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Aurora Institute

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Simple Moves to Increase Engagement

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Courtney Belolan

Issue(s): Issues in Practice, Rethink Instruction

HandsThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on November 2, 2015. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

Student engagement involves more than connecting learning to student interests or authentic purposes. Engaging students means creating the environment for all students to be successful with learning and tackling new skills and ideas. So having a “highly engaged” learning environment is as much about the number of students involved in learning as it is the ways in which they are engaged. One area of instruction to pay close attention to when creating an environment in which as many students as possible engage in learning is the class discussion.

Discussion can be an excellent way to introduce, deepen, and even reflect on learning. The key is making sure the discussion actually involves all of the students rather than the educator and just a handful of kids.. Here are few simple strategies to revamp class discussion and support highly engaged learning:

Think and Jot: When you ask a question, have everyone think for a moment and jot the answer down before soliciting responses. This works well with any level of question, from recall to inference.

Lifelines: Offer students who don’t know the answer to a question you ask the opportunity to do one of the following before offering an answer:

  • Look in notes or other nearby resources
  • Talk to a classmate
  • Pass, and have first shot at another question of their choosing

Reflective Responding: After a student answers, have other students respond before you give any kind of response. Some ways to do this:

  • Thumbs up or down for agree disagree
  • “Yes, and…”
  • Ask a follow up question
  • Compare answers and revise

Small Groups: Write the questions you want to ask down ahead of time, and give them to the students. Let them work in small groups to come up with the answers using whatever materials or resources you would have used to support the class discussion. After all the groups have worked through the discussion hold a structured share out, or summarize their group’s discussion with a student from a different group.

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Courtney Belolan works at RSU 2 in Maine where she supports K-12 teachers with performance-based, individualized learning. Courtney works closely with teams and teachers as a coach, and with the school and district leadership teams as an instructional strategist. Courtney has worked as a 6-12 literacy and instructional coach, a middle level ELA teacher, an environmental educator, and a digital literacy coach. Her core beliefs include the idea that the best education is one centered on student passions and rooted in interdisciplinary applications, and that enjoying learning is just as important as the learning itself.