Captivating Student Interest in the New Year

New Year – new goals! Every January I make plans to do something to improve my life. Sometimes it’s a pledge to move more or eat less sugar – but it’s a pledge that is always in the back of my mind throughout the year – even when I face setbacks. And, it’s a personal pledge – one that I have control over. This year, I’m home, recovering from knee surgery, and have made a pledge to do everything I can to make a full recovery. How does this lead to a blog on student engagement? Well, it got me thinking about aspects of teaching that are in the control of the individual teacher. We don’t always have control over the technical changes at school: schedules, testing times, duties, meetings, lesson plan templates, school or district initiatives, and even which students are in our classes. But…we can make a pledge to increase student engagement in our classroom – every day. That is something we have complete control over.

I then set out to look for some current blogs and resources on student engagement. Zite is an app I use all the time to cull current information that is out there about various topics. You can put in key words and you get back a collection of articles, blogs, videos and books on that topic. Each one is summarized and you can start reading and click on any that “hook” you in. Another feature I like is that I can then email, tweet or “pin” links to the information so others can read about it, too. Keeping students captivated and ready to learn throughout the year is no small task so here are a few of my favorites from my search on student engagement.


Brian Sztabnik’s Edutopia blog, “The Eight Minutes that Matter Most”, posted on January 5, 2015, caught my eye. Brian is an ELA teacher and believes the first four minutes of class and then the last four minutes of class are crucial for captivating student interest. He says it best:

“The eight minutes that matter most are the beginning and endings. If a lesson does not start off strong by activating prior knowledge, creating anticipation, or establishing goals, student interest wanes, and you have to do some heavy lifting to get them back. If it fails to check for understanding, you will never know if the lesson’s goal was attained.”

In his blog, Brian gives some great suggestions about how to start your lesson out strong: Trend with YouTube (start class with a quick clip), Start with Good News (spend 2 minutes celebrating), Cross Disciplines (make connections to other subject areas), and Write for 5. Using an Essential Question (here is a great list from Wiggins and McTighe), Brian asks students to write for 5 minutes to answer the question. Done on a weekly basis, this builds stamina. When ending lessons, you, as the teacher, need to know if the goal was attained, therefore, formative assessments provide this information. Brian writes about: Leveling Up (challenging students to attain new levels like in video games), using Exit Tickets (here is a great explanation of how Marzano classifies exit tickets into four different categories) and other Checks for Understanding (here is a comprehensive list from Wiggins and McTighe), Mimic Social Media (read about how to use Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram in the classroom), and Post-It Power where students write one thing they learned from someone else in class on a Post-It and then stick it on the chalkboard. These Post-Its are reviewed the next day which has a two-fold purpose – affirming that the classroom is a community of learners and validating student participation.

Another great resource is Edutopia’s collection of resources on Student Engagement.

Resources by Topic:

Take a few minutes during this start of a New Year to check out some of these resources and make a pledge to try something new every week to captivate student interest in your classroom!

Keim_Joanne_SMALLJoanne Keim

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