Student Engagement

There are times when I really, REALLY get tired of the educationese.  I know it’s important to engage students in learning, to keep them interested in the work of the classroom.  We really do learn more and better when we are interested and engaged.

But I’m worn out. (And it’s only the fifth week of school.)

I am exploring various options for engaging students. My go-to is Interactive Notebook activities.  Students enjoy the “arts and crafts” activities–cutting the paper, gluing it into their notebooks, color-coding, and then writing the notes.  It sounds like all kinds of fun, and it is.  Some people might think it’s a waste of time in the ELA classroom.  That cutting and gluing and coloring time could be better-spent teaching, right?

I might have thought so, too, until I asked one of my sixth graders what “exposition” was.  He responded it is the green part of the triangle, and then he gave the definition.   I believe that a combination of the physical activity of creating the triangle and writing the definitions and then associating the term with the color helped him remember the term whereas simply copying the notes from a slide presentation would not have been as effective.

The middle school is not yet 1:1 with technology, but many students already have a variety of devices from Chromebooks to tablets to smartphones.  I have a couple of students who do not have any device they can use in the classroom yet (the parents’ decision right now because of their age). However, my eighth grade ELA class is actually students’ first high school class.  The eighth-graders bring laptops/Chromebooks to class.  Therefore, I am working on ways to integrate technology daily to engage them.

The two apps that I like are PearDeck and Nearpod.  The two are very similar in that I can create the lesson in the app, run it at the instructor’s pace, and students can engage with the slides as we go through the lesson.  I created a Literary Elements in The Maze Runner lesson for my English I class for Friday.  I made a slide with definitions for students to put into their hand-written notebooks (there is a connection between handwriting notes and memory).  Then we watched the video of the opening scene from the movie that I had embedded into the lesson slides using Nearpod.  The next slide asked for students to write their responses to a question about the literary device and the video clip. Students were engaged; they were thoughtful, and I had 100% participation.

Here is a link to my first Nearpod lesson:

I’m also beginning to use Padlet as a way of collecting formative assessment data. I have not used Padlet while in the classroom, but I have assigned a Padlet for homework to check in with students about their reading.

They say that it’s hard for an “old dog to learn new tricks.”  And it is.  I am finding these new technologies to have a longer learning curve for me.  Yet I am excited by the possibilities.


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