"In education, student engagement refers to the degree of attention, curiosity, interest, optimism, and passion that students show when they are learning or being taught, which extends to the level of motivation they have to learn and progress in their education" (edglossary.org). When students are engaged with the lesson being taught, they learn more and retain more. Students who are engaged in the work tend to persist more and find joy in completing the work.
You may ask the question, "What types of work are engaging?" We know from speaking to students that they prefer work where they can have hands-on activities and get to collaborate with their peers. They tend to be less engaged when listening to teacher lectures or doing repetitive tasks and "busy work."
In this article, we will discuss five innovative teaching strategies that engage students: (1) inquiry-based learning, (2) QR codes, (3) problem-based learning, (4) wisely managed classroom technology, and (5) jigsaws. These teaching strategies encourage students to use their imagination to dig deep when engaging with the content of the lesson. The students are actively involved with the learning and can work with their peers in collaborative groups to showcase their learning.
Many of these strategies take students to levels of learning they never thought possible. The students actively seek knowledge and don’t just sit and receive the knowledge from a lecture or worksheet.
Inquiry-based learning is one of the most powerful teaching strategies in the classroom because research tells us that students learn best when they construct their own meaning. Inquiry-based learning triggers student curiosity. Teachers act as facilitators during the inquiry-based learning process.
According to Heather Wolpert-Gawron in the Edutopia article, "What the Heck is Inquiry-Based Learning?", there are four steps in the process:
- Students develop questions that they are hungry to answer
- Students research the topic using time in class
- Students present what they’ve learned
- Students reflect on what worked about the process and what didn’t
In a classroom where students research a topic then present their findings, inquiry-based learning allows students to "learn deeper and wider than ever before" (Wolpert-Gawron, 2016). In traditional teaching, students are less likely to ask questions and are expected to listen and answer questions posed by the teacher. Inquiry-based learning allows students to pose the questions and research and convert the information into useful knowledge, thus ramping up the level of student engagement.
QR (Quick Response) codes are easy to create and have multiple uses in classrooms at all grade levels. QR codes can lead students to information just by scanning the code on a student’s digital device. In the classroom, students can use QR codes to
- Check their answers
- Vote on answers during class discussions
- Extend information found in textbooks
- Get survey information for math units on data
- Participate in scavenger hunts
- Access video tutorials on the material being taugh
- Link students directly to Google maps
QR codes allow students to access information without leaving their seat. Students can even generate QR codes to showcase their learning with peers and parents.
Research confirms that project-based learning (PBL) is an effective and enjoyable way to learn. PBL also develops deeper learning competencies required for success in college, career, and civic life (bie.org).
Project-based learning uses real-world scenarios, challenges, and problems to engage students in critical thinking, problem solving, teamwork, and self-management. Once students solve the problem or challenge, they present their solutions. The problems students solve can be presented to community leaders to solve problems in their own community.
PBL uses collaboration, digital tools, and problem solving skills to come up with a solution to the problem presented. Why are so many educators interested in this teaching method?
- PBL makes school more engaging for students
- PBL improves learning
- PBL provides opportunities for students to use technology
- PBL makes teaching more enjoyable and rewarding
- PBL connects students and schools with communities and the real world (bie.org).
Wisely Managed Classroom Technology
Many schools have become one-to-one schools, i.e., each student has his or her own technology item (typically a tablet or computer) to work with each day. In some districts, students can take the technology home to complete their homework.
There is a delicate balance with technology use in the classroom. Teachers must use technology in a wisely managed way and with a variety of activities. Several activities that lead to student engagement are Google Docs, YouTube videos, Quizlet, Kahoot!, and the Remind app. These innovative apps and websites can help teachers engage their students, remind them about upcoming assignments and homework, provide visual learning through videos, organize student learning, provide group collaboration, and provide check-ups on learning through games and online quizzes.
The jigsaw technique is a "tried and true" cooperative learning strategy that helps students create their own learning. Students are arranged in groups and assigned a different piece of information. In their groups, students learn the piece of information well enough to be able to teach it to another group of students.
When using this technique, students become experts on the learning as they teach their peers. Once all groups have learned their information, they are placed into new groups with members from each of the small groups. Each group member shares the knowledge they gained in their informational group. This technique brings lessons to life and challenges students to create their own learning. This challenge engages students and encourages them to share their learning with others.
Each of the techniques in this article use strategies in which students question, research, use technology, and create meaning from provided materials and research. These techniques also allow students to solve problems, challenge themselves, and present their findings to others. Student engagement builds on curiosity, interest, passion, and attention. All of the techniques showcased incorporate several of these needed items for student engagement.
James Davis, Ph.D., is an associate professor and program coordinator at Coastal Carolina University, in Conway, South Carolina, where he works within the educational leadership department. He has been named both teacher of the year and principal of the year.
Published November 2017.