Inspiring Pupil Engagement

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Pupil engagement is central to successful learning; the more a pupil is engaged in the learning taking place, the better the quality of learning and progress they will make. A child already switched onto learning, those children who enjoy going to school, and children who enjoy success from extension learning opportunities, are easy to engage. That is to say, a teacher has to do very little at all to engage them – because they already are. It is those quieter children, the daydreamers or apathetic non-participants, looking out of the window that require engaging. It’s the children actively involved in work avoidance; fiddling with their (or a friend’s) hair, rummaging constantly in their pencil case, arranging thing with meticulous precision on their desks, doodling, dropping things on the floor, writing notes – or simply being down right disruptive – these are the children we as teachers need to seek to engage.
Lack of pupil engagement happens for many reasons. We can formulate an extensive list, and one that is certainly not limited to; any kind of learning difficulty or medical issues, illness, fatigue, language barriers, boredom, dislike of their teacher (ill-concealed dislike clearly reflected through active non-engagement is the easiest weapon of choice), and family or friendship issues. Most commonly, children do not see the relevance or purpose of what they are being asked to do.
Alternatively, they are one of those children who have “fallen behind”. They know they were supposed to have acquired a seemingly strange and bizarre concept the first time round. Yet, here it is again, and they are still confused.  Most of the other children so it seems, have moved on to more advanced concepts. They now find themselves in a remedial or “extra special support lesson” to get them to where their peers were this time last year. Problem is, everyone else in the “support class” is in the same boat. They are probably just as disillusioned or lacking in hope of ever mastering the illusive concept being taught as they are. No hope then of inspiration from their neither peers – nor hope of copying and getting the right answers that way.

Over the years, I’ve always tried to keep these simple rules in mind. The learning goal is set down by the curriculum – however, the method you use to inspire your pupils, is all yours. Making it fun and interesting for them, means its more engaging for you – so everyone wins.
First rule of engagement – make the learning fun, interesting and relevant to the child’s context or situation. Use your environment, things they are familiar with and can easily make connections to.  When it is a situation or context they can relate to, children (and indeed adults) will start to make more sense of, and have a clearer idea of what they are supposed to be learning. And this is the Costa del Sol – so, we went shopping. We “went” to a big shopping complex – the big posh and expensive one up the road in Marbella – the one with the multi-storey underground car park. We drew it on the whiteboard and talked about what we could buy on each floor, using the lift to travel between floors.

Rule number two – scaffold with something ridiculously easy – something that they feel confident with already. Therefore, we carried out very basic calculations in positive numbers. The giggling started. They started talking. This was easy they thought. They felt confident. Then I “realised” the driver had left the money to pay for our items  in the car in the underground car-park. Therefore, we had to leave the iPhone where it was on the fourth floor and travel down to the car park on floor minus one. Then back up to the shopping centre – and so on. Eight different children, eight different drivers who had left various methods of payment in the car on different levels of the car park – and they were hooked.

This defines rule number three; let them talk while they learn. Pupil talk can never be underestimated. While it can be very frustrating at times – let them talk!
Within 10 minutes, these children were confidently and correctly answering questions on basic addition and subtraction of negative numbers. Not only that, they were encouraging one another and explaining to each other, in a language they understood, how the concepts worked.

Rule four – when they can explain it to another, they themselves have learned it, and are ready to move on.

Finally – have children reflect on what they have learned. By identifying what they have learned, it “locks in the learning.” It is also a great way of celebrating and acknowledging every step, which boosts their self esteem, awareness of their learning – and will inspire greater pupil engagement in the long run.

These simple rules for pupil engagement have worked for me over the years. I am certainly not saying pupil engagement is limited to these concepts, nor that it is that simple. It absolutely is not. Anyone who has stood in front of an unruly class of 30 plus children who clearly can think of other ways they would rather be spending their time, can testify to this. These are merely anecdotes – and if they help you as a parent or teacher to help children learn negative numbers, or the like, then that is what Inspired Learning is.

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