Student Engagement Tips: Getting Students Started

Anticipatory traditions.

Doing something once is okay, but creating a 
positive, predictable and practical tool repeated enough to be called a ritual is
 even better.

Many are as simple as raising your hand and asking others to 
raise their hand once they see your hand is up. This simply means you want 
the group’s attention.

When others see that other’s hands are up, they too 
raise their hand. Soon, they entire group has their hand up and the room is
 quiet.

Also: 1) You clap once, then say, “If you can hear me, clap twice.”
Then you clap twice and say, “If you can hear me clap three times.” Then
 you clap three times and say, “If you can hear me, clap four times.” Then you
 clap four times. By this time, all your audience will be clapping with you and
 ready for you to jump in and start talking with complete attention.

Comeback Response.

These are strategies that are used the moment the 
group is back from: 1) yesterday’s class 2) the previous class 3) a break 4)
 lunch.

Almost any tool, vehicle or group response activity can be used if it is:
 a) short, b) solves the “return to seats” problem, c) ends in a positive state,
 d) engages everyone.

An example would be if, when the group’s back, you said, “If you made it back on
time, raise your hand and say, ‘Yes!’ Now, turn to your nearest neighbor and say, 
‘Welcome back!’”

This aligns the group, reorients them to you and their social
 structure and quiets them for a couple of seconds. Naturally, you’ll need to jump
in right after that moment and begin the class before the noise starts up again.

Inhale Slowly.

Breath is affects us powerfully. Stretching helps engagement.

Taking in a deep breath is often a precursor to taking on a challenge or knowing
 something is coming up. You might say, “Let’s pause for a minute. Take in a slow
 deep breath… inhale, inhale and hold it. Now, slowly release it out. Very good.
 Now, one more time. Breathe in slowly, as if you’re taking in a divine gift. A
 little more… very good. Now, hold it ….and slowly exhale as if you’re
 releasing all the stress of the day.”

After the breath, there’s a pause in
anticipation of the next thing.

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Student Engagement Tips: Getting Students Physically Engaged

Demonstrate with the Body.

Say, “We’re going to do something very
 interesting in just a moment. But first, please stand up.” This raises heart rate 
and arousal states.

Ask your audience to take in a deep breath and let it out
 slowly. Now you, a group leader or assigned person can lead a team, group or
those at a small table in some slow stretching.

Now, take a math problem and ask students to use their hands and body to act 
out the numbers. Use the body to demonstrate connections, links, relationships 
and key ideas. Your body can make a number, a movement or a show a plant,
rock, mineral, cloud or river. They can show prefixes, suffixes or periods (stomp).

Who is Doing the Work?

Any time you have materials to get to the students, 
get lazy. Under 90% or more of the circumstances, your students should be
 passing out papers, materials, handouts or any other item.

Organize this through 1) the team leader 2) a volunteer 3) assigned in-class delivery students 4) a
 quick vote 5) form small impromptu groups, then ask those in them to pick the
“fastest runner” or other fun designation.

In other words, if you want more
 engagement, stop doing the student’s work for them.

Peer Drawings.

They can stand up and use their elbows to draw out a key
word for the lesson. Spell out or they can use their head, knee or toes. This gets
 the epinephrine up!

There are other types of drawings. For example, keep a bag, bowl with some or
 all of the student names on cards or paper slips. The students do a drum roll on
 their tables for added suspense. At a point during each class let one student
 come up to the container and draw out two student names. One of the
 names gets a standing ovation (pure fun!) and the other gets to answer two 
questions from the group and they get one “lifeline” (ask another student, or they
 can look it up on the spot.). The peer pressure is both fun and stressful! If both
 answered correctly, then win a silly prize or favor.

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Musical Arts As An Educational Tool

“Musical arts” or “music-making” means much more than playing music or listening to it. Singing, rap and musicals are also part of the musical arts. In addition, the musical arts include composing music, reading music, analyzing, arranging, notating and creating music.

Neurobiologist Mark Jude Tramo of Harvard Medical School says, “Music is biologically part of human life, just as music is aesthetically part of human life.” Compelling evidence supports the hypothesis that musical arts may provide a positive, significant and lasting benefit to learners. There is no single piece of evidence, but the diversity and depth of supporting material is overwhelming. If this were a court case, the ruling would be music is valuable “beyond reasonable doubt.”

Hard-wired?

Music is part of our biological heritage and is hard-wired into our genes as a survival strategy. If Darwin was right, traits and behaviors which enhance the survival of a species will be selected by nature because they’ll better insure the perpetuation of a species from one generation to the next.

Could the use of music increase survival chances? Cave paintings depicting the use of music go back 70,000 years. Flutes have been found in France dating as far back as 30,000 years. Music, vocalized or played by an individual or sung as social chorus (birds, whales or ape choruses) may have been used to attract a mate. It’s possible others were attracted to those producing louder,better or more pleasing sounds. In addition, music was often used for intra-group communication which increased group safety and identification. Likely, robust vocalization improved notification of pending threat or environmental changes.

Music may be used to increase harmony and social bonding among those playing it or listening to it. Music may have also contributed to changes in the brain (i.e. verbal memory, counting and self-discipline), which may have enhanced survival. And, finally, making music probably strengthened listening skills, certainly a valued trait when hunting game or escaping predators. In fact, the human brain appears to have highly specialized structures for music: For instance, melodic contour, has corresponding brain cells that process it. Other cells in the mammalian auditory cortex have been found that process specific harmonic relationships (Sutter & Schreiner 1991). The rhythmic, temporal qualities have been linked to a specific group of neurons in the auditory cortex.

Music Enhances Cognition

Music-making contributes to the development of essential cognitive systems which include reasoning, creativity, thinking, decision-making and problem-solving. It does this by activating and synchronizing neural firing patterns that orchestrate and connect multiple brain sites. The neural synchrony ensembles increase both the brain’s efficiency and effectiveness. These key systems are well-connected and located in the frontal, parietal, and temporal lobes as well as the cerebellum. The strongest studies support the value of music-making in spatial reasoning, creativity and generalized mathematical skills. The activation between family groups of cortical neurons assist the cortex in pattern recognition. (more…)

The Science Behind Why Arts Should Be In Every Kid's School Experience

So many who work in the arts have asked me if the arts are good for learning and the brain. It is common knowledge that arts can arouse passions.

The brain-based approach is to check out how it interfaces with the brain. Some believe that arts should be in school simply because many students thoroughly enjoy them. Others advocate a higher curriculum standing for arts on equal footing with math, science and language arts.

There’s real science behind why arts should be in every kid’s school experience, every day. There is now substantial evidence that arts are a stand-alone discipline. I would argue that arts support the neurobiological development of the brain in ways that enhance the social and academic performance of our students.

You’ll see that arts alter the neurobiological trajectory of the brain in ways that strengthen the academic and social skills unlike any other intervention. Arts change the brain like no other discipline. When schools reject arts, kids lose out. For students to do well in school, their brain must function in ways that are academically and socially useful.

What do the arts bring to the table?

The teachers are constantly trying new classroom strategies learned from books, trainings and conferences. The administrators are constantly inspiring, motivating and coaching their staff in endless ways to sharpen their collective saw. Unfortunately, this approach of trying to get better performance from students and staff can become overwhelming.

There seems to be no limit to the quantity of available strategies, so it becomes very much of a hit or miss approach. This results in a dizzying and endless stream of programs, themes, missions, projects and, ultimately, burnout among many educators.

But what if there was another way to go about this process. What if you could do less and get more? What is actually different in the brain that matters in the school context? The brain-based approach is to find out what works in the brain that runs academic achievement.

I suggest the existence of multiple operating systems in the human brain, each of which actually determine success in school. These operating systems (e.g. academic, social, athletic, survival) contribute towards your student success. But ultimately, since schools are all expected to reach performance goals, the academic operating system is of most relevance. Understanding this system is critical to a school’s success. (more…)

Teaching Kids In Poverty.

Host a staff development workshop on your own, using Jensen Learning’s workshop to go. It’s a program that you can deliver school-wide with positive, practical, research-based methods that can skyrocket student achievement scores.

Click here to find out how your school can overcome the challenges of teaching kids in poverty.

Student Engagement Tips: Music As A Tool

Music for Call-backs.

A musical deadline can create anticipation. Use a
 set-up song; otherwise known as a cue-signal or “call-back” song to get 
attention for a beginning or start time. This song should have the following
 criteria:

1) it’s short—under 3 minutes

2) it’s has either positive lyrics or no
lyrics,

3) it ends with a clear predictable “pa-dum” and does not trail off,
 fading slowly into the quiet.

Songs like “Pretty Woman” or “Chantilly Lace” can work. Make an agreement that
 everyone must be in their seats, ready to learn before the song ends. Then 
enforce it by walking around the first few times you play it and “rounding up”
everyone so they know you mean it.

Walking Fast to the Music.

Use this as a tool for “mixing” up the
 group. Sometimes a class forms too-familiar “social niches.” This means
 accountability drops because your audience becomes TOO familiar with each 
other. They stick up for and cover for each other, dropping accountability for
 thinking and learning. What’s needed is a vehicle for mixing up the group.

Music can do that because people can “lose themselves” in the music. 
It works this way. Say, “It’s time for a change of pace. Take in a deep breath…
and let it out. Great. Now, please stand up. In 10 seconds, the music will
 begin. When it does, walk away from your chair. You can go anywhere in the
 room quickly until the music stops, then wait for directions.” The directions are 
usually, “Find a neighbor. Hand up if you need a partner. Now, here’s
 who goes first…”

You might do a think-pair-share activity next.

We hope you find these strategies valuable. Please join is at our summer workshop on Tools For Maximum Engagement here. It’s filling fast and is one of our more powerful teacher workshops.

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Help Your Students Score Higher on Your Upcoming BIG Tests

Can Relevant Research Help Your Students Score Higher on Your Upcoming BIG Tests?

Let’s focus on something I ordinarily NEVER focus on: testing. As much as I dislike the types, timing, policies, content and uses of existing state and national tests (is there anything I left out?), the reality is, we’d rather our students get higher than lower scores.

I’ll focus on three things that can help your students improve their chances to score up to their potential.

By the way, kids never score above their potential; they’re just not going to randomly make enough lucky right answers time after time after time. (In statistics, it’s called regression to the mean.) But, they often underperform for a host of reasons, even when they should perform much better.

While we could focus on dozens of variables that influence standardized testing, we’ll focus on 1) brain chemistry 2) priming and 3) episodic memory triggers.

Brain Chemistry and Testing
There are three chemicals to focus on for optimal testing results: 1) dopamine (It generally facilitates informational transfer within limbic and cortical networks to promote working memory and reward-seeking behavior, says Luciana, et al. 1998), 2) noradrenaline (It generally promotes a more narrowed focus, sharper attention and improved memory. This system plays a specific role in the regulation of cognitive functions, including sustained attention, working memory, impulse control, and the planning of voluntary behavior.), and 3) glucose (It provides short term energy and, in low to moderate doses, promotes enhanced memory. (Krebs DL, Parent MB., 2005.)

The Power of Priming and Positive Suggestion
Can you influence testing outcomes by “prepping” their brain for success? It has long been proposed that motivational responses that were subtle could serve as priming to affect academic performance. A recent study showed that yes, priming can help students do better. You can prep the brain several ways. One is by showing and asking the students to write them the letter “A” in advance in a certain way. We’ll tell you “how” in a moment. The other one of our two “prepping” strategies is to give peppermints to all kids for your final review, then use peppermints again at the time of the big test (Barker, et al. 2003.) This raises attentional levels and provides glucose for learning and memory.

Location of the Test Itself
We feel stressed when we are in a novel location. Not surprisingly, stress impaired memory when kids were assessed in an unfamiliar surrounding, but not when assessed in the original learning location. (Schwabe L., and Wolf OT., 2009.) In short, if your students can’t be in the test-givers room to learn the material, at least bring them into the testing room and do a review in that room days before the event.

In the paragraphs above, we’ve offered three “angles” for improving the testing outcome. First, the science is solid when you consider each strategy separately. But combined, these strategies may help you get to the next level. The chef, Emeril, would say they could give you “BAM!”… Power. (more…)

Student Engagement Tips: Getting Attention

Better Attentional Sets.

Create some anticipation for students or yourself before speaking. Use a train whistle, gong or party noisemaker. It just has to be fun, short and consistent. Rotate each week to avoid habituation by your students.

Or, whenever someone is ready to speak to your group or class, he or she will use a pre-established activity. Any established call-response can work. As an example, the speaker, before saying a word, will stand up, clap three times and wait. The audience responds with 3 claps and sends, with their hands, a big “whoosh” of positive energy their way. This back and forth exchange tells the audience the teacher is ready to speak, and the audience tells he or she that they are giving both attention and support.

Start-up Call-Response.

These are the auditory-kinesthetic routines that you set up with the class as a way to prepare to learn. It can help get the whole group aligned and put all in a common, excited state of “I can!” Before class, first prepare an overhead or write the call-response on a whiteboard or chalkboard, divided into two columns. One column on the left has the “call” and the right column has the “response.” Ask the whole group to stand and take in a deep breath. Then tell the group that you’ll do the call, they do the response.

Examples include: You say, “Who’s here today?” They respond, “I’m here!” They do this both by sound and by adding the same beat of a foot stomp. You say, “Here for what?” They stomp and say, “To learn and have fun!” You say, “When do we start?” They stomp and say, “Right now!” You say, “How do we start?” They stomp and say, “Work hard, Learn smart!” This simple routine is best done quickly, with high-energy the first time by you so you can role model it.

Join is at our summer workshop on Tools For Maximum Engagement here. It’s filling fast and is one of our more powerful teacher workshops.


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Poverty and Its Effects on Learning: Why it Matters

A huge base of literature shows the inverse relationships between poverty or low socioeconomic status and health, but very few understand the connections with poverty. You can get help teaching kids in poverty. How? Start by learning about poverty and its effect on learning and behavior.

Multiple studies have examined longitudinal relations between duration of poverty exposure since birth, cumulative risk exposure, and cognitive performance. One measure of cumulative risk exposure is basal blood pressure and overnight cortisol levels. Typically cortisol is lowest in the early morning and levels pick up during the day. In kids from poverty, the levels are elevated 24/7.

This is pretty easy to understand, since many from poverty are exposed to poor housing conditions, crowded conditions, unsafe conditions, etc. Typical risk exposure is measured by multiple physical (e.g., substandard housing) and social (e.g., family turmoil) factors. The greater the number of years spent living in poverty, the more elevated was overnight cortisol and the more dysregulated was the cardiovascular response (i.e., muted reactivity).

As a teacher working with kids from poverty, why should you care about this?

There are two reasons, both with enormous consequences. First, cumulative stress is HIGHLY correlated with behavior issues at school. In our in-depth workshop on Teaching with Poverty in Mind, we’ll give you 7 priceless solutions for this challenge. Never, ever, give up on these students. You can learn exactly HOW to deal with behavior issues in simple, strategic ways.

Second, cumulative stress is associated with worse academic performance. Why? Chronic levels of stress inhibit working memory, process speed, sequencing capacity and attentional skills. Every one of those factors is a major determinant of underachievement. You’ll get specific, practical, easy-to-implement strategies that can mitigate the effects of stress. Eric Jensen’s new book, “Teaching with Poverty in Mind” offers specific strategies you can use, too.

Join us each year for our in-depth workshop on Teaching with Poverty in Mind, we’ll give you the exact research-based solution for this challenge. Remember, you don’t usually get to select the kids you teach, but you can choose HOW you teach. Brains are designed the adapt to experience. If the experiences you are giving them in school are strong, focused, and “on point,” they will change the brain for the better.

Teaching kids in poverty

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Student Engagement Tips to Try

Each week we’ll publish tips on Sunday to hep jump start and stimulate your classroom. The tips will also demonstrate how simple engagement strategies can pay big dividends in the classroom…

Stop reading information to students.

Give them a role. Every day, multiple students can have the roles of morning announcements, previews of coming attractions or reviewing key points from the day. When they do the reviewing, other students can repeat after them to boost recall.

Instead of you reading it, condense it into a short paragraph. Then show the information, followed by a simple question. For quick recall, use a multiple choice. For more in-depth processing, use open ended Qs. Our frontal lobes release dopamine when we complete challenging problems. It’s nature’s way of
rewarding us for doing well. Plus, the dopamine that is released will then support tasks that require working memory.

Repetitive gross motor movement.

You may have noticed that when you go for a walk, it’s hard to return in a bad mood. Activities that stimulate repetitive gross motor movement include swimming, walking, cycling and marching. In general, it takes from three to ten minutes to get the dopamine going, depending on a host of variables. If students need a “pick-me-up” send them out on a ten-minute walk with a structured positive conversation. They’ll return in better state of mind. Add music to the student’s marching time. Great marching music includes: Anchors away or the Triumphal March (Verdi).

Look on Your Neighbor’s Paper

Many of the tools of engagement are, rightfully so, tools for increased accountability. This one is simple, “Look on to your neighbors paper. If they wrote down all three points we just mentioned, congratulate them and raise your hand.” Or, “Look on to your neighbor’s paper. If they have less than the last three items we’ve just reviewed, tell them what their missing ones are.”

Also, check out our summer workshop on Tools For Maximum Engagement here. It’s filling fast and is one of our more powerful teacher workshops.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Martin Tod

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