Research has shown that increasing student engagement improves student learning. In fact, in 1990, Skinner, Wellborn, and Connell (What it takes to do well in school and whether I’ve got it: A process model of perceived control and children’s engagement and achievement in school. Journal of Educational Psychology, 82 (1), 22–32. ) investigated the relationships between children’s perceived control, student engagement, and academic achievement. The engagement, defined as participation and emotional tone, of 200 elementary students was assessed by their teachers. Path analyses were performed to examine the model of teacher behavior, perceived control, engagement, and academic outcomes. The predicted relations between engagement and grades/achievement (higher engagement leads to higher academic performance) were obtained.
By using formative assessment strategies in the classroom, teachers can essentially eliminate hand-raising. All-student response systems – one of the foundations of successful formative assessment – provide the teacher with evidence that each student is learning what they are teaching, while engaging the entire class. If a student is used to simply not raising their hand as a means of “tuning out” they are likely not actively participating in learning. Remove the means of tuning out by employing formative assessment and many teachers find their classroom comes alive.
Here are five easy to implement, all-student response strategies to try in your classroom:
1. Basketball Discussions – With Basketball Discussions, the conversation moves from teacher to student to student to student and so on. Students are often more comfortable engaging in a discussion that is not entirely teacher led, and this also engages more students than the usual hand-raisers who dominate discussion. You can also encourage participation – particularly with younger students – by actually tossing a small bean bag or soft ball from student to student as a means of signaling discussion; the one with the ball is the one who is allowed to speak.
2. Carousel Brainstorming – Here the class is split up into groups of four to five students. Each group gets their own chart and colored marker. The idea is to have each group write down what they know about a sub topic or possible answers to an open-ended question. Place a time limit on each group and when the time is up, have each group pass their chart along to another group, or move to the next chart. Students must read what the other groups have recorded for answers and then add to the list. They can also circle or highlight answers that they feel hit the mark or add question marks to answers they feel missed the mark.
When the charts have been with each group they can be reviewed as a class and used by the students to write essays that note relationships, make comparisons, or summarize the information. Teachers can walk the classroom while the charts are being completed and note engagement levels for student understanding, which can be used to adapt instruction accordingly.
3. Corners – While this idea can take on a number of different iterations, the foundation of it is consistent; each classroom corner represents a different answer or view on a different question or theory. When a question or topic is being discussed, each student goes to the corner that best represents his or her answer. Based on classroom discussion, students can move from corner to corner adjusting their answer or opinion.
Corners don’t have to represent answers. They can also represent students’ comfort with or understanding of the topic. If they don’t understand the topic being discussed, they can go to one corner with students of a similar level of understanding. Corners can then be paired with other corners for student discussion.
4. Jigsaw – With this concept, the class is broken into groups ranging in size from four to six students. Each student is given an index card with a different question and reads their question aloud to the group. One student in each group is assigned to be a record keeper, keeping track of the number of students that a) get it, b) sort of get it, c) aren’t quite sure, or d) just don’t get it. Once each question has been read, the groups reassemble so that the groups are comprised of students who all had the same question. They then work collaboratively as a team to prepare one answer. The groups then reform to their original members where the answers are shared and the record keeper rescores. The beauty of this formative assessment technique is that it gives students the ability to self- and peer-assess their work.
5. The Popsicle™ Stick – approach to student engagement can provide a more random selection for answers, which means that the consistent hand-raiser isn’t dominating classroom discussion (and evaluation). Have each student write their name on a Popsicle™ stick and place all the sticks in a cup. Ask a question of the class, draw a stick from the cup and have the student whose name is on the stick respond to the question.
Engineering effective classroom discussions that elicit evidence of student learning is paramount to effective teaching and all-student response strategies and techniques are part of this. The five formative assessment tactics above are just a starting point; there are many ways to engage the entire classroom in discussion – and they are mostly free and simple to implement.
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