My teaching style has completely evolved over the ten years I've been in the classroom. Since starting teaching at the young age of 21, I've learned so much. I've taught a few different grade levels. I've observed in lots of classes. I've met tons of fabulous teachers. I've worked on several different teams. I've sat through some WONDERFUL and notsowonderful PD. I've had my own kids (which probably influenced my teaching style the most!). If I could go back to those first couple of years and apologize to each and every student I would totally do so!! The amazing thing about teaching is we get a start fresh every single year. We get the chance to change things up, incorporate new practices, and completely start over. In this post I am highlighting 9 ways to engage, involve, and excite your students. I've gathered up 9 things that are important to me after a decade of teaching. I think they are best practices, but honestly they are mostly my opinion. I did include some research to show I didn't just grab them out of thin air, ha!
So, here are my top NINE ways you increase student engagement this year:
First up, MOVEMENT. At home, no matter the weather, I do not let me kids sit down all day and do nothing. Normally I am locking them outside so that they are forced to get up and move ;)! Why do we expect our students to sit in the same place all day and not move? Our students are little people. They need to get up, move around, and reposition themselves. Here are three easy ways you can incorporate movement in the classroom:
1. Scoots or I Spy activities- place the station cards around the room and have students walk around to solve problems.
2. Working on the floor
3. Allowing students to work on the white board, on clipboards, or in the hallway (even better... outside)
I love to play games in class. Is it quiet? NOPE! It gets loud and noisy, but as long as students are involved in the game and not side conversations... it's okay! Have you ever been to a Bunco Night or Game Night with friends? Even adults don't play games in silence! Why do friends and family members gather around and play games together? Because it's fun!!! Let's have fun with our students :))
When looking for pictures of water in the classroom I actually came across a ton of pictures of my own children with water in their hands. Almost every single time we leave the house I say, "Grab your water!" Why? Kids get thirsty, ha! Did you know that there is actually a lot of research out there about how drinking water throughout the day increases performance? Let students keep a water bottle with a spill-proof lid on their desk and you may see increased focus and performance! If you want to go a step further... Allow time for snacks during class. These can be healthy snacks they bring from home. The last thing we can expect is for our students to perform well if they have hungry tummies. I mean, I can't go all day without snacking so why should I expect children to be different??
Y'all. It's time to throw the worksheets out the window. Empty out those filing cabinets you have had for 10 plus years. Fill up those recycling bins. Set fire to the worksheets! I might be a little dramatic ;)! I do believe there is a time and a place for worksheets. I am guilty of using them in the past. As a mom, I loathe seeing worksheet after worksheet after worksheet come home in my child's folder. Why? Because I know those worksheets meant nothing to her. I know she wasn't challenged. I know she wasn't engaged. And guess where those worksheets end up? THE TRASH! Why don't parents keep the memories of their child's worksheets throughout the year? Because they don't show anything about their child other than they can answer a question. Over the past few years we have changed the word "worksheet" to "printable" to make ourselves feel better. Let's just call it like it is... a worksheet is a worksheet is a worksheet. Do students need to be writing and have an organized space to show their work? Absolutely! Is it okay to use pencil and paper in the classroom? You bet! It's more about if that printable or recording sheet is meaningful. What are the children getting out of it? Am I using it as a way for students to show their work/record their answers, as an assessment, or just for busy work? Asking ourselves these questions could help us totally transform our classrooms just by cutting out some of the time we spend at the copy machine :)
I get that some of you can't incorporate food into your classrooms. I know there are certain laws and rules we are supposed to follow. Even if you don't allow your students to eat the food during class, they still have fun using it for their activity. Maybe you can send it home afterwards. Or maybe you could just close that door, teach that awesome lesson, and let your students indulge in a snack every once in a while, ha! Let's ask for forgiveness rather than permission every once in a while ;)
Manipulatives can be loud. Most are made of plastic (Bless the companies that started using foam). Providing our students with manipulatives helps them to touch what they are learning. It allows them to manipulate the problems and numbers. It allows them to construct and compose. It gives them a concrete experience that will help build those foundational skills.
I'm no extraordinary singer. I'll do a chant over a song any day! Thank goodness for YouTube. I promise you can find a song for almost any subject or skill if you search hard enough! Put motions to that song or chant and it's even better!!!
There is just nothing better than a good read aloud. I love showing books that I find online (mostly because it gives me a five minute break to do something else). You just can't replace the teacher with a screen all the time. The discussions and deep thinking that happens during those moments when the children are sitting by your feet are irreplaceable!
So many people ask me, "How do you get away with the crafts and drawing? My principal doesn't allow fluff!" As long as the craft, drawings, or art involves academic content... It's not fluff. Plus, if the kids like it... and we are hitting standards... why not? Why not give them ten minutes to create something? I bet that if your administrator knew the WHY behind the activity then they would feel differently about it. Plus, these are the kind of treasures that parents will save. These are the things they will pull out on graduation day, the first day of college, or when their children get married to reminisce the good days!!!
So there you have it! Those are my top nine ways to increase student engagement. There are SOOO many more that I could add to it, but I wanted to showcase my favorites. Are these things you are already doing in your classroom? I'd love to hear in the comments below!