3 Ways to Increase Student Engagement…tomorrow!

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. 

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Strategy Sundays and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to 3 Ways to Increase Student Engagement…tomorrow!

  1. becky1129 says:

    I still have to disagree with you on that last point. There have been many studies on the effects of smiling in the workplace. Women who do things like smile frequently, twirl their hair, and cross their legs are seen as less competent. They are viewed to be less intelligent and are less likely to be promoted (the latter point, I’ve mentioned before). Time and again, women are told to “smile,” but that’s basically asking them to relinquish authority and power.

    I’m not saying that people should scowl or just never smile. I also understand the point you make that smiling invites people to open up and feel less judged. However, we teachers are also an example to our students. I don’t think, as a woman, I need to set the poor example for girls in the classroom by smiling all the time. Of course it’s OK to smile to encourage someone who is nervous or smile when something is funny, but we don’t need to walk around with a grin plastered on our faces.

    I’d like to point out, and this isn’t an attack on you, that you aren’t much of a smiler (I just learned at this moment that “smiler” isn’t a word–oh well). I think people can still tell that you’re passionate about what you do. It’s possible to convey passion and enjoyment of things without constantly smiling.

    Like

    • becky1129 says:

      And, although you can’t see any of my nonverbal communication through the internet, I’m sure you were still able to tell that this is a topic I’m passionate about :-P

      Like

      • jerridkruse says:

        Indeed. However, sometimes my passion causes me to be blind. For example, I sometimes get so anti-lecture, that I forget there is a time to tell kids things. This might be a blind spot for you. The studies on women in the workplace piss you off (as they should), but that doesn’t make the suggestion to smile when working with kids an inherently bad thing.

        Liked by 1 person

        • becky1129 says:

          If it makes you feel better, I smiled when I read that! You’re right, this could be a blind spot for me. I’m not trying to be completely on the extreme, though. I’m not saying we shouldn’t smile at all.

          This next thing I want to say is more of just an opinion based on personal experience. I don’t know if there’s any research to support it. When people talk to me, my natural inclination is to smile as a way to try to encourage them, let them know they are doing a good job. But when I work on not smiling, I stop worrying so much about how they’re feeling, and, instead, I can hear what they’re actually saying. So, I feel like there might be times when I might want to focus on encouraging someone to speak, but, those situations aside, I’d rather focus on the conversation and a person’s words, feeling like I can think about them critically.

          During a rare time you’re lecturing, do you prefer to talk to students who are giving eye contact and listening, or students who are looking at you and smiling? Smiling conveys someone is encouraging you and agrees with you, but I think it also suggests they’re done thinking about what you’re saying. Do you disagree?

          Like

        • jerridkruse says:

          Never thought about students smiling. I guess I am not overly concerned about that, but I do look for nonverbal clues students are “with me”. I don’t need them to be having fun, but I can usually tell if they are paying attention or if they are confused through nonverbal cues.

          For teaching, I guess it’s my job to encourage the students (smiling), it’s not their job to encourage me. If that makes sense.

          Like

    • jerridkruse says:

      There are some things I agree with you on, but I think there are further points to be made.

      1) I think those studies are probably accurate, but why does that mean women shouldn’t smile? Seems the problem is not with them, but with patriarchy. Granted, there is all sorts of work to be done before that last sentence can be lived meaningfully, I get that.

      2) I was describing what I saw in a real person. She smiled, so that’s what I wrote.

      3) I wonder if instead of telling women to smile less, we should be telling men to smile more. Men are told that they are good at certain things because they don’t let emotion get involved. What a load of crap. We are all emotional beings. There is no such thing as pure rationality. Most students don’t like me very much at first, my enthusiasm takes a while to get to them, you don’t think this would be better if I smiled more? That doesn’t mean we should be inauthentic, but I think the cultural stigma (that is really focused in the business world) should cause us to dismiss a simple and potentially powerful strategy.

      4) I agree that smiling isn’t the only way to convey enthusiasm, but see point 2 of this comment.

      Like

      • becky1129 says:

        1) I’d suggest that maybe women SHOULD smile less. That might sound crazy, but hear me out. Smiling is something women are frequently told to, and it’s often done as a way of implying that women should be ornamental and subservient. Until you’ve been minding your own business and have had an older gentleman walk up to you and ask you to give him a smile, I don’t think you’ll understand. It’s something women are regularly approached about, and I’ve often felt like I can’t even stand in a line at the grocery store without someone asking me to smile. I guess I just feel like women are not on the earth for people’s entertainment, and we should feel OK about not smiling constantly. Again, I’m not saying women need to scowl or not smile at all, but it’s OK to smile when it seems appropriate for a situation and not just in general to make everyone else around them feel better.

        (Also, I hope I haven’t implied here that teachers are just women. In elementary education, most teachers are women, but certainly not all).

        2) That’s fair. I’m speaking more broadly, in a larger, cultural context, and what you observed with that specific student has its own context.

        Liked by 1 person

        • jerridkruse says:

          I agree with everything you’ve said in 1, but don’t think it is a reason to not see smiling as a useful strategy. That doesn’t mean (and maybe this is where we are off, cause I think we agree on most of this) we should walk around smiling all the time (that’s not what I’m arguing for, but maybe that’s not clear). However, when kids are a bit disengaged, smiling might be a way to get them back in the game. Then we can stop smiling. Indeed, if a teacher is literally constantly smiling, I’d be wondering what is wrong with them.

          Liked by 1 person

        • becky1129 says:

          Sure, and I think we can talk about smiling as a tool that can be effective in helping students who are disengaged or shy. It conveys friendliness, absolutely. But, then, I wonder: do we really need to be told that? You’d know that answer better than me. Maybe teachers frequently forget to smile when it would be effective. If it’s not really a problem, then I think it would be better to err on the side of not telling people to smile. But, if it is a problem, then maybe it would be best to talk about smiling as a tool. Or maybe I’m just mincing words.

          Like

        • jerridkruse says:

          Considering there is an adage some
          Teachers say “don’t smile until Christmas”, I’d say it is necessary. Also, teaching is incredibly mentally taxing, so it’s easy to look angry/frustrated, but we are really just thinking hard. We don’t want kids to misread our non-verbals.

          Like

        • becky1129 says:

          That’s a good point, but–this might be semantics again–couldn’t we then talk about not looking angry and frustrated instead of talking about needing to smile? Or saying that smiling can be one tool we use to avoid projecting our struggles and frustrations to the class.

          Like

        • jerridkruse says:

          For sure. That’s what we discussed in class last semester when we compared Wilcox (a smiler) to me (a non-smiler). For this post, it was more contextualized to the person I was observing.

          Indeed, based on your comments many months ago, I typically give feedback as “how will you show your enthusiasm” rather than, “be sure to smile”, especially with female students.

          Liked by 1 person

        • becky1129 says:

          You do a great job making us feel heard. Thanks! You know, it probably is just semantics to most people, but to others like me who are more sensitive to the issue, that change in wording can make a big difference.

          Liked by 1 person

      • becky1129 says:

        This video is related to what I was just arguing about. It doesn’t fit the conversation perfectly, but it makes a similar point. And, to go along with it, I’d like to ask: do we ever worry about if Trump smiles enough? Or Bernie Sanders? Nope, just Hillary.

        (this has some adult language in it, just as a warning in case there are any little ones around).

        Like

        • jerridkruse says:

          Yes. 1000 times yes to that, but somehow teaching is different than politics. Not in all ways, but perhaps in this one.

          Like

        • jerridkruse says:

          PS, if my post said, “hey, female teachers, don’t forget to smile”, then I’d have a huge problem with it too. However, my advice is to all teachers.

          Liked by 1 person

        • becky1129 says:

          OK, perhaps it’s different than politics because teachers need responses from students to further their learning. But I think we could compare teachers, a female-dominated profession, to doctors, a male-dominated profession. In theory, smiling doctors would also help disarm patients and encourage them to talk and disclose their medical history. Do we worry about whether or not doctors are smiling? Do they learn about smiling in medical school? I’m not sure about the answer to that, but I did a quick Google search. If you type in, “Should teachers sm…” Google fills in, “smile.” If you type in, “Should doctors sm…” Google fills in, “smoke.” When I did finish both of those searches, there were a lot of results telling teachers to smile, but there weren’t many results telling doctors to smile.

          One other thing you could check–and I genuinely don’t have any idea what your results might be–would be your own email responses to students’ teaching. Do you tend to be satisfied with how often your male students are smiling? How often are they reminded to smile, compared to your female students?

          Like

        • becky1129 says:

          (I wrote that last comment before I read your other, where you said you work on talking about teachers’ enthusiasm as opposed to just their smiling)

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Joan says:

    I really enjoyed reading this post. The dialogue that followed was interesting too. I’ve never really thought of smiling as anything more than conveying warmth, happiness etc. As an elementary librarian, I can relate to the description of the teacher- I laughed because that is me! Maybe smiling has more effectiveness with young students and is less necessary with older. I can’t imagine working with young children and not smiling to encourage a student who is speaking in front of a group, answering a question they aren’t sure of or listening to a concern. I can also tell you that smiling during the craziness of some school days (he budged, she poked me, she took my pencil…..) can keep me from becoming losing my cool and somehow helps me keep things in perspective! Thanks for the interesting read! ( I’m going to go watch the male teachers tomorrow to see how much they smile! 😊)

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s