Engaging the Unengaged

Image is CC licensed by Wikimedia Commons.

Now here is a tough one!  How do we reach our "bored" students? You know these students. They are the ones that are either staring off into space, doodling, or getting distracted by their devices. Some people blame the students, but shouldn't we really be blaming ourselves?

George Couros recently wrote a blog post titled, Stating the Obvious, that really got me thinking.  In his post, George "states the obvious" ... that students are just like adults.  If we are not interested or engaged in something, we naturally become distracted.  I'm sure many of us have sat in faculty meetings, professional development workshops, or even keynote presentations bored out of our minds.  So what do we do? We either stare off into space, doodle, or take out our devices.  Sound familiar?

Below is the comment that I left on George's blog post, Stating the Obvious:

"George, I completely agree with you. The best behavior management is classroom instruction. If students are interested in the lesson, then they will be engaged. However, I think it is very difficult to engage "every" single student in the classroom, but this is the challenge that we as teachers must strive to overcome. Here are some variables to consider when trying to keep students engaged everyday.
Content: (can't be too familiar, nor too unfamiliar)
Challenge: (can't be too easy, nor too difficult)
Interest: (students should be interested)
Curiosity: (students should be curious)
Connection (students should connect with the lesson)
Meaning: (students should perceive the lesson to be meaningful or purposeful)
The challenging part about this is that students are all over the spectrum for each of these variables. So, it is our job as teachers to try to creatively reach all of our students. Student engagement should not be the objective. It should be the byproduct of great instruction!
If students have all of these variables at ideal levels, then they will be engaged and will not get distracted easily. Moreover, if teachers allow students to use their devices to engage in these types of lessons, then students will not only be engaged, but they will be using technology tools to interact with the lesson.
Thank you for writing all of your blog posts, and thanks for entertaining my two cents!"

After rereading my comment, I noticed that most of these variables seem to be intrinsic motivators. From my experience and research, I have found that intrinsic motivation is often more effective than extrinsic motivation when it comes to learning.  I have also noticed that a lot of intrinsic motivation comes from inquiry, meaning and relevance to the real world.

When you think about it, it really has a lot to do with the Art of Teaching (the why we teach and how we teach).  The ability to connect with students and craft engaging and empowering lesson plans, day after day.  One strategy to increase meaning and relevance is to encourage students to view different topics and concepts through different lenses.  This helps students to gain additional perspectives and to think about content in different ways. Another strategy is to try and elicit an emotional response from students, just like commercials and advertisements try to do. If we can elicit an emotional response from our students, then they will be more likely to connect with the material and apply it to other real world situations.

Finally, after we have our students interested and engaged in the lesson, let's empower them to use their devices to create something meaningful and relevant to the question or problem of the lesson. Let's empower them to use their devices to research, explore, communicate, collaborate, and create. And let's support our students on how to do all of these things effectively and responsibly as digital citizens.

Only then will our students have the opportunity to reach that desirable state of "flow".  And to make a conscious choice to either put down their devices, OR eagerly take out their devices to connect to our lessons and create something that is meaningful and relevant to them.  After all, we are the students we teach!

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