Increasing challenge and engagement

I'll take your C and raise you 4 Cs

Competition, Choice, Collaboration or Crutch?

At the start of September I returned to school as the typical teacher does - fully revitalised after the summer break, stocked up on all the latest stationery and eager to start new courses, try new strategies and meet my new classes. Consequently I sifted, scanned and skimmed through the never ending array of resources at our disposal on the ever increasing number of educational websites and social networks. During my browsing sessions I came across a simple diagram illustrating 4 Cs that we, as teachers, could incorporate into our lessons in order to increase the level of challenge, motivation and engagement in our lessons and, loving a diagram as much as the next person, have been attempting to 'test them out' in my lessons since the start of this term. Here's my progress so far.....

COMPETITION

'The healthiest competition occurs when average people win by putting in above average effort.'

As teachers we would be mad not to exploit the competitive nature of today's teenagers and use it to our advantage to increase student involvement in lessons. Teaching mainly boys has allowed me realise how much students love to outdo one another and gain superiority over their peers. As a result I have been trying to increase the level of competition in classes by rewarding successes, celebrating student work and awarding competitive points (strategy 'borrowed' from John).



  • When returning student work I display a power point slide with 2-3 stars and students names in each. These students have impressed me with their work and deserve a worthy mention and acknowledgement from their peers (leading others in the class to question why they aren't in a star and hopefully working towards being in one next lesson).
  • Following on from this, and when time allows, I display a second slide with an exemplar of student work (taken so swiftly and easily by my IPad and transferred to my PC via dropbox, email or whatever method you most prefer). How can we expect students to be right if they don't know what right looks like?
  • John introduced a competitive grid with his Year 13 Economics class, which I have since followed suit with. Every time a student makes a valuable contribution or goes above and beyond in lessons they receive a point and then at the end of term the winner can be rewarded/celebrated or just bask in the glory of knowing that he/she has outdone his/her peers.
  • Oh and what student does not delight in seeing a sticker on his/her work!!! My Year 13s have proved to me you are never too old to receive stickers.


Collaboration

'Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much'

Group work and collaboration can often be an activity we shy away from but in order to develop social skills in our students, it is an essential part of learning. In the business department we have realised how the following aspects are crucial to successful group work and have been focusing on them to enhance motivation and engagement in lessons.
  • Pre-planning groups
  • Role cards
  • Number/Colour cards

Choice

It is only when you exercise your right to choose that you can also exercise your right to change.

After reading Zoe Elder's thoughts on giving students more choice in lessons, I started to question how much I involved my students in making decisions about how we will learn. Granted, we have little choice over what must be learnt but we do have choice over how it is to be learnt, and if learning is a two way process between teachers and students, then should both parties not have some involvement in deciding how it is achieved?

In presenting learning outcomes Zoe disregards the importance of 'what' we are learning, believing 'why' and 'how' we are learning this to be more important. Now when presenting learning outcomes I ask students why they think we are learning this, will it be important in future life, does it relate to anything else they have learnt etc and once they understand and agree on why it is being learnt, we discuss what would be the best way to learn it (how?).

I believe there is always more than one way to present work and so by providing students with the tools to make choices about how their work will be presented and how they will achieve the learning outcome(s), they become more motivated and engaged. They aren't 'forced' to learn one way, they have been involved in the decision making process and they are learning how to make the best decisions to suit their learning styles.

In addition to this, I have tried to add choice by amending how learning outcomes are presented, allowing students to decide what level they will work out and have a plethora of template sheets in my classroom that students can select from to present their work (another brilliant idea introduced to the department by John).

Those of you who have managed to pay attention up to this point will question why I have mentioned nothing about crutch yet. It's the next strategy on my to do list and one that I would appreciate any ideas or advice on. Empowering students presents a big challenge to us. How do we step back? Is it easy to bit our tongues and watch them make mistakes? How do we successfully work less (in the lesson) so they work more?