Ways To Build ‘Authentic Engagement’ & Not ‘Strategic Compliance’

Originally posted on Larry Ferlazzo’s Education Week Teacher Column:


Authentic engagement

Student participation is a very important aspect in classroom learning for teachers and students. There are several strategies that teachers can implement and practice in their classroom to support student participation. These strategies are long term pedagogical goals for teachers. It is the hope that if they are practiced at all times in the classroom, especially in the beginning of the semester/year, then students will be willing to participate all the time.

Classroom Culture: Creating a safe, friendly and open classroom culture is key to helping students feel comfortable to participate. Teachers can foster such an environment in the beginning of the year through activities that allow students to get to know each other. My favourite ice breaker activity is called Ingredients of Me, where students write percentages of what makes them who they are, here’s a sample of some of my students’ responses:

Classroom culture can be created by:

– communicating expectations clearly at the beginning of the year.

– learning students’ names (you can use name tents until you’re familiar with all students’ names).

– Engaging in fun discussions about readings, current events, school initiatives.

– Encourage students to communicate and work with each other. This will help in their future participation.

Student voice: Empowering student voice in the classroom also helps with encouraging students to participate all the time.

  • Give students a choice: this can mean a choice in assignments or a choice in readings.
  • Speak to them as your equals: this is so important because it empowers students to form their own thoughts and ideas to share with the class.
  • Allow them to make classroom decisions: deadlines, projects, presentations, school & community involvement.

Through fostering and building a classroom culture that is inclusive, safe, and supportive of student voice, students will be encouraged to participate actively and be engaged in their own learning. Student autonomy/voice is important to support in the classroom, and when students are invested in not only what they’re learning but also “how” and “why” they’re learning they are motivated to be involved.

Last semester I decided to try out digital storytelling with my classroom. This was to try to engage learners using different channels of participation, but also to strengthen communication skills. One of my students who is an English Language Learner found this to be a great way to express himself and introduce us to his culture. Here is his digital storytelling: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UA0XyjtIIuQ

A few things about classroom participation:

  • students’ personalities and various learning abilities is important to consider.
  • students can participate through many mediums based on their learning needs: blogging, reflecting, group discussions, classroom discussions, talent (art), writing, back channeling, twitter, debates, plays, and many others.
  • communication: even after practicing all the above things, and some students are still not participating, having an open dialogue about your expectations will help. Perhaps there’s a serious underlying issue that needs to be resolved, or perhaps there is a learning need that has not been met.

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