Keeping Students Informed and Engaged

Six strategies for keeping your students informed and engaged in class. The last one is so simple, but works miracles!
The back to school season is a big change for all of us, students and teachers alike. Getting into the routine is hard, but necessary, and especially important for our students that need a bit more structure. You know the ones I am talking about. As a matter of fact, I am that kind of person. I thrive on routine, and I know that so many of my students do too.

While there are many things in the classroom that can change at a moment's notice, it is important for us to keep our students in mind the whole time through the changes. In this post, I wanted to share a few ideas for how to keep students informed and engaged while still keeping the classroom exciting.

Practice Procedures

Do it right, or do it all year. This is so true for all students, but especially important for students who need routine. It is vital that we practice procedures for everything that we do. 

I know as a fourth grade teacher when I first started I thought there were some things that students would already know how to do. I could not have been more wrong. Have a procedure for everything from asking to go to the restroom, to sharpening pencils, to how you expect students to push in their chairs. It may sound like it is a bit totalitarian, but I am a strong subscriber to the theory that it is a lot easier to let up a bit than it is to tighten up routines. 

While all students will benefit from this, our students who need more structure will thrive with specific routines and procedures. 

Peer Tutors or Buddies

When I see that students are still struggling with routine after we have gone over them many times I try to take a different approach with a peer buddy. My goal with this is to empower both students. The "coaching" student has to be chosen carefully. I try to find a student who could use a confidence boost, but knows what is going on. It is also important that this student not try to take over the situation. 

With a peer buddy or tutor a student has a go-to person to ask questions and get advice that isn't the teacher. Sometimes they just need to hear it another way, and a peer buddy is perfect for this. 

Follow Routine

We all have schedules for our day, and we should stick to them. I understand that things happen and routines or shedules change, but we should let students know about these changes as soon as we know. This gives students a chance to prepare themselves for change. 

One of the best things that can be done is to post a schedule, or calendar, with any breaks in routine labeled for the whole class to see. 

Also along these lines are sticking to the procedures that you established in the first weeks of school. I have seen many teachers work tirelessly to teach routines and then just drop them. This doesn't do anyone any good. Now, I totally understand that sometimes we figure out that a procedure is not working and change it. That's all good, but don't be too quick to dump a routine until you give it time to see how it works. 

Six strategies for keeping your students informed and engaged in class. The last one is so simple, but works miracles!Teach How to Ask for Help

Many students, and adults, don't know how to ask for help, and will instead just sit silently lost rather than ask someone for help. It sounds so simple, but to others it can be too intimidating to think about. 
As a solution to this, it is possible to create an environment where your students will feel more comfortable with asking for help. You can show them how to explicitly ask for help, but there are also alternatives that work wonders. 

Things I have tried include:
-Having a secret signal to show a student is confused.
-Having the "stoplight cups" on each student's desk where they keep the green cup if they are good, the yellow cup if they have a question, and the red cup if they need immediate help. 
-Having a "parking lot" with sticky notes for any questions.
-Have a journal where you can write back and forth to one another with questions or misunderstandings. 

Meet One on One

For one of my more difficult students I had a standing meeting every day. He happened to be in after school care at our school which worked out perfectly, because I was able to do bus duty and then drop by for a little chat each day. We would basically recap the day and talk about what we had done. This gave him the opportunity to ask any questions that he had with just me, and not be embarrassed in front of the class. 

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