5 Tips for Student Engagement and Concept Retention

1:1 schools, education, elementary school, youtube for education, EdTech Update

Across the United States, the average school day is approximately six and a half hours.  That’s incredibly lengthy relative to the the average human attention span of 8 seconds.  In today’s world, students need even less than 8 seconds to access information or find an answer to their question with search engines and online databases.  This reliance poses a threat to the actual retention of knowledge learned in the classroom.

But how can we keep students learning and engaged amidst so many other distractions of 2016?  First, consider that all students learn in different ways.  Students are more receptive to different activities based upon their specific learning style (Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic/Tactile, Interpersonal, etc).  Throughout the course of the day, vary lesson plans to accommodate all types of learners; this will keep students active and less likely to fall into a stupor.  To get started, here are five ways to keep students engaged:

1. Utilize Video Tutorials and Online Resources

Videos are a quick-paced and engrossing way to explain concepts.  Educational videos online usually span about 3-5 minutes and include graphics which illustrate the concept explained by an accompanying voiceover.  The use of color, diagrams, visuals, and sound effects appeal to both visual and auditory learners.

They are particularly helpful in describing processes or phenomena that are difficult to witness in everyday life.  Special effects and imaging allows students to see inside the human body, explore ocean depths, and visit the core of the Earth.   Youtube’s #Education page and TeacherTube are great sites to find educational videos.

Technology is now a large part of student life, especially as more schools take on 1:1 policies.  Embrace the functionality of online resources to make class as engaging and interactive as possible!  National Geographic’s build your own interactive map feature and an assortment of grade level appropriate educational games can be easily integrated into the classroom.

2.“Gamify” the Classroom

In her TED talk, Jane McGonigal states that game-like atmospheres inspire people to “do something that matters” and allows gamers to cooperate and collaborate.  Games incentivize, but focus on an overarching goal.  Adapt lesson plans into a game structure where students receive recognition of their academic achievements.  Moreover, have students work together as a class to achieve a goal or get to the “next level” – this reinforces collaboration/cooperation over individualistic competition and comparison.  Edutopia.org writer Douglas Kiang writes extensively on how integrate gaming principles in the classroom.  For more information, see “Using Gaming Principles to Engage Students”.

3. Do Collaborative Projects/Group Work

Take time to break into smaller sized working groups and give students a prompt that reinforces the content learned that day.  Working in smaller groups allows students to discuss material with their peers, gain different viewpoints of understanding, and further their own comprehension of a concept.  Providing students with an open-ended prompt spurs critical thinking surrounding the class material; this promotes the application of knowledge and a ‘hands-on’ approach to retention.  This also encourages outside research.  Younger kids can utilize these safe search sites to conduct online research.

Depending on the nature of the activity, group projects appeal to most types of learning styles.  For more information, the Cornell University Center for Teaching Excellence has created a helpful guide for designing collaborative learning activities!

4. Reflect and Summarize In Various Formats

It’s quite easy to forget things within an hour –let alone a day– especially when presented with a lot of new information.  Research shows the benefit of summarizing topics learned at the end of a lecture with the Primacy-Recency Effect.  In short, students retain what is said during the first part of the lesson (approx. first 10 minutes) and the last part of the lesson.  Taking time to summarize also requires students to extract the key ideas of a topic/lesson.

Go a step further and allow summarization to be creative and flexible: students can (to name a few) illustrate/draw diagrams, create a song, choreograph a dance, write/read aloud a recap of the lesson.  This way, students are summarizing in the format that they are most responsive to (consideration of different learning styles!) and increasing retention by creating “sticky memories” (attaching a meaning/specific circumstance to the material which will later make the memory easier to recall).

5. Connect with your students

Lastly, it’s important to get to know your students.  Learn about their likes/interests and the traits which make them unique – it starts with remembering each student’s name.  You will be able to synthesize a curriculum plan that relays material in the most relevant way.  In addition, building a relationship with your students and expressing care for their success can inspire them to apply themselves more in the classroom!

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