, I bet you mind was filling with your own ideas just reading through the list! To help you I have a printable list of engagement strategies you can keep handy . You can print the color or the ink friendly version! Just click the button below to be taken to the download page!
Practical Application For the List of Student Engagement Strategies
For student engagement to work, the teacher or parent must understand the unique learning needs of each child they are working with. This is usually a little easier in a homeschool setting. Classroom teachers can use SURVEYS to get started. This also goes back to using student interest to drive engagement. I kept the survey information on an index card and I would add it to the card throughout the year as new information came to light. As I graded papers I could see who struggled with spelling. When reading aloud I could see which students struggled and which excelled in this area. As the grades came in it was easy to track those who needed extra help in Math or Science. All this data helped me know which idea from the list of student engagement strategies I wanted to use!
Building trust and personal relationships were easy. Every student’s birthday was posted on the board when I wrote the date. I also wrote Today is: and filled in the blank with the unique Holiday of the Day. We would discuss a few facts related to the holiday, and once a week we had a full lesson for one of the quirky holidays. You can add the Holiday of the day to your Morning routine and use it to build relationships and open discussion with Our Holiday of the day Calendar
Want to learn more about student engagement?
Here are some articles you may find interesting:
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