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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.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Thomas Hawk

Brain-Based Learning: Practical Applications For Teachers

Let’s pop all these ingredients in our “brain-compatible classroom activity generator” and let it help us get practical. We want to combine the science behind emotions, physical movement and socialization. Presto! It just so happens that one of the brain-based learning strategies I use is the engagement of rituals.

Here are the five ingredients of a quality classroom ritual. If you do anything less than ALL five, it will dramatically degrade your results.

  1. The ritual must solve a recurring problem.
  2. It must include and engage everyone.
  3. The ritual must be simple and easy to do.
  4. It must be highly predictable and the students know when it’s going to happen.
  5. The actual event must end up in a positive emotional state.

The use of rituals can make your life easier. If rituals don’t actually solve a problem, kids will lose interest, because there’s no point in doing them. Let’s use, as an example, the problem of starting class, on time, with a good attitude, every single day, for weeks and months on end.

That means you need a ritual, so let’s create one and then we’ll break it down.

Problem to solve: You need to start class.

Ritual name: “Startup response”

When it’s used: Use when students arrive at school from home, or back from recess or lunch.

What do I do: I play a pre-designated “call-back song” and the second it’s over, I say, “If you made it back on time, raise your hand please and say, ‘Yes!'” I also role model the behavior and raise my own hand, saying, “Yes!” Then I say, “Now turn to your neighbor and say, ‘Happy Monday to you!'” (Or, if they’re getting back from recess, it’s, “Welcome back!”)

What the students do: They raise their hand and say, “Yes!” Then they turn to the person nearest himself or herself and say “Happy Monday to you!” (or “Welcome back”.) This silly little process solved a critical problem: to get students quiet, to remind them of the social conditions and get into a positive state. It took 4 seconds and cost you nothing.

I use 10-15 rituals in the “Teaching with the Brain in Mind” 6-Day workshop. This is the best place for you to learn about brain-based learning rituals and other strategies, because you get to experience them live! The best book on rituals is Super Teaching (2008), available from Corwin Press.

This process of integrating brain-based learning rituals into your school (macro) and the classroom (micro) reminds us to cut to the chase: everything you do in your classroom is likely to have SOME effect on the brain.

Brain-based education says, “Be purposeful about it.” Now, go have some fun and make another miracle happen!

Creative Commons License photo credit: Polska Zielona Sieć