May 10, 2011

Strategies for Engaging Students

Val Farmer-Dougan and Kathleen McKinney
Illinois State University
NOTE: When and how you use any of these depends, in large part, on the learning objectives of the course as well as student and faculty characteristics!

Make Content and Assignments Relevant to Students’ Lives

  1. bring in and have students bring in articles from the mass media publications
  2. relate class work to college life
  3. relate class work to students’ future goals and careers
  4. use case studies or problem-based learning with topics of interest to students
  5. involve students in research on topics relevant to them
  6. help students find applications for theoretical concepts

Provide Students With Choice and a Sense of Control

  1. give students options and choices in planning the course, in assignments, in ways to demonstrate their learning, and in how they are evaluated
  2. allow students to pursue their own questions and interests whenever possible (in discussion, on projects, for paper topics...)
  3. have part of the course be via individual learning contracts
  4. use student-run review sessions
  5. have students draft exam questions (edit and use some of the best ones)
  6. be clear about your expectations and objectives (students need to know why they are being asked to do something)
  7. stop and talk to students about what is going right/wrong (use classroom assessment techniques)

Keep Grading/evaluation Fair

  1. provide frequent, prompt, meaningful feedback
  2. avoid competitive grading
  3. learning objectives, required tasks, and evaluation should all “match”
  4. use several and diverse forms of grading activities
  5. have students help define “A”, “B”, “C”, “D”, and “F” work (they may be tougher than you)

Use Peers

  1. use peers to offer support and feedback
  2. value and give credit to students’ contributions
  3. use formal and informal group work when appropriate
  4. help students form study groups and to use them well
  5. divide the material among students or groups of students. Require each group to teach their peers the material they have studied
  6. help students resolve conflict, but don’t settle it for them

Involve Students’ Affective Responses

  1. select topics and reading that are relevant to students
  2. use controversial topics
  3. have students engage in structured, intellectual debates
  4. have students argue the opposite of what they think/believe
  5. role model appropriate affective responses

Use Writing

  1. use short, in-class reaction papers
  2. have student produce a newsletter about course content
  3. assign out-of-class speakers or events; have student write a critical summary
  4. have students write views and opinions opposite of their own

Use High Tech

  1. use multimedia (broadly defined!) - text, audio, video, overheads, computers, discussion, group work, lecture, poetry, art, present and learn material
  2. make use of technology as another mode of learning and for asynchronous learning
  3. use technology to “talk to” students outside of class (email, WebBoard discussions, etc.)

Use Discussion

  1. require each student to bring in a “good” discussion question covering the material of the day or some other form of the “ticket in”
  2. require each student to take a turn as class discussion leader (must “train” them)
  3. have students answer the following two questions while reading and bring those answers to class: What was the most difficult part/concept/idea in the reading? What did you like the best/most exciting idea?
  4. use small group discussion assignments (sum a reading, respond to question on a reading, compare two readings, draw a group concept map) have a group scribe or reporter from each group share with whole class

Encourage Student Self-Reflection on Learning

  1. have students keep learning journals
  2. ask about barriers and supports for learning in one-minute type papers or midterm evaluations
  3. take a class period to discuss strategies for learning in the course
  4. take time to talk with students about their progress in individual conferences

Other Instructor Behaviors

  1. know and respect each student as an individual
  2. learn students’ names
  3. don’t use intimidation or belittlement
  4. demonstrate your passion for the subject matter
  5. challenge your students but offer appropriate supports
  6. get personal: give examples from your own life
  7. use eye contact and move around the classroom to include all students in your interpersonal space

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