According to “the glossary of education reform”, student engagement describes the degree of attention, interest and passion that pupils show when they are learning which impacts the level of motivation they need to have to progress in their education. Rephrased, this concept is built on the assumption that learning improves when pupils are interested or inspired, and, on the other hand, that learning is harder when pupils are bored or disaffected. Therefore, fostering the engagement of pupils can be seen as a common instructional objective of teaching.
Furthermore, this engagement also depends on the way that schools integrate pupils in processes of school politics, the design of learning programmes or in community activities. For example, many schools ask pupils for their feedback on certain issues and further include their suggestions for the modification of policies or programmes.
Other schools have established so called “student advisory committees”, which allows pupils to contribute to school development.
According to this definition, the term of student engagement has reached broader attention in the past decades, which can be traced back to an increase of understanding regarding certain intellectual, emotional, behavioural, physical, and social factors and their influence in the learning process and social development of the children. For example, different research studies on learning have disclosed relations between so-called “non-cognitive factors” or “non-cognitive skills” and “cognitive factors”. The first term refers to personality related characteristics such as motivation, responsibility, perseverance, work habits or self-regulation, while the latter rather describe improvements of academic performance, skill acquisition, etc.
The concept of student engagement is particularly used when educators discuss strategies and techniques to be used in teaching, which address all of these aspects of aforementioned factors, namely developmental, intellectual, emotional, behavioural, physical, and social ones that influence learning in a positive or negative way.
However, the broad definition allows interpreting the concept in different ways, starting from pupils’ behaviour regarding attending class, punctuality and participation to personality and characteristics as enthusiasm motivation, or interest.
Objective: To foster ideas generation for a positive learning environment
Contents: In this activity, please read the text about creating a “learning centre”. Next, develop an idea for a learning centre considering the classroom you use and your pupils’ interests. Start by giving it a title.
After this, give a comprehensive description of how it should look and how you plan to work with it. Besides decoration, seating arrangements etc. also social factors can be considered like the pupils possibilities to interact, enough space for each pupil to feel comfortable etc.
In a next step, please note what kind of resources you need and if they can be obtained. Also note how they can be obtained. Write down, how frequently the centre will be used.
Finally, leave some space to evaluate your idea. If you implement it in your curriculum, indicate how the pupils liked the “learning centre”, what needs to be considered for improvement and if/how the idea could be further developed.
Material: Paper, pens and adapted article from Learning to Teach. Not Just for Beginners: The Essential Guide for All Teachers by Linda Shalaway
It takes advance planning and creativity to design exciting and effective learning centres. But the payoff comes as soon as you see pupils’ faces light up when you announce, “Centre Time”.
These teacher-tested tips will help you set up dynamic areas for independent learning.
- Begin with one learning centre in an area of personal strength or in an area especially interesting to you and your pupils.
- Tie centres into your curriculum: the content or skills can change to match what you are studying in a particular subject area.
- Make sure your learning centres have clear objectives, simple directions, and, if appropriate, samples of the type of work or activity pupils will be creating there.
- Create a storage system of boxes, file folders, or large envelopes. Label all of the materials in each storage container.
- Include a variety of activities to engage different types of learners — avoid providing only paper-and-pencil tasks. Pupils should also have opportunities to draw, colour, cut, glue, match, listen, fasten, tie, select, compare, classify, outline, assemble, rearrange, etc.
- Remember that many pupils respond to inviting environments such as cosy corners, attractive decorations, and special touches from pupils (a mural painted on a cardboard room divider, for example). Area rugs and netting or sheer fabric also help set off an area and make it appealing.
- Remember the needs of your second-language learners.
- Model expected behaviours and introduce learning objectives when you open the centre and as needed throughout the year.
- Invite pupils to contribute to your centres with personal collections or related artefacts and items.
- Allow for some student choice. Simply rotating pupils doesn’t allow them to practice self-direction and responsibility.
- Set a time schedule for using the centres.
- Designate a special place to display student work.
- Invite donations and ideas from parents.
- Watch the centres in action to determine which seem most engaging and successful and which need fine-tuning.
- Periodically add new activities/centres to maintain student interest, but be realistic about how often to do so. Weekly is too often.
- Take photos of the centre to help you set them up the next time around.
Need Some Ideas?
No matter what content area you’re teaching, there’s usually a way to design a centre around it. Here are a few possibilities:
- A writing centre, stocked with different types of paper, model fiction or nonfiction pieces, story starters, grammar tip sheets, word lists, and editing pencil
- A book box on a table filled with reading materials about a particular subject or theme, or organized by author or genre
- An art cart with materials and instruction for making mobiles, dioramas, cartoon strips, crayon rubbings, and friendship cards — all tied to the curriculum
- A math path, where pupils find math games, activities, and manipulatives stored in a large box
- A full-length mirror where kindergarteners can try on costumes, masks, hats, or silly glasses and role-play
- A comfy seat in a quiet corner designated for independent reading
Every year one subject area which is described as “stagnant” by teachers is revised.
An artist comes to school for consultation on how this area could be made more creative. For the subject astronomy, the solar system is re-created in the classroom.
In a project on Buddhism, Buddhist monk visits the school to lead a meditation session. This project is so successful that it becomes an established part of the school’s curriculum. The projects have positive impact on pupils and teachers.
Pupils seem more engaged, which is expressed by an increase of participation, and the practical experience strengthens their understanding. Teachers become engaged in adopting new teaching methods and benefit as much as the children from the new ideas and expertise.
The positive impact of the projects convinced them to include creative aspects in their teaching.
- Do you consider it as a useful approach to increase pupils` engagement? Why/why not?
- If yes. What are the key factors that made this project successful?
- What impact did it have on pupils and on teachers and how can it be explained?
- How did it change the control of learning processes within the project?