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How to encourage more students to engage and participate

Have you ever wondered how to effectively engage all your students and create a dynamic learning environment?
Imagine a classroom where every student actively participates, shares their thoughts and collaborates with their peers… Well, some research-backed techniques can help you achieve this goal.

Let’s discuss what these look like, based on three studies which investigated:
•    How students’ characteristics can affect teacher-student interactions 
•    The students who choose to raise their hand to participate 
•    How teachers motivate student engagement

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How can students’ characteristics affect teacher-student relationships?

In this study, researchers examined how student characteristics such as prior achievement and self-perception of ability influence verbal interactions between teachers and students. The results showed that students who had a higher perception of their own abilities were more actively engaged in these interactions. They demonstrated increased verbal engagement, provided elaborated answers to teacher questions, and received more supportive feedback.

These findings have important implications for you in the classroom. They suggest that competence is important for confidence, which you can increase by helping students gain knowledge and be successful (hello, Rosenshine’s seventh Principle!). Likewise, fostering a positive self-concept of ability among students is crucial to promoting their engagement and participation. Potentially, supportive feedback and creating an inclusive learning environment that minimises fear of failure could be key to this.

It may also be a good idea to ask more open-ended questions that require students to provide elaborate answers. This encourages critical thinking and fosters active participation in class discussions. When students have the chance to express their thoughts and opinions, they are more likely to feel valued and confident, which in turn motivates them to continue participating.

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Which students choose to raise their hand to participate?

The frequency of hand-raising is a good indicator of students’ voluntary involvement in the learning process. A recent study examined this behaviour using self-reports, video observations and interviews, revealing substantial variation between students. It was found that students who raise their hands more frequently tend to be more cognitively active. This suggests that cognitive involvement influences their decision to participate.

You can apply these findings to encourage more students to participate using Think, Pair, Share. This strategy allows students to discuss concepts or problems with a partner before sharing their thoughts with the whole class. Encouraging students to engage in dialogue and collaborate promotes active cognitive involvement and increases overall participation.

It is also important to consider the role of student motivation in hand-raising. The researchers in this study found that extrinsic motivation (i.e., motivation that is driven by external rewards) had a negative effect on the frequency of hand raising. By focusing on cultivating intrinsic motivation should help. Incorporating activities that tap into students’ curiosity and allow for open-ended discussions can help boost situational interest and encourage more students to raise their hands.

In this study, researchers observed and interviewed teachers and collected student work to determine how teachers motivated their students in their classroom. They found that having highly engaging teachers was linked to the quality of work students produced.

Reflecting on these studies, it’s clear that enhancing student engagement is a multifaceted task. No quick or easy solution exists. It involves nurturing a positive self-perception among students, encouraging active participation and creating a cognitively engaging learning environment. Hopefully, doing so can help spark student curiosity, maximise participation and ultimately accelerate their learning.

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