Students were out of the classroom for a long time. So have teachers. I’m finding that my students need a little more guidance and support this year compared to previous years. Tik Tok challenges, nonstop texting and taking selfies, super late video chats with their friends, constant connection to technology, and administrators who are all about helping students and their SEL have all created a perfect storm of disengaged students. Engaging middle school students in 2021 is not for the feint of heart. Here are the things that I’ve found work for me:
Engaging Middle School Students in 2022
- Build relationships with students. Students work harder for students that they like and that they think like them. It’s obviously good teaching to build relationships, but I promise you that it will pay off by making your job easier.
- Maintain a predictable classroom routine such as a Do Now or Bellringer, a mini lesson, independent or group investigation, and then closure. Predictability makes it easier for students to participate in the lesson.
- Differentiate and Provide choice. This has been widely unsettling for everyone and kids in particular have little that they can control. Let them have some control. Perhaps offer to let them choose groups to work with, or choose which
assignment to complete.
- Use varying modalities while you instruct. Keep your routine consistent, but provide lots of visuals and graphics as well as music and opportunities for students to draw or act. Let students create a video for small children explaining the layers of the earth. Have them create edible models of the earth’s layers or a newsletter for their parents. Ask them to write a song about the planets or a poster about Newton’s laws. Use the technology available to you like Answer Pad, Badaboom, Edpuzzle, Edulastic, IXL, PearDeck. But, don’t depend on digital everything. Let them cut out pictures or draw the rock cycle on paper also. The trick is in the variety of resources you use.
- Use hands on learning as often as possible. Every year, students tell me the best part of being in my class was doing experiments. You might be in a situation where you have a lab period every week, or maybe you’re in a rotating drop or maybe you don’t have a lab period at all. You can still, and should still do hands on activities. How much is enough? I aim for once a week, but my kids could do a lab every day and still want more.
- Allow students to work in groups, even remotely. We’re all worried about social-emotional learning. Give your students the opportunity to build connections with people.
- Use brain breaks. 2 minutes of jumping jacks is far more effective than a 2 minute lecture on the benefits of paying attention.
- Use phenomena to help students engage with the topic, not just with your class.
- Provide feedback quickly. Let them know what they need to do to improve next time. Don’t let assignments be the last time they think about the subject. When a student submits work, they should obviously receive a grade, but, more importantly, they should receive guidance on how to improve next time. Imagine receiving a mediocre report on your observation. “Fine,” you think and forget it. But if it included specific strategies to improve next time, you’d be more inclined to include those strategies in your lessons to improve your score.
- Gamify. Easy to use gaming platforms include Kahoot, Blooket, Quizlet, Gimkit, Boom cards, escape rooms. Everyone is more engaged during a game, and games are definitely not fluff. Kids learn when they’re playing. (Even adults learn when they’re playing.) Let them play.
- Be kind to yourself. And to them. We are all in challenging circumstances and Maslow’s hierarchy reminds us that mastering Punnett Squares isn’t as important as your health and safety.
Help each other out. Comment below with your favorite engagement strategies and together we’ll get through this year!
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