How to Foster Educational Engagement

In a device-saturated world where attention spans are shorter than ever, educators are keen to create an atmosphere that engages students in the learning process. One of the best ways to do this is by partnering with educational innovators to engage kids in fun and creative ways. 

This is what USC Center EDGE and its partners do, by identifying areas relevant to educational engagement, finding innovators with proven technologies in this space, and making these innovations both scalable and sustainable.

Here’s why it matters so much: As children grow up, engagement tends to decline as other avenues of interest beckon. In second grade, most students appear happy to be at school and engaged in the learning process. By sophomore year in high school, in contrast, students tend to stare at their phones or listen to music covertly via discrete earbuds, rather than attend to whatever the teacher is presenting.

Gallup survey confirms this abysmal drop in engagement. Of the half million children surveyed, approximately 80 percent of younger students felt engaged—attentive, curious, and optimistic—whereas by high school, only 40 percent felt this way.

That’s a great loss for our future leaders. How can schools help keep kids engaged throughout their school years?

From Bored to Absorbed

First, it’s valuable to understand how boredom and disconnection happens. Throughout their secondary school journey, the focus shifts:

  • Glue sticks and scissors give way to formulas and fill-in-the-blanks. As children move from the tactile to the cerebral, it becomes more challenging to stay focused, especially for kids who have a kinesthetic or auditory rather than visual learning style.
  • The fun factor fades. After a few years, school is no longer a novelty. Carved desks or bathroom graffiti? Meh. It’s business as usual, day after day.
  • Testing becomes the touchstone. While testing may be a necessary way of measuring student progress, it also curtails teachers’ freedom to teach the way they want, if unconventional methods can’t be measured on a standardized exam. So teachers become less enthusiastic, and students tune out.
  • Motivation plummets. Given all of the above, it’s a big “why bother?” for a lot of kids. The only carrot may be getting into a top college, and even that may not require engagement so much as the ability to regurgitate facts on tests.

Choice and Flexibility

What makes the difference, for students of all ages, is feeling they have a stake in the educational process: a choice in how they learn, and the flexibility to demonstrate this understanding in ways beyond standardized tests.

To change the learning curve from downhearted to delighted, forward-thinking organizations are using EPOD.

No, that’s not a new device. It’s an acronym for how to plan for educational engagement. The planning stage consists of:

Engagement: Will students find this module or project meaningful? Would I want to do it?

Purpose: Why are we introducing this content or activity? What new skills or connections will students develop?

Organization: What structure will best assist the learning? Individually? In pairs? In small groups, or the entire class working on the project together?

Delivery: Does the project lend itself to a multimedia presentation? A guest speaker? An outdoor activity?

Once a teacher knows how best to introduce a new topic, there are various adaptive strategies the classroom can use to accelerate learning and allow students to showcase their new capabilities.

Show What You Know

Here are a handful of creative, student-friendly engagement strategies:

DYOM: Like show and tell when they were younger, older students can be encouraged to design your own meme as a way to demonstrate their learning. Using words and images related to the assignment, they can create an Instagram-worthy post that keeps them engaged and shows they’ve mastered the material.

Emoji exploji: This is a fantastic way to let students be wildly creative as they express what they’ve learned. After selecting the appropriate emojis to signify their understanding of the subject matter, have them give a brief oral summary. For example: if the subject is photosynthesis, the student may choose sun, tree, water droplets and breathing emojis to demonstrate the scientific cycle. It’s doubtless a lot more fun than writing a paper on the topic, and aligned with shorter attention spans.

What’s your jam? In yesteryear, students used sticky notes to cluster ideas. For the digital classroom, go for Google Jamboard. Students can label, categorize, and comment on their own and others’ brainstorms in a format that works for who they are. And it’s fun.

RAFTing trip: There’s no water involved, but RAFT, which stands for Role, Audience, Format and Topic, can be a lifesaver when it comes to engagement. RAFT is like rolling the best of the above options into one: students can choose how to evaluate their work and demonstrate their understanding in the way that engages them the most. It might be developing an infographic, making a podcast, or even creating and acting out a skit with fellow students.

These are some best practices that will help keep students engaged, with those phones and ear pods stashed in backpacks until the final bell.

Answer Prime

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