A series of papers released by the Center of Education Policy (CEP) at George Washington University reveals an astonishing 40 percent of students are disengaged at school. Motivation and engagement play an integral role in students’ academic achievement and, not surprisingly, their enjoyment of school. Accordingly, engaged students demonstrate increased understanding of concepts, tend to be better behaved and have lower dropout rates.
Engaging students and motivating them to learn can be a challenging yet rewarding task. Although much of the responsibility falls on the learner, schools, teachers and families play a vital role in this effort. For some ideas you can implement in the classroom, keep reading.
How to engage students
Research suggests students are more motivated at school when the following four conditions are met:
- They feel competent: As the saying goes, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.” Fostering a learning environment where students are their own “learning agents,” free to choose to work both independently and with others, helps them become more competent, successful students. Self-determination goes a long way, but it comes with belief in the ability to learn. As educators, you can help students by creating a classroom culture where teachers and students are approachable, committed and nonjudgmental.
- They are given some control: Allowing students some control over which tasks they do, or how they will do them, provides a direct link between actions and an outcome. Consider offering multiple options for a task or assignment. For instance, if you’re learning about animals, allow students the choice to report on a book they read, video they watched, or zoo or nature preserve they visited. Or use a poll or survey to gauge students’ preferences about potential lesson plans. Fun rewards, such as Bentcils or iCrayon styluses, can be used to encourage participation and feedback.
- A task is perceived as valuable: Students are more likely to reflect, question, make connections and otherwise engage when learning about something that’s interesting or perceived as valuable to them. Although all areas of study may not pique interest in all students, there are ways to show value in learning about chosen topics. For instance, connect a lesson on pollution to an issue in the community. Students can participate in learning while being agents for change—perhaps by removing litter from a nature trail or writing to their legislature about the need for cleaner lakes and streams.
- Task completion is rewarded: Often, students dive deeper and work harder when intrinsic rewards, such as gaining someone’s approval or obtaining a sense of belonging, are at stake. Rewarding efforts and achievements with privileges is also effective. Consider grade-level appropriate prizes, like free time or tangible rewards, such as stickers, locker mirrors or screen-cleaner pens. The key to success with these types of awards is to use them to encourage tasks within students’ control, such as turning in homework on time or finishing a book.
Remember, motivation and engagement are key indicators of student success. As an educator, you can help foster student engagement by instilling competence, letting go of some control, providing tasks seen as valuable and rewarding student success.