Recently, I watched a few teachers teach back-to-back. All of the teachers were asking good questions and responding to students appropriately, but there was something different about the last teacher I watched that day. They seemed to be doing something different that held the students’ attention. I don’t believe they were asking better questions and didn’t seem to have a magical lesson planned in comparison to the others. Then, it hit me like a ton of bricks (one that I had been hit with before, but sometimes we need multiple tons to remind us of the painfully obvious).
So, here are three things that last teacher was doing to get her kids engaged.
1) Move around the room. This teacher was rarely stationary. It is really easy to get stuck at the front of the room. Science classes often have that stupid demo table that gets in the way and lecture halls make it clear where the teachers is “supposed” to be. However, when we move, we play into the evolutionary adaptation that our eyes pay attention to movement. When we use a lot of wait time (as we should), moving out among the students seems to encourage them to consider a response.
2) Move away from the student that is talking. When one student started talking, the teacher seemed to back away from the speaker. They maintained eye contact, but put more distance (and more students) between the teacher and the student speaking. I noticed the rest of the students kept their eyes on the student speaker and the speaker seemed to be talking to the class rather than the teacher. By moving away from the speaker, the teacher seemed to bring the rest of the class into the conversation. This is not normal, but wow did it work. Our gut instinct is to move toward a speaker, but shifting this may get more kids involved.
3) Smile. This teacher really liked working with her students. I could literally see it on her face. She was smiling with her eyebrows raised and an open posture (hands out, leaning toward students). Students could tell she wanted to hear their ideas. This one seems obvious, but it’s really easy to forget. Sometimes I get bored by some topics I teach. However, this was a good reminder that my expressed enthusiasm (or lack thereof) directly impacts student engagement.
Sometimes we try to trick students into being engaged and they usually see through that really quickly. Technological approaches often result in entertainment rather than engagement or short-lived engagement. While I’ll continue to ask good questions and create interesting activities in the name of student engagement, sometimes it’s nice to see some of the simple strategies we have to encourage student engagement work so well.