Bio: As a teacher for more than two decades, Denise Fawcett Facey focused on engaging her students and making education fun for them. Now those same themes are the focus of her blog and her books, Can I Be in Your Class and The Social Studies Helper.
What answer do you often hear when you ask a kid the usual “how is school?” Boring. Yes, boring is the word many students use to describe school. For educators, that’s uncomfortable to hear. After all, if students are bored, we certainly have something to do with it.
Minds adrift during class, bored students are often the ones who awaken from some sort of reverie when you call on them. Or they’re the ones who socialize all period, seemingly oblivious to any learning that may be going on. Sometimes they are the ones who continually disrupt our classes, entertaining their classmates and exasperating us. But school doesn’t have to be boring.
The thing is, contrary to all those teachers who like to say that they’re not here to entertain students, learning is supposed to be fun. It should engage students’ minds, elicit creativity, entice students to seek more and excite them enough to come back each day in anticipation of a great experience. That’s real education, real learning, and it’s not boring.
However, if all this seems a bit much to you, more than you bargained for when you entered teaching and far outside your comfort zone, just know that making education fun can be fun for teachers, too. The trick is to begin with simple things that make a big difference. To help get you started, here are five tips that will help in engaging students and making education fun:
Develop a good rapport with your students. That old saying about people not caring how much you know until they know how much you care absolutely applies to students. Creating a welcoming environment from the time you greet them at the door — by name — to the cheerful and inviting décor centered around their work on display to the atmosphere of mutual support fostered among the students, our students need to know and feel that we are on their side, looking out for their best interest, invested in them individually. It matters. And, ultimately, students work with greater engagement and enthusiasm for a teacher who cares, for one with whom they have a good rapport. This is where engaging students begins.
Make everything student-centered. Rethinking everything from lesson plans to seating arrangements to class discussions, to make each focused on the students rather than on the teacher, effectively signals that the students are central to learning. After all, they are the learners. So their academic needs, individual needs and overall benefit have to be the impetus for how we do everything in our classrooms. Arranging seating to facilitate discussion and collaboration while placing the teacher’s desk on the periphery, for instance, makes students the center of learning and actively invites their engagement. Besides, learning is more fun when students can actually look at each other rather than gaze at the back of the head in front of them.
Keep learning active. Remember the most boring class you had as a student? It likely involved little to no meaningful activity on your part. But learning is an action word and, therefore, requires active, experiential student involvement in order to be relevant, meaningful, and engaging. Otherwise, of course, it’s boring. You can tell students all about the content, but when they experience it first-hand, they own that learning and enjoy the process. Let them act out a battle, conduct the science experiment, develop the math problem, create the play to perform in class. This makes learning real and fun, engaging students in ways that lecture, reading the textbook or doing worksheets can’t begin to do.
Give students options. Set the basic parameters for class collaborations, outside projects, group discussions and any other activities, and then let the students fill in the details. By allowing the students to select various aspects of their learning within those given parameters, you give them a sense of empowerment over their own learning, a feeling of being part of learning rather than having education inflicted on them. In reporting on a biography, for example, let students choose the biographies they are interested in reading or in presenting a culminating project, for instance, allow them to determine how they will present all the facts you want included. They will still essentially learn what you want them to know, but with greater interest, relevance and, of course, engagement, simply because they have the option to include their own input, interpretation and skills.
Seek student feedback. Everyone enjoys having their opinion sought and students are no exceptions. Knowing that their opinions actually count, that their input is taken seriously, engages students. The result is that they are likely to participate more actively and to offer thoughtful, valuable feedback. So when you try something new, ask for impromptu critiques on how it went, either verbally or anonymously in writing. Ensuring that students know they can ask questions without threat of a disapproving response and can comment without reprisal makes it much easier to actually elicit the feedback and piques student engagement.
When you try these tips, tweak them to suit your own students, throw out what doesn’t work for you and add others. The point is to increase your students’ engagement and make education fun specifically for them. You’ll find that the more engaged and involved your students become in learning, the more you enjoying teaching. One thing is for sure: engaged students are not bored.