2. Instruction – The teacher uses research-based instructional practices to meet the needs of all students.
Engaging students in learning means that students are consistently and actively participating in all lessons, and that those lessons challenge them and result in the students reaching the end of a lesson with the knowledge of at least one new idea or fact. However, I believe that standard 2.2 goes deeper than just student engagement. It involves understanding my students and their interests (1.1), asking high quality questions that allow students to contemplate and then ask their own deep questions (2.1), reflecting on my teaching and lessons (2.3), and differentiating instruction and lessons for diverse learners (4.3). The combination of these elements will lead to my students being cognitively engaged in their personalized lessons that allow for individual success.
One way that I engage my current students that shows my developing competence in the area of student engagement is first that I have developed a fine understanding of the things my students enjoy doing. The two most important things to know about my students are that they are a very social group, and they like to be active. With this knowledge, I give frequent opportunities for my students to learn in groups or with a partner. My classroom is arranged into three groups of four, with the easy addition of free-standing desks to make three groups of six. I also allow movement as needed. For example, I allow my students to choose how they will sit at their desks: some of my students would rather stand than sit; some students prefer sitting in a short bar stool; some students prefer the traditional chair at their desk; and I offer clipboards for those students who would rather sit on the floor to work. We are working on getting a few exercise balls into the classroom to allow further options for comfort seating.
The figure above shows Robert J. Marzano’s explanation, from The Art and Science of Teaching (page 100), of one area where teachers can increase student engagement. This section resonated with me as a current teacher and one who consistently seeks to improve my skills and give my students better opportunities for success. Allowing my students two-minute “Brain Breaks” during the day, where they are allowed to move around as much or as little as possible, has proven to be quite effective in my classroom. Students choose to either stand next to someone and talk, or lay on the floor and crawl around, or do an exercise (i.e. jumping jacks) with a friend. When they return to their seats, they are refreshed and ready to continue learning. Their blood flow has been increased with the extra oxygen some of them gain through their exercises and movement. Without this physical activity, I would be unable to get my students to be cognitively engaged in their activities.
One area that I am continually working to improve is the transitions in the class. Keeping my instruction organized and paced appropriately, especially during my morning Language Arts and Reading/Literature blocks, is very important to keep my students engaged and focused. If they are confused about what we are doing currently or the expectations I have for their next task, they will not stay engaged in the learning, and I will spend unnecessary time trying to “reel” them back to the lesson. Therefore, I am sure to offer written directions on the board, and then verbal directions of what is expected of them during the transition, and then have them start with a signal that I have taught them to listen for before a transition begins and after an activity is ending (telling them, “Go!” to start; a bell chime to signal the end of an activity). Lastly, my enthusiasm for different lessons definitely enhances both their engagement and my own, and it is important for me to remember that as I begin my lessons in each subject.
Reference: Marzano, Robert J. (2007). The Art and Science of Teaching. Alexandria, VA.