“I Wanna Go Fast!” Increasing Student Engagement…Ricky Bobby Style
Dealing With Short Attention Spans
The generation of students coming through the classroom right now have a shorter attention span than ever. Their brains are plugged in and overstimulated all day long. It is essential that you keep your class moving at a fast pace or you’ll lose the majority of them. Keep a roller coaster mentality when planning your lessons.
There are a variety of factors that affect student learning in the classroom. The main factor is the teacher in the room and specifically what that teacher does or does not do. How does the teacher interact with the students? Is the teacher reaching the highest level of Bloom’s taxonomy? Is the teacher providing differentiated instruction so that different learning styles have the same opportunity to learn?
Even if you are doing all of these things you can still fail to keep your student's attention. To engage a student, your lessons must be fun and fast. Don’t lose ground to boredom. Going too slow will likely result in less learning gains for the group as a whole than going too fast.
I know this is not the most academic explanation of student learning, but it’s in line with common sense. While it may not be possible to have fun all the time, we can all do things to speed up the pace of our class and make things more interesting. Think of your content as the meat or main course and the fun stuff as the seasoning. Nobody wants to eat bland food and nobody wants to sit through a learning situation that has no flavor.
A large part of the problem is that educators have too much on their plate already. Spending time thinking about how to make a lesson more fun and interesting takes time--not to mention implementing the idea after we think of it. If there is one thing teachers don’t have, it’s extra time. That’s why summer time is the absolute best time to look at your lesson plans and figure out how to spice up your lessons so they are more appealing to your students.
When looking at your lessons, here are the top three things you should be looking at and tweaking:
When you think of speed, you want to think of time manipulation. You don’ t necessarily need to talk faster (for some this may be a good idea though) or the actual speed you cover the content. What you want to look at is how you can make the lesson feel less drawn out. We’ve all been to long trainings or meetings. The interesting and fun ones feel like they go faster, even though time doesn’t change. A four-hour training is a four-hour training. However, some four-hour trainings feel like eight hours and some feel like two.
Your goal is to produce a learning situation every day in which the students feel like your class goes by really quickly. It’s when they get bored that they disengage and often times, they also begin to act out when they disengage.
The use of technology manipulates the speed of the time spent in class. Enlivening your lessons with pictures and video clips if done effectively makes a huge difference in how well the information is received. Of course, it takes time to find those pictures and clips, but the results will speak for themselves.
Pictures, video, and PowerPoint are just the tip of the iceberg with technology. You can create Jeopardy! games through PowerPoint templates. You could use Prezi to make a presentation that is a little different than PowerPoint, just to make things a little more interesting. There are also websites that will allow you to set up polls in your class in which the students can answer questions in real time as you teach by sending a text with their phone. There are sites that will allow you to to make cartoons to go with lessons. Students can build free websites or Facebook pages around a topic.
There are so many ways to use technology to enhance learning. If you want to keep your students engaged, you must merge your lessons with technology. If you aren’t great at technology, find a few students to help you. They will jump at the opportunity to “teach” their teacher and it will build a relationship at the same time.
If you really want this to work to your benefit, pick your worst behaved student and have him or her teach you… their behavior will improve as they begin to like you and take ownership in the class.
The last thing that can speed up the lesson is to embed interactive activities into the lessons. This can be students interacting with technology, with each other, or with manipulatives. It could be as quick as spending 30 seconds answering a question with a shoulder partner or as drawn out as spending 30 minutes (or more) working on a project. Regardless of what you choose, there should be some time embedded in your lesson for students to interact with the curriculum, with each other, or with both. Not only is it good teaching methodology but it’s also great for keeping students engaged.
So take some time to begin rethinking the lessons you will be recycling next year. What can you do to increase the pace or keep students more engaged? Remember that you want a roller coaster or Ricky Bobby mentality. Students need to feel like things are moving fast (almost too fast) for it to register with them and for them not to grow weary and bored.