With so many distractions and other outside influences, it sometimes seems like school is the last thing on teenagers’ minds. Secondary teachers understand that their students are dealing with many stressful life events; for some students, it is pressure to measure up in school or in athletics. Other students are worried about what they will do when they finish high school. Still others are dealing with issues like teen pregnancy, homelessness and drug addiction.
We want to support students through these life events yet, as teachers, we have the duty and responsibility to also educate and prepare them. Our jobs require that we prepare students to become productive members of society. At the same time, we also want to prepare students for life outside of school where they will still face pressures, stress and responsibilities. So how do we keep students engaged in the classroom when there is so much happening outside of it?
Here are some ways that secondary teachers have found to keep students engaged in the classroom:
Turn off cell phones.
When students are using phones and personal devices in class, their attention is on the world outside of the classroom. They are more interested in looking at status updates and videos than completing assignments and learning about new topics. Require cell phones to stay in backpacks or in lockers or have a place to collect cell phones before class begins. This does not mean that you should not allow technology in the classroom; it just means that when they need to pay attention, students’ minds should be focused on the classroom.
Do group work.
Have students complete assignments and projects in small groups. Depending on the students you work with, you have two options. The first is to assign the groups yourself and within those groups assign specific roles to each student so they know exactly what they need to complete to contribute. The second option is to allow students to make their own groups. Many teachers shy away from this option because they worry students will only work with their friends. However, if that is the case, students who are working with friends may work harder and be more engaged because they do not want to let down the group.
Add more choices.
Secondary students generally have a pretty good idea about their strengths and their weaknesses. They may love to read but dislike writing, or they may love science and find history very boring. They might be great with technology but not want to participate verbally in class. By incorporating choice into all manner of assignments, you are allowing your students to experience what life is like as an adult who makes choices about what they will and will not participate in every day.
Examples of choices might include how to complete a particular project; perhaps some students might create a slideshow presentation, while others make a movie or write a report. You might also give students choice for homework and in class work. For example, they can choose to read the textbook or watch a video. Choice makes classwork feel more authentic for students because they have had a say in the work they will complete.
Develop close relationships with students.
If the students know you and like you, they will work hard for you. You do not get to know students by lecturing at them day in and day out. Instead, allow students to get to know you through the way you talk to them, by attending their events outside of the classroom, by sharing personal stories and anecdotes with them. In turn, get to know their interests and dislikes and use this knowledge when you design your lessons and assignments.
Be proud of their work.
It is not common for student work to hang in the hallways and on the walls in classrooms in high schools. That is a practice usually reserved for elementary school. However, by displaying excellent student work, you are showing students that you recognize the effort that was made to complete it. Being proud of the work shows students that you actually take the time to look at the work and that the assignments are not meaningless time fillers.
Changing up your classroom to make it more engaging for students will take time and practice. You will need to learn new things along the way. If student engagement is something would like to explore further, you may be interested in our Master of Education in Secondary Education degree.
To learn more about how Grand Canyon University’s College of Education provides students with cutting edge teaching skills, visit our website or click the Request More Information button on this page.
More About Amanda:
Amanda Ronan is a writer and editor focused on education. She was a classroom teacher for nearly a decade. Now she spends her time writing for students, teachers, and parents. Amanda also writes curriculum for entrepreneurial learning and financial literacy programs. Amanda lives in Austin where she enjoys splashing in creeks with her husband and two dogs, swaying in a hammock on the porch, and sampling all the breakfast tacos the city has to offer.