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3 Ways to Engage Disconnected Urban Students

scrabble1Student engagement has become one of the new buzz words in education. As teachers we are always bombarded with the questions about how are we engaging our students. As the end of the school year comes to an end I am once again reflecting on the effectiveness of my teaching. This school year was different for me because I began the school year as a 3rd grade math teacher and ended the school year as a 1st grade teacher. I enjoyed 1st grade because the student engagement is always high. My 1st grade students love to learn and will engage in just about anything that I put in front of them.  As I prepare to move back up to the middle school level I can remember that my level of student engagement was blah!

As more and more districts move to the Charlotte Danielson type rubric evaluations, student engagement has become a huge part of instructional effectiveness.  So what is all this talk about student engagement? group workWhat is student engagement? Wikipedia states that student engagement occurs when”students make a psychological investment in learning. They try hard to learn what the school offers. They take pride not simply in earning the formal indicators of success (grades), but in understanding the material and incorporating or internalizing it in their lives.” As a TAP Master Teacher at a middle school, I learned that student engagement was not just a requirement but it was an absolutely necessary part of instruction especially in urban and rural settings. I recently purchased the book Teach Like A Pirate and the author talks about how the presentation of a lesson is critical to instruction.

“Obviously, you can’t serve people raw steak on a plate. However, that’s exactly what some educators serve their students every day. Teachers like this walk into class with their raw, unseasoned content, plop it down in front of their kids and say, “Eat it!” They don’t bother to provide a side dish, and dessert is way too much trouble.”

Most of the teachers that I supported while I was a TAP Master Teacher were somewhat resistant to the idea of student engagement because they felt like they had to become a circus act in order for student engagement to take place. This is not true at all. For example, I am not a fan of games in the classroom because I have found that urban students focus on having fun rather than focusing on learning that is supposed to take place. Also, at the secondary level I don’t use dice or cards because the dice and cards tend to be used for other activities, if you get my drift. So, how can a teacher engage disconnected urban students?

1. Relevance– Is the information relevant to what the student needs to learn? By the time students have gotten to 4th or 5th grade they have formed an opinion about the relevance of many things that are unrelated to learning. For example, one of my little 1st graders tends to get sad faces for conduct and his mother was trying to explain to him how important it was for him to have satisfactory conduct. After she said her spill his response was, “It’s only school!” Presenting information that is relevant to students can be tricky sometimes, because students are very egocentric and what’s relevant to you, such as curriculum, is most often not relevant to them as it relates to learning. When I teach a skill or concept I try to connect it to what’s relevant socially at their level. In order for me to accomplish this  conversations about irrelevant topics such as clothes, who likes who, and the latest television shows must take place.

Y graphic organizer priest2. Personally Meaningful – Can the students connect with the lesson? I’m sure if you have taught any grade higher than 3rd grade you have heard students say, ” I don’t like reading or reading is boring!” Most of the time I have heard male students make this statement. In my experience boys are more difficult to engage because they don’t connect well with the average textbook lesson. Every teacher has an audience that their lessons speak to. For example, I do very well with male students because I like sports. So, most of my math lesson have a sports theme which boys tend to like. So, every year I look at my roster to see how many boys and girls I have in my class(es) because the presentation of my content will look differently based on the audience.

 3. Appeals to Natural Curiosity – Does the activity or lesson evoke inquiry or curiosity? Lessons that are centered around real word themes tend to evoke the natural curiosity in all students. For example, the instructional strategy that we were implementing in my cluster was using the Y-chart for persuasive essays. One of the teachers’ topic was “Should Students be Required to Wear Uniforms?” This topic appealed to the students and evoked inquiry because they wanted to know what the other students thought and they also wanted to share their feelings about being required to wear uniforms.

Engaging urban students especially males students can present a bit of a challenge to the seasoned teacher because gone are the days of students valuing education because it’s important. If you can find a way to include at least one of these engagement strategies I’m sure you will find that the pay off is greater than the pain! Please share your thoughts, I would love to hear what you think about student engagement!


3 thoughts on “3 Ways to Engage Disconnected Urban Students”

  1. Engagement and motivation are two important areas every teacher needs to work on and very important in teaching and learning but what is difficult is to get some teachers to be motivated to work on students’ engagement rather than just teach during curriculum time and get over and done with their job.

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