Five ways to encourage student participation in the classroom

It’s a challenge that’s probably been around as long as education itself: despite your efforts, students sometimes seem unmotivated and disengaged.

For this, different eras have deployed different tactics. Thankfully the days when discipline was the only answer are now behind us: 21st century education is all about positive and empowering solutions.

Of course, there are plenty of tips to be found on this topic, from numerous sources – from textbooks to forums to simply chatting with fellow teachers. For this blog, we’ve gathered our personal top five.

1  Keep learning ‘bite-sized’, and mix it up

Student attention spans are short, increasingly so in today’s multi-channel, always-on world.

It may sound obvious, but it’s no good giving them a classroom session that’s monotone and one-dimensional. Always break things into small chunks, and try to vary the nature and pace of these chunks.

One rule of thumb you might useful is to match the age of your students to their attention span. So a class of 10 year olds, for example, will appreciate a series of different 10-minute learning experiences.

2  Don’t do all the teaching yourself

The traditional model may have been for the teacher to lead the lesson. In the contemporary classroom, students are often busier than the teacher.

This principle fits well with the notion of flipped learning, where knowledge acquisition happens outside the classroom, and it instead becomes a place for exploration and discussion.

Give your students worksheets, activities and projects so they’re fully active and involved. None of these mean you’ll be redundant – far from it. Your role now is to engage with students, moving from one individual or group to another, contributing, evaluating, encouraging…

3  Use groups to improve participation

While dividing students up purely on the basis of ability has some uses, it also has limitations.

However you don’t need to use ‘academic ability’ as your sole criterion for grouping students. Indeed, when it comes to encouraging participation, you might want to look more at personality dynamics. Might quiet students talk more if they’re in smaller groups? Could creating ‘teams’ for a problem-solving task generate a fun and informal buzz of competitiveness?

4  Give students a voice

Do your students have a “say” in your classroom?

Of course you need to take key decisions yourself, but there may also be times where you can involve them. A classroom that feels democratic and – to an extent – ‘owned’ by the students is much more likely to generate reciprocal involvement.

Showing students that their opinions are important, in ways that are both small and significant, can be extremely beneficial.

5  Involve digital learning alongside other methods

The youth of today live their lives through digital media. Education should feel part of this world to them, not the polar opposite.

This can embrace both ‘learning’ – for example, getting students to research topics online, or to submit projects digitally (blogs etc) – and the everyday classroom environment. For example, if you’re using a platform such as WinjiGo to take the class register, why not allow students to create their own artwork to represent themselves (even if it’s as basic as a selfie!).

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