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3 Easy Ways to Increase Student Engagement Today

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Have you seen the video games that kids play these days? They are absolutely amazing! Maybe not always appropriate, but amazing! I can remember when I thought that Atari’s Tanks and Space Invaders were incredible. And at the time, they were. Besides video games, kids today have access to technology the likes of which we couldn’t have ever imagined.

And yet, we often wonder why we have a difficult time keeping them on task and maintaining their attention. Our competition is fierce. Exponentially more money is spent each year on research and development for video games than is spent on research and development methods for education.

But don't worry.

You don't need to spend a penny.

Below are three quick and easy ways to increase student engagement today.


Make Hans Zimmer Your Best Friend

When I was in the classroom I would play music all the time. And while I would vary my selection, I found that music without words would lead to my students’ most productive times. More specifically, I would play movie soundtracks. You may be able to guess from the title of the heading of this section that my favorite composer was Hans Zimmer.

He has produced the soundtracks to many blockbuster action movies you and your students are already watching. These are the movies that our hard to motivate and hard to engage students love! I have found that having a song from Transformers or Pirates of the Caribbean playing in the background somehow increases a students’ productivity. These songs actually have a calming effect on many children. Try it and see. You can buy an album for a small price, or better yet, simply type Hans Zimmer in a Pandora search or YoiuTube and see what happens.


Don’t Stick To Your Schedule

Too often we have students work for specific lengths of time. I get it! There are only so many hours in the day and there is much to do. But think about it. Have you ever attended an inservice or professional development where you told that if you worked well and efficiently then you may get to leave early. How was your productivity and engagement? Exactly!

Children are no different. Try this with your students. Instead of having math from 9-10:30, tell your students that if their work is high quality and they finish early, then they can have some free time. Or better yet, maybe they could use this extra time to explore something they are passionate about. A miniature Genius Hour, if you will.

You will find that the students that typically have the most difficult time staying engaged and productive, will finish early and will have accomplished more in less time than they did in more time. Ownership has been transferred to them and they love it. They are not bound by a clock or a timer. Instead they are motivated by their own willingness and ability to finish a task.


Make Yourself The Main Character

We ask the students that we serve each day to give of themselves. No questions asked! We have more data on them than we do on our own family members. And yet what do our students know about us? Too often we are so busy trying to learn as much as we can about them that we forget to tell them about us.

If we truly expect to touch students’ hearts then we must be willing to let them know what touches ours’. Is this a requirement? No. Are there certain things that you want to remain private? Absolutely! But we can’t forget that we are the ones on stage each and every day. We must give them a reason to watch us. To listen to us. Students will never pay attention to someone they find boring.

Every single opportunity we have to connect what we are teaching to our own life experiences is an opportunity to make ourselves a little more interesting. We must share our faults and we must share our passions.

I recently shared a personal story with a student that was sent to my office for making a poor decision. I explained to him how we all have made poor decisions when we have gotten angry. It was embarrassing, but he heard about the time I broke Elmo’s eyes. Yes, you read that correctly. I was mad about…I have can’t even remember what. And I reached down and grabbed my daughter’s stuffed Elmo doll and threw it. He hit the wall. His plastic eyes that were once connected were now forever cracked. It was not one of my best father moments. The student found it amusing. I think it made me seem more real. More like him.

It’s Not Too Late

Alas, I do not think all hope is lost. But I do think we need to amp up our game a bit if we want to, at the very least, make the most of the time students are with us. I’m afraid if don’t, we run the risk having a room full of disengaged and unproductive students. That is not an option. I can guarantee that while you are reading this short piece someone is in the process of developing a video game aimed at capturing your students’ attention. Let them have their attention once they get off the bus. From 8 until 3 they are ours.

Try one of these strategies tomorrow and let me know how it goes. And if you have time, I would love for you to add a comment with any tips you want to add to the list.

You got this!





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Jon is currently the assistant principal in Dorchester County, Maryland. This is his seventh year serving as an assistant principal at the elementary level. Prior to becoming an administrator he served as a Math Coach and an elementary school teacher. During his ten years as a classroom teacher he taught first, second, fourth and fifth grades. During his sixth year teaching he earned Nationally Board Certification, which he held for ten years. For seven years he ran a Young Gentleman's Club that was aimed at helping young men reach their full potential.  

Jon received a B.A. from Furman University while majoring in Philosophy. He later went on to earn his B.S from Salisbury University while majoring in Elementary Education. Jon was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to student teach in New Zealand. He eventually received his M.A. degree from Salisbury University in Public School Administration.

Jon lives in Cambridge, Maryland with his amazing wife and two awesome children.

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Guest Friday, 22 February 2019