We librarians are educators. And the work we do to educate is done in a variety of ways some seen and some unseen. When we are faced with a classroom of students, whether in person or online, the task of engaging those students can seem rather daunting at times.
Student engagement is one of the most challenging aspects of teaching. But it’s also one of the most important. If our students aren’t engaged with each other, with the content, with us, then there is very little gained. With constantly changing variables and moving targets, engagement may feel like it just comes down to improvisation. While employing our improvisational skills is essential to teaching, it doesn’t take the place of the importance of planning and preparation especially when considering student engagement.
One of the websites I occasionally scan for professional reading is Edutopia. Though this website has a K12 focus, it provides a perspective from classroom teachers that I often find can be extrapolated and applied to my work in teaching. Whether I’m teaching a room full of 6th grade History Day students or a computer lab full of adults, these teacher perspectives provide helpful insights.
An Edutopia article written last January by Brian Sztabnik, AP Literature teacher from New York, about student engagement caught my eye. The 8 Minutes That Matter Most highlighted the importance of beginnings and endings as the key to student engagement. It is the first few minutes at the beginning of class and the last few minutes that require thoughtful planning and preparation to achieve the greatest possible gain from your lesson.
That is the crux of lesson planning right there -- endings and beginnings. If we fail to engage students at the start, we may never get them back. If we don't know the end result, we risk moving haphazardly from one activity to the next. Every moment in a lesson plan should tell.
The eight minutes that matter most are the beginning and endings. If a lesson does not start off strong by activating prior knowledge, creating anticipation, or establishing goals, student interest wanes, and you have to do some heavy lifting to get them back. If it fails to check for understanding, you will never know if the lesson's goal was attained.
B Sztabnik. (2015, January 5). The 8 Minutes That Matter Most
Here are some tips for those crucial 8 minutes.
1. Trend With YouTube
Here Sztabnik underscores the importance of using multimedia to help students make connections. He uses YouTube, but I think that any relevant media source could be used. To my understanding, the point here is to make use of multimedia tools to grab their attention. Media is ubiquitous today and applies to any subject. Also, one of the strong suits of media is that it can convey a great deal of information in one image or in a few seconds of video.
2. Start With Good News
I like this one a lot. This point suggests that in order to create a safe space for students to open up and take risks, it’s helpful to start by sharing good news in the first two minutes. Turning the focus towards good news from your students (e.g., birthdays, vacations) can help students feel more at ease and ready to ask questions and share ideas.
3. Cross Disciplines
Integrating two seemingly dissimilar disciplines helps students to understand that ideas and concepts are interconnected and exist within a wider context of knowledge and understanding. Sztabnik states that drawing connections between disciplines to teach a concept can lead students to deeper learning.
4. Write for 5
Sztabnik asserts that writing can lead to student improvement. Try having students respond to an essential question in the beginning of class for five minutes. Sztabnik emphasizes writing, but I think this could be modified to fit a model that works best for you. The takeaway on “Write for 5” for me is to engage students in a key question at the start of class to give them time to think and build anticipation and interest.
1. Level Up
It has long been established that a sense of game and play can be effective teaching tools. This particular point encourages teachers to engage a student’s desire to feel accomplished and competent. Try developing levels of proficiency based on standards allowing students to chart their progress towards mastery.
2. Exit Tickets
At the end of class, check for understanding. “Exit Tickets” can be a type of formative assessment, student self-analysis, instructional feedback, and open comments. These can provide you with quick data and useful feedback.
3. Mimic Social Media
The idea with this one is to leverage the collaborative nature of social media tools by asking students to compose a tweet or find an image that communicates what they learned. This, however, can be modified to include simple round-robin sharing or writing thoughts down on a whiteboard or Post-It notes in class.
4. Post-It Power
This is an intriguing one to me. Try ending class with “notes of influence.” Ask your students to write on a Post-It note one thing that they learned from another student in class and stick it to a whiteboard, chalkboard, or wall. Read these notes aloud the next day or perhaps capture and share electronically. This exercise can validate class participation and affirm your learning community.
I thought that Sztabnik’s article offered good food for thought. I look forward to thinking more about how I begin and end my classes and trying out some of these ideas at my next workshop. How do you begin and end your classes?