Engaging reluctant students is one of our biggest challenges as teachers. Every classroom has at least one of them—those students that just are not willing to come out of their shell. This can happen for a number of reasons. However, if you’re a teacher in this situation, there is hope. It comes from this Mindshift article by Katrina Schwartz.
She draws on the wisdom of educator Kathy Perez, who works with both special education classes and English language learners. Perez provides a list of 20 clever brain-based strategies for engaging reluctant students.
Katrina has this to say about these strategies Perez offers educators in her workshops on how to make classrooms more engaging:
“She’s a big proponent of brain breaks and getting kids moving around frequently during the day. She reminded educators that most kids’ attention spans are about as long in minutes as their age. So a third-grader can concentrate for about eight minutes before losing interest. It’s a teacher’s job to make sure there are lots of quick, effective brain breaks built into the lesson to give children a moment to recalibrate.”
Let’s have a quick look at Perez’s list of 20 ways of engaging reluctant students.
20 Brain-Based Strategies for Engaging Reluctant Students
- Don’t Be Boring: Perez says that engaging classrooms still need schedules and routines. That said, they can be fun and interesting to students.
- Vote: Perez suggests things like placing learning goals for the day up on the board and having students vote for their pick of which is most important.
- Set Goals: This provides great inspiration for students to model proactive goal-setting mindsets.
- Form Groups: Always make time for team-ups, brainstorming, and conversations about the learning topics.
- Quick Writes: Perez will sometimes pose a question and have the students brainstorm on paper as many answers as they can.
- Focus on the ABCs: This refers to the student practices of Acceptance, Belonging, and Community.
- Change the “state” of the classroom: As an example, for every 10 minutes of lecture content, Perez will give students two minutes to absorb and discuss it.
- Empathize: Perez references Ned’s Great 8 here. It’s definitely worth a look if you haven’t seen it.
- Do a BRAIN checklist: An acronym for Build a safe environment; Recognize diversity in the classroom; Assessment must be formative, authentic and ongoing; Instructional strategies should be a palette of opportunities; and New models.
- Simplify: “If we don’t give our kids time to reflect,” claims Perez, “they’re going to regurgitate what’s right there in front of them without even thinking.” She suggests a simplification process in Schwartz’s full article.
- Chunk information: This means making information more digestible by breaking it into bite-size pieces.
- Use props: Perez says that props work well for kids with attention problems and tactile learners.
- Breaks: Take short breaks with things like video clips to foster divergent thinking.
- Post-It notes: Using anonymous post-it note responses to question prompts ensures inclusion without singling anyone out.
- “Snowball” brain break: Students write answers to a prompt on a piece of paper. Next, they crumple them up into “snowballs.” On the count of three, they throw them up into the air. Everyone grabs a snowball that landed near them.
- Guessing games: In this game, students predict the answers after being given the prompts. It’s meant to get them to manipulate and think about information independently.
- Balanced inquiry: Perez references Harvey Silver’s guide to an effective lecture here.
- Mind streaming: Working in pairs, students teach each other the most important things they’ve learned in the day’s lesson.
- Be interactive: Make tasks more interactive by giving students enough knowledge and authentic reasons for the learning. Include interesting questions and a clear understanding of the task.
- HOPE: Have Only Positive Expectations.