Tara, Science in the City: I think my biggest challenge to engagement is the outside issues and forces that so many of my students face. I teach in an urban area, and when students are coming to school hungry, tired, or have been awake much of the night because of shootings in their neighbourhood, it is understandably hard for them to engage in class. I try to counter this by making my classroom a safe, consistent place that they can count on. Also, I try to make sure that all students feel some measure of success, so that they are more likely to stay engaged in class.
Kimberly, OC Beach Teacher: It can be hard to get students engaged in their learning. One of my biggest obstacles is getting students interested in reading. I have quite a few reluctant readers, especially boys. To address this challenge, I give my students choices in their novels at the beginning of the semester. When we go to the library during the first week of school, I also “tease” students to read by giving a short book talk on several books that I know are popular. For instance, I find that many of my boys enjoy reading nonfiction such as “Seal Team Six” and “Lone Survivor.”
When I plan literature circles, I also try to arrange the groups by gender. At times, I have had a lot of success with this since it can make it easier for the entire group to come to a consensus on the book that it wants to read. I also provide a wide variety of novels. Some include classics such as “The Red Badge of Courage” or “The Color Purple.” Others are contemporary fiction including “The Help” and “Water for Elephants.” Sometimes my struggling readers will choose “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.” I’m always on the lookout for books that may appeal to my students!
Jackie, Room 213: In my general class the biggest challenge is that, for many of my students, school is just one of the many difficulties they face and it sits low on the priority list when they are dealing with addictions, family issues, abuse and pregnancy. For them, I try to make school as relevant and useful as I can. I try to find reading materials that speak to their real life issues and develop projects and assignments that help them build coping skills as well as the ones required by the curriculum. It’s hard.
With my college bound students, the biggest problem is that the students seem much more subdued in class than they used to be. I love to have discussion-based classes but these days it’s a struggle to get them to engage– it’s something that many teachers in my school are noticing. Is it because they are so over-stimulated by their gadgets that school is just deadly dull? Is it because they are so used to speaking to each other via text that face-to-face discussion is something they aren’t able to easily do anymore? Whatever the cause, we are trying to approach the problem with a greater focus on speaking activities. One colleague is teaching almost exclusively with the Socratic seminar. He said it was painful at first but now he’s finally getting more buy in from the students. It’s a challenge, for sure, but I am working at finding ways to get them to open up and speak out.
Clair, High School English on a Shoestring Budget: My biggest challenge is lack of interest in schooling in general, followed closely by personal and familial barriers to success. Many of my student do not see schooling as an important part of their life or futures. (I’m not likely to convince them, as they spend more time seeing plenty of people doing “fine” without education.) So, my approach is more to make their time there useful, practical, and fun. I use a lot of projects that incorporate skills in creative ways. If I can draw them into the project, then they will get some practice on their skills. If they don’t work, because of absences, personal drama, or lack of interest, they get nothing.
Sara, Ms. Fuller’s Teaching Adventures: For my college students I have a hard time getting them to engage in the in-class activities. They seem to think they are optional. One way I try to engage them is to very explicitly explain my rationale for the activity and how it will help them with the larger assignments that are weighted more heavily. I also try to connect it with a real world example.
Sometimes, they just don’t seem engaged in class- which I get. A writing class is not typically a student’s favorite class, especially one that is all academic- non creative writing. In order to help with this in general I try to mix things up. Sometimes I use presentations, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes we do group work, sometimes individual. I use videos, I play background music, and I ask them about themselves. I think when the class feels more like a community they automatically engage more.
What about you? What are your challenges when it comes to engaging your students and how do you deal with them? We’d love to hear from you!