Strategies to Improve Student Engagement

3 Strategies to Promote Independent Thinking in Classrooms

Photo credit: National Renewable Energy Lab via Flickr
(CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Imagine the intentional focus you would bring to crossing a rushing creek. Each stepping-stone is different in shape, each distance uneven and unpredictable, requiring you to tread with all senses intact. The simple act of traversing water on stones is an extraordinary exercise in concentration. Now think of how, with all the tweeting, texting and messaging that technology has given us, our attention is frittered away by the mundane. The speed of communication undermines the continuum of thought. That rushing creek is much harder to cross.

In his study of people who find satisfaction with their lives, Harvard psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi defines as autotelic those who are happiest when they are absorbed in complex activities. By focusing on tasks and outcomes that stretch their skills, these young people are more likely to grow into contented adults. The most significant factor for autotelic development is what Csikszentmihalyi terms attentional capacity. Consequently, if his research into self-motivated learning is correct, then the classroom should become an incubator for growing students’ attentional capacity. Instruction should be organized in intriguing yet challenging ways to foster attention.

Teachers can utilize three strategies to cultivate improved focus: sequencing instruction, recovery from mistakes, and setting goals.

Sequencing Instruction
Recovery from Mistakes
Setting Goals

Read the entire article by Margaret Regan on edutopia at http://www.edutopia.org/blog/3-strategies-promote-independent-thinking-margaret-regan

5 Ways to Make Class Discussions More Exciting

Photo credit: US Department of Education via Flickr
(CC BY 2.0)

Classroom discussions have been a staple of teaching forever, beginning with Socrates. I have taught using discussions, been a student in discussions, and observed other teachers’ discussions thousands of times — at least. Some have been boring, stifling or tedious enough to put me to sleep. Others have been so stimulating that I was sad to see them end. The difference between the two is obviously how interesting the topic is, but equally important is the level of student participation.

It’s not enough for students to simply pay attention — they need to be active participants to generate one of those great discussions that end far too quickly for both the teacher and students. The worst types of discussions are serial one-on-one talk between a student and teacher, leaving the rest of the class out of the process. Many students stop listening, begin to fade or disengage during this flawed procedure.

The best discussions keep everyone active, either by sharing or thinking. Even those students who rarely, if ever, contribute can still participate in other ways. Here are five of my favorite ways to design discussions in a dynamic and exciting manner.

  • Lightning Rounds
  • Throw the Ball
  • Group Answers
  • Agreements
  • Questionnaires

One final point about good discussions: most students can easily hear the teacher, but depending on room arrangement, it can often be difficult for students to hear each other. Have you ever tried to follow a press conference on television when you could not hear the question, only the answer? Our response ranges from frustration to giving up listening. Be sure to repeat student answers if any class member can’t hear it.

Read the entire article by Richard Curwin on edutopia at http://www.edutopia.org/blog/make-class-discussions-more-exciting-richard-curwin

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