As a refresher, before going into my pre-internship I was looking at ways to get students interested and authentically engage with classroom content. I found out about five kinds of engagement in the classroom:
- Authentic Engagement—students are immersed in work that has clear meaning and immediate value to them (reading a book on a topic of personal interest)
- Ritual Compliance—the work has little or no immediate meaning to students, but there are extrinsic outcomes of value that keep them engaged (earning grades necessary for college acceptance)
- Passive Compliance—students see little or no meaning in the assigned work but expend effort merely to avoid negative consequences (not having to stay in during recess to complete work)
- Retreatism—students are disengaged from assigned work and make no attempt to comply, but are not disruptive to the learning of others
- Rebellion—students refuse to do the assigned task, act disruptive, and attempt to substitute alternative activities
(Hurst, Stacy. “Seven Ways to Increase Student Engagement in the Classroom.” Reading Horizons, http://www.readinghorizons.com/blog/seven-ways-to-increase-student-engagement-in-the-classroom.)
I was happy to find that I did not have many students in the “Retreatism” or “Rebellion” levels. There were a few in the top tier, and then a mix of students in the “Passive Compliance” and “Ritual Compliance” levels. Since we were doing a fairytale unit, I was able to bring in content that the students found interesting. The first week, I played some fun activities for 3-5 minutes over a few days to get to know my students. I made keen observations to get to know their personalities and learning styles. This helped me plan my activities and content to suit their needs. I brought in feminist retellings of fairytales, as well as the original versions compared with modern ones, which got the students producing amazing pieces of writing responses. They were able to expand their thinking and look at fairytales critically. It was interesting to see them question their own prior understanding of some of these stories, and to challenge societal constructs. Even students who seemed like they were not engaged — perhaps due to my instructional strategies not suiting them, which is something I need to work on — had great, insightful written responses.
Some of the strategies to increase student engagement that history teacher, David Cutler, had listed were as follows:
- Connect Content With Meaning
- I did so by bringing in fairytales to look at from different perspectives and lenses. I allowed choice when it came to the representations students could choose to look for in our movie for a film critique assignment: gender, sexuality, race, violence, family, and appropriateness for children. This produced an array of opinions and personal connections.
- Give Frequent, Low-Stakes Assessments
- I allowed for students to do a lot of “quick-writes”, which are exactly as they sound — quick writing assignments that are personal, focus on content rather than style or mechanics, and allow students to practice and build their general writing skills.
- Don’t Penalize Errors Harshly
- When submitting their literary critiques, I allowed students to hand in a rough draft beforehand for editing. I offered advice and highlighted areas of improvement to allow them to deliver a better end result.
Overall, I think because of the content of the unit I did, students were quite engaged for the most part. There is always room for improvement, though, and I hope to continue to use these techniques — as well as new ones — to increase student engagement. It’s hard to imagine most students at the “Authentic Engagement” level, but with hard work, using relationships to help plan, and varied content, it is definitely possible.