Tips for Keeping Students Engaged in the Classroom

In a perfect world, all of your students would take your classes because they wanted to, not because they had to. They would arrive early with readings done and assignments completed. They would contribute to discussions and pose compelling questions. They would be completely present; never dozing off, peeking at text messages, or surfing the web during class.

But in the real world, there are students who don’t seem to make much of an effort to prepare, participate, or even show up. Their apathy is palpable, and it shows in their work and in your evaluations.

Educational psychologists have identified reliable and replicable ways to overcome student apathy and disinterest.  Even small changes to your course design and instructional methodology can better engage students and foster accountability.  You create a learning environment that increases student motivation, interest, and success by integrating evidence-based strategies to your process.

Any instructor can learn how to elicit better student behavior. You just need the right information and the right tools.

When you look around your classroom, do you see students texting under their desks, or worse yet, right out in the open? Do you have students who skip class, arrive late or leave early, or come unprepared? If so, Christy Price, EdD has some words of advice for you.

Price, a professor of psychology at Dalton State College, offers suggestions on how to engage students and hold their interest while they learn. Some ideas include:

  1. Hold students accountable with assessments and attendance policies linked to the final grade: Students consistently report that they are more motivated to adopt behaviors that will positively impact their grade, and assigning work that is not linked to the grade can send the message that the work doesn’t matter. Price recommends only assigning work that allows student to earn points, and finding ways to link attendance and participation to the grade.
  2. Make explanations clear, and don’t talk too fast: Students report that one of the top reasons they attend class and one of the top instructor behaviors to hold their attention is the pacing of the instructor’s explanations. Speak clearly and slowly enough that students can process your comments and take notes.
  3. Employ backward design to make course work relevant: Start by figuring out the learning outcomes you want students to achieve, and then let those goals help you decide on your teaching methods and assessment practices. Avoid mismatches in design, such as choosing increased critical-thinking abilities as a learning outcome but choosing to teach by lecture only and giving only multiple-choice tests.
  4. Use humor to your advantage: When students were asked about instructor behaviors that increase their attention in class, they named the use of humor and the avoidance of a monotone presentation style as two of the top behaviors. Try to make your classes lively and entertaining, and use good presentation practices to avoid a monotone delivery.
  5. Use multiple teaching methods in most classes when possible: Lecture has its place in a class, but students respond best when you mix it up a bit, using discussion, group work, hands-on activities, case studies, and multimedia elements. The bonus: students enrolled in a class that is not primarily lecture tend to text less!
  6. Relate learning to students’ real lives: Millennial learners, in particular, report a need to understand how learning will link to their real lives. Spending time creating assignments that are clearly linked to current or future life activities will pay off in greater student attention and motivation.

Price draws on her own research as well as research by others in the field of undergraduate learning to describe techniques and practices that motivate millennials and learners from other generations both in the classroom and out.

Modern learners have a different mind-set about education, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to learn. They just go about it differently. You may wish to apply these teaching strategies and tools that resonate with today’s students. By doing so, you just might take some of the mystery out of student motivation!


Posted by Pamela Louderback



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