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The gamification of learning has created a common misunderstanding regarding why student engagement matters. The goal of student engagement is not entertainment, but to foster natural learning experiences that are retained by students through relevance and purpose. 

Entertainment often accompanies enriched learning, but it is not the goal. There’s no shortage of anecdotes about what works best among teachers, students and parents. Everyone has their own lived experiences, and it’s easy to believe what one has had success with is applicable to all. But in reality, successful engagement practices are research-based, tried-and-true methods that have been studied and correlated with measurable results in student engagement and learning outcomes. Let’s take a look at how education-focused researchers are measuring and ultimately improving student engagement in today’s classroom.

The Project for Educational Research that Scales (PERTS) is an innovative non-profit with the goal of discovering science-backed educational strategies that can be applied to any classroom setting. Their Mindset Kit project has identified three mindsets that research shows are linked to better student engagement:

  • Purpose and relevance
  • Growth mindset
  • Sense of belonging

We’ll take a closer look at how these data-backed focal areas can transform learning into an immersive experience.

Purpose and Relevance

Students are more eager to learn when they are convinced that materials and learning objectives are related to skills outside of the classroom. Research shows that teachers must put in the extra effort to show students beforehand the relevance of the material to their lives. Merely treating assignments as busy work won’t cut it, especially in an era of infinite distractions.

Use everything in your power to boost the long-term buy-in for the school year. That means forging sincere connections and developing mutual understanding. It’s okay to work your way into the content and focus more on rapport in the first days. Teacher burnout is less likely to be a mid-year hurdle if students remain dedicated to learning and cooperating with the leadership of a teacher they trust and respect.

Students rave about having their opinion heard in the classroom (regardless of whether it’s brick-and-mortar or virtual). A great way to launch a new unit is to create classroom surveys that build anticipation and encourage friendly discussion. Students are often surprised to learn of the diverse perspectives surrounding any given issue. Some of the more useful survey topics are about career aspirations or favorite hobbies. Keep in mind, there’s a right way to conduct student surveys and some wrong ways to stay clear of.

The Growth Mindset

Begin the school year by letting the class know that learning is a process, and it’s different for everyone. Introduce multiple science-supported study strategies early on, such as those described in detail in the highly-praised book Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning.

Give students a low-stakes chance to try out these methods to see what works for them. It may seem counter to the status quo to cut back on grades and introduce low-stakes activities, but recent science suggests that students value other kinds of feedback far more than grades. If your goal is student engagement, custom feedback is more likely to convince students that their buy-in is worth it for their own growth journey.

The University of Virginia Center for Teaching Excellence advises that teachers and administrators collaborate to assess the grading structure to ensure that it rewards growth and improvement, not just standardized tests. A treasure trove of research-backed classroom strategies can be found here.

Sense of Belonging

Work to eliminate identity threats in the classroom. Also known as stereotype threats, these are anxieties that some students feel in the learning environment if they feel that they are an ‘outsider’ or somehow different from their peers. Stereotypes have a way of ‘infecting’ our brains and altering how we think and even how we participate in group activities. This might seem like it’s easier said than done, but it can be as simple as featuring activities, topics, and examples that students identify with so they feel it’s OK to be their authentic self in class.

Give students choices as often as possible. That might mean letting them choose a topic within an assignment, or choosing a form of expression such as writing, recording a podcast or song, or creating visual art. Teachers should make a sincere effort to connect one-on-one with each and every student in the first days of school to foster the sense of belonging that will create a learning environment that is conducive to mutual respect and student buy-in, ultimately producing better learning outcomes for all.

Boardworks as an Engagement Pioneer

Boardworks has been a pioneer in the push to enhance student engagement as instruction and interactivity transitioned from whiteboards and textbooks to the ever-changing digital toolkit of the modern classroom. Boardworks provides turn-key, fully customizable presentations and activities that are designed with engagement in mind. Schedule a demo today to learn how the Boardworks library of interactive resources could fit within your school’s curriculum goals.