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Student Engagement: How to Bring Your Middle School Teaching to Life | Staples®

Student Engagement: How to Bring Your Middle School Teaching to Life

“It can be hard to create engaging lessons for students because the traditional teacher-centric classroom model renders kids bystanders in their own education,” says Rob Zdrojewski, technology education teacher at Amherst Middle School in Amherst, NY. “Furthermore, every student learns at a different pace and comes to terms with certain concepts at different stages. Therefore, a traditional teacher-centric lecture cannot cater to all individuals in the one classroom, leaving many disengaged.”

All across the country, talented teachers work hard to bring their lessons to life, captivate the young minds in front of them and hold their attention long enough for them to learn. We asked a few of these successful educators to share their advice for making instruction more dynamic.

Make It Relevant

You know from your own experience in school, and even with PD, that relevance is crucial. If you don’t know why you need to know something, you’re less likely to engage in learning it. The same holds true for your middle schoolers. “Brain research shows that students need a reason to move what they learn from short-term memory to long-term memory,” explains Jennifer Wilson, a National Board Certified math teacher in Flowood, MS, and recipient of the 2011 Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. “They need to have opportunities to connect what they’re learning to previous learning and know how it might be connected to what they will learn or do later.”

Wilson makes math relevant with graphing calculators. “We use the dynamic geometry feature to explore the mathematics and make conjectures about what must be true,” she says. Wilson uses the TI-Nspire, which “allows me to send quick polls to students throughout class to find out what they know and understand. I use the feedback from the polls to make instructional adjustments to the lesson.” This enables her to tailor instruction to students’ needs, keeping their young minds from wandering out of frustration. “Before students come to my class, many feel like math is something they are told how to do. Once they get to my class, they feel like math is a puzzle to explore and solve.”

Make It Collaborative

“Students tend to become bored very easily when it comes to staring at a screen for 45 minutes or taking notes while the teacher uses digital tools to present his/her lesson,” says Angie Kenley, English Language Arts Content Specialist with the Abilene Independent School District in Abilene, TX. “The classroom environment turns into a ‘sit-and-get’ environment. Today’s generation craves more activities that involve interaction, collaboration and a setting that is more student centered.”

She creates a more dynamic classroom environment “where students are collaborating with their peers by posing their own high-level questions, thinking critically and working as a team to solve problems. They are able to use and apply their knowledge and information in new and innovative ways.” For example, groups of students can read a poem and share their interpretations, questions and observations. Then they can report to the class live or by entering their ideas in a shared space online, enabling all students to see how others related to the work and answer questions among themselves.

Deliver It on Demand

Meeting the needs of a diverse middle school class means supporting students in learning at their own pace and through various media. Having a variety of learning materials — print, online, video — at hand allows students to access the resources they need for an assignment when they need it.

“They are engaged because the information being delivered directly correlates to the task in front of them,” Zdrojewski says. In addition to traditional learning materials, he creates short videos and screencasts for use in class and at home. “It also allows for different learning styles to derive meaningful content from any one screencast. Think about it — as adults we do this all the time. I'm not going to search for a YouTube video on how to fix a treadmill belt unless the need arises. Kids are the same way. We teachers need to create the need.”

Making school more dynamic and relevant to the kids who show up is what teaching is all about. Use these tips to bring your lessons to life by connecting what you teach with the lives of your students.

Steve Peha is the founder of Teaching That Makes Sense, Inc., a North Carolina–based consultancy specializing in innovative approaches to educational change. In addition to working in hundreds of schools and teaching in thousands of classrooms, he is also an award-winning writer and educational software developer. Follow Steve on Google+.

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