Do you have your preferred teaching style down? So do I. Are your students reaching academic success? So are mine. Like any good teacher though, I am actively seeking to improve. So are you. Rather than completely overhaul what works, let me take the good base that I have and build upon it.
What experience tells me:
Passive students tend to
fall behind in my class.
What do you add into your lessons to improve student engagement? Here are two, tried-and-true routines:
Hand Raising (non-traditional sense)
Are students really thinking about what is being said in class?
Force students to commit to an opinion: Raise your hand if you agree. Raise your hand if you disagree. Raise your hand if you don’t know but are participating. It’s good to participate.
Check their pulse: Raise your hand if you love your momma. Raise your hand if you’re breathing. Raise your hand if you want to go home. Can you visualize the hands that go up on that last line? What academic purpose does it serve to have students admit to wanting to go home? Little, unless you value that the majority of students just responded to a verbal prompt and voluntarily chose to be actively involved in the lesson. Perhaps the student zoning out suddenly sees the entire class putting their hand up, raises his as well, and mentally ponders/chides, “Why are we raising our hands? I better start paying attention.” Perhaps the platform for student voice (albeit canned and highly structured) earns the exercise a point. Running these type of statements in trios hopefully provides everyone with an entry point. Personally, knowing that students are still listening and processing what is being pushed out is reassuring.
Do you ever sense that your secondary students get tired of raising their hands? Surely an active response can take other forms. Our elementary counterparts mix it up with clapping. Poetry units at the secondary level often welcome snapping. In my high school Algebra class, a resounding slap of the desk does the trick. Clapping, Snapping, Slapping — it really is all on the same train.
In my opinion, slapping requires the least investment of the student (only one hand, no fancy finger configurations), has sound appeal, and is less socially taboo for teenagers (perhaps because of its affiliation with violence).
One rule: No repetitive slaps.
Some of the more refined 9th grade classes give their desk a little love pat. However, a few classes will truly SLAP their desk with oomph. This almost in unison thunder clap invigorates both teacher and students. As I like to say (and my students groan), it supports the learning momentum. Weak slappers sometimes improve at this request: Slap your desk if you were right. A prideful nature should be exploited. Are you considering trying out the technique for the first time? Use in conjunction with a question that has a high probability of correct response in the middle of a difficult lesson. (Don’t explain, just call it out. Repetitive slaps can be channeled later on. Sales pitches can be given later as well.)
Like any novelty, either of the above techniques overused will lose its charm.
What easy student involvement techniques do you use in your classroom?
Dawn is a secondary Algebra teacher in Maryland with a B.S. in Secondary Mathematics Education and a Masters in Information Science and Learning Technologies.