Teachers looking to improve student engagement should turn to an often overlooked source for advice: their students.
According to the 2017 Gallup Student Poll, only 47 percent of more than 700,000 responding students in grades 5-12 reported feeling engaged at school, either in class or in general, during the most recent school year. Ashley Riley, the 2014 SHAPE Florida Middle School Physical Educator of the Year, found several strategies that worked for her:
- having students look at class from the teacher’s perspective, and
- requesting student feedback when things aren’t going quite as planned
“I think our students are valuable resources,” she said. “Older ones – for me it’s eighth graders who have been in my classes before and know what the teachers’ expect – especially enjoy being brought into the process. It’s no secret that we all work harder on something we have ownership in, so what happens when we give the students an ownership in PE?”
Riley recalled a specific example where a student came to her PE class but would not engage with the lesson or participate in the activity. To curtail the student’s attempts to chat with her or students who were participating, Riley turned the tables on the student, so to speak.
“At any given time she was right at my side just being loud and friendly but not doing what she was supposed to do,” Riley said. “So I just said, ‘as long as you’re going to stand here, why don’t you take a look?’ It was eye-opening for her.”
The student got a teacher-level look at overall student engagement, and Riley saw a chance to bring a student back into the lesson.
Another way to gauge and improve student engagement is to seek feedback from students on lessons and techniques they find interesting and empowering. While teachers have their lesson plans and styles, they must be prepared to change direction and tactics if the plan comes off the rails. Demonstrating the ability to admit a plan didn’t work and adjust on the fly makes teachers appear more human to their students.
“Sometimes the kids just need to know that you aren’t perfect, that you messed up and they are going to do something different than the other classes that day,” she said.
Students are quick to provide feedback on the engagement qualities of a lesson. Teachers simply need to act on it when the feedback isn’t what they expected. And student feedback remains the best way to gauge student engagement.
“If I get two lessons into the day and it’s just not working, instead of torturing myself, I’ll just tell the kids that,” Riley said. “On our evaluation system, we have to seek student input on things.”