Wednesday, July 1, 2009

How Do I Keep Kids Engaged and Learning? The Short Answer

Recently I received this one-sentence email (with the subject line "Quick question!!"):
How do you ensure that your students are engaged and actively learning while in your classroom??
At first I was wondering why this person had come to me with this question, or what kind of answer they were looking for. I decided a quick question deserved an equally quick answer, so I boiled down my response to this:
I'll give you the short version: First, design a student-centered lesson that meets different learning styles. Second, set out clear expectations, systems and procedures from day one. Third, make what you're doing relevant to their lives and interests. Finally, make sure you yourself are circulating around the room, asking lots of questions and recognizing good work. I think that if you have those basics down, you should have pretty engaged students that are invested in their work.
I also asked what this was for, and it turns out that he is a successful, experienced substitute teacher who is transitioning to full-time. He was getting questions like the one he posed to me during job interviews, and wanted a little help to make sure that he was giving the best possible answer. As it turns out, it seems he was already doing the things I told him. Sometimes the hardest part about this job is identifying exactly why something works or not.