It’s not what you teach, it’s the way that you teach it. All curriculums prescribe what to teach but the teaching method can be creative and innovative to engage a classroom full of learners.
Innovations in classrooms do not have to be expensive nor do they have to be outlandish. They do require planning and a sound knowledge of the students within the classroom to be effective. Any curriculum can become flexible with the needs of the students with careful planning and data-informed knowledge.
Academic also research-links student engagement to “improved achievement, persistence and retention” (Finn, 2006; Kuh, Cruce, Shoup, Kinzie, & Gonyea, 2008), with “disengagement having a profound effect on student learning outcomes and cognitive development” (Ma, Han, Yang, & Cheng, 2015). Teachers who engage their children’s learning are far more likely to see successful students who flourish and thrive into lifelong learners.
Here are 7 simple ways for classrooms to become more engaging:
1. Critical Thinking: Begin with a question or a problem to be solved. Write a question on the board to immediately intrigue learners: Why are fireworks pink? Create a mystery to be solved and set out activities for the class to move around and investigate. This also promotes inclusion in class as students work together to solve the puzzle. This can be used in almost every subject and in any phase. Children of all ages love a mystery.
2. Be inclusive. In an inclusive classroom, the job of a teacher is to help children get to the desired learning outcome. It doesn’t mean setting multiple learning objectives for differing abilities or finding worksheets for every level in a classroom. It means accepting that one student might write 15 paragraphs and another one might manage 5 sentences, and this is what success looks like for them. Consider how units of learning can be tailored to individual students and what the success criteria look like for each. In examination classes, think about how extra time or how a scribe would be used in an official examination and plan carefully for those students in your classes. Use adaptative and assistive technologies to support students and encourage success. At Beech Hall School Riyadh and across the Chatsworth Schools, we use assistive technologies to help students unlock potential whether using text-to-speech (TTS technology) to encourage a reluctant writer and/or helping a child with ADHD formulate their thoughts into an essay. The classroom requires adapting to the needs of the students to ensure it is engaging for all.
3. Choice. Provide students with ways to show their outcomes- could the English essay on Macbeth be a presentation to the whole class? Could the artists in the class draw cartoon strips with key quotes? Can the student who loves social media produce a Snapchat conversation between characters? The choice is great for schools that choose to set homework and provide engagement through autonomy and ownership. At Beech Hall School Riyadh, we provide choices for all students and adapt success criteria to help students be successful.
4. Quick fire questions. Challenge the class to ask questions at certain points in the lesson- could be to one another about their learning or use their questions to create end-unit assessments. You can use questions at the beginning of lessons by asking the students to write 1- 3 questions that they will be able to answer at the end of the unit or learning sequence. You could also ask students to stretch and challenge their learning with questions that extend their knowledge further. How does the theory of gravity relate to time?
5. Combine the arts. Use music, songs, dance, and drama to inject creativity into lessons. Ask students to create songs (using simple nursery rhymes for the tune) to help students remember tricky keywords in science or complex formulas in maths. I used it in English to help students remember key quotes from Shakespeare- who doesn’t love an 80s power ballad when it can be linked to Romeo and Juliet?
6. Teach the teacher a lesson. Hand over the classroom to the students to teach the lesson. Students love teaching, aside from the fact they think it is easy, it helps them to really formulate coherent ideas and demonstrate their knowledge and understanding. This works particularly well with flipped classrooms where the majority of prior knowledge is undertaken by the student at home and brought into the classroom the next lesson. It helps to build confidence, independence and knowledge – all of which are key to academic success.
7. Classroom designs. Not every school is as lucky as Beech Hall School Riyadh which partners with award-winning design team Space Zero to create the most beautiful learning spaces. Our classrooms flex with the students to provide learning spaces that are engaging and move with the needs of the lesson. However, schools can stop asking teachers for seating plans and teachers can use their knowledge of the students in combination with their planning and resources to move students to suit the needs of the lesson. Every classroom can also have working walls, where children can post their learning- could be daily for homeroom teachers that builds over time or it can be unit-based. Students of all ages enjoy seeing their knowledge flourish and can feel proud of their achievements.
About the Author:
Julia Knight has been named one of the top 100 ‘Edruptors’ in international education for her leadership and well-being skills. She has been teaching for 20 years in London, Bangkok, Bahrain and now in KSA. Julia is a strong advocate for inclusive K12 education and is currently Founding Head of Primary and Senior Girls at Beech Hall School Riyadh which offers multiple curriculums in the Kingdom’s first inclusive school.