Thursday, February 16, 2017

When Students are Engaged, Grades Don't Matter

       My daughter's girl scout group had their annual Thinking Day recently.  Thinking Day is a special annual day when Girl Scouts around the world think of each other and express their thanks and appreciation for the International Girl Scouts organization.  Since my daughter is in high school, her group was tasked with creating a game or activity for the younger girl scouts to do.  They decided to do a Lifesize Hungry Hungry Hippo game.

       The game has four competitors who begin the game in one corner of a square floor space with lots of small balloon in the middle of the square.  Each competitor is on a scooter facing the middle of the square and holds a laundry basket.  An older girl pushes the competitors towards the middle of the square and their job is to capture as many balloons as possible with their laundry baskets.  A jump rope is tied to each scooter and the older girls pull the competitors back to their original corner and collect the balloons they have captured.  This continues for one minute.  The person with the most balloons wins.

       My daughter set up a white board to keep track of the number of balloon caught by each competitor.  But after a few rounds it became clear that no cared who "won" the game because it was so much fun just to play the game.  The points didn't matter.  There was a line of girls waiting to play the game.  Girls came back again and again to play Hungry Hungry Hippos.  Parents were taking pictures and videos.  The game is fun and exciting and full of action.  Everyone could participate and everyone had fun.

       In education circles, we refer to this scenario as Student Engagement.  When students are engaged in the activity that takes place in their classroom, the "grade" becomes much less important and the "learning" becomes much more important.  Students want to finish the task or express their viewpoint or add to the discussion.  They become so engrossed in the activity that other matters such as grades and the remaining time in the class and social media and all of the things that distract students when they are bored suddenly become invisible.

       This sort of engagement doesn't have to be a rare occurrence for our students in school.  In fact, teachers who understand the value of student engagement strive to find and to create activities that engage their students intellectually and emotionally and even physically everyday.  Students who are engaged are more likely to do their best everyday.  They are less likely to zone out and doze off in class.   Some strategies for engaging students are simple and basic such as:

  • calling on every students every day
  • allowing a time in every class for students to get out of their seat
  • getting to know every students and establishing a good relationship with each student
  • dividing each class period into several 5 to 15 minute sections with different activities in each class section (such as: whole group discussion, individual work, small group work)
Other strategies involve more preparation such playing a game to review material, using manipulatives in a math lesson, students using technology for part of a lesson.  The 20th century classroom with a teacher doing all of the talking is not the best way to conduct a classroom if you want all students to achieve.  When students are engaged, students are learning.  While teachers are not responsible for creating an entertaining environment in their classroom, they are responsible for motivating their students to do their best.

       Every student should be Hungry Hungry for learning.

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