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By Amanda Dodge • July 20, 2022

How Does Student Engagement Increase Motivation and Empower Teachers?

Each classroom is its own little community. There are ups and downs, exciting days and boring afternoons. You might notice that feelings in your classroom can be contagious. If you feel particularly tired one day, your students might also lack the motivation to work. Conversely, when you are excited to talk about something, your class might perk up and feed off your passion for the subject.  

You are also motivated by your students. When your kids are engaged in a topic or activity, they can keep you going – even if you are having a rough day. Take some time to explore this correlation between student engagement and teacher motivation to better channel both elements for your classroom. 

Many Teachers are Motivated By Their Students

When you ask teachers why they entered the field, very few will say they did it for the money. Teachers put in an incredible amount of work during the school year for little pay. New teachers in particular (those usually with the lowest pay grades) have to spend long hours modifying lesson plans and navigating new situations. 

Teachers are often called to the field because of their desire to help students. They want to inspire young learners and give them a foundational education they can use throughout their lives. When students are engaged in the materials, teachers can feel motivated to keep teaching and investing in their kids. 

“Inspiring teachers don’t go into it with the thought of it being a career move, more, that they want to help sculpt the minds of the future, to be there for those who need it,” writes Becton Loveless at Education Corner. 

All it takes is for students to take an interest in a lesson or project. This excitement alone is often enough to remind educators why they went into the field. 

How technology transforms learning

Source: David Geurin

Focus on the Needs of Your Students to Engage Them

There are two ways to develop student engagement: you can make a lesson fun or you can make it important. Teachers often try to add fun elements to lessons so students will pay attention in hopes of retaining important information. However, this might not be the best option. 

According to research by E. Tory Higgins and Emily Nakkawita of Columbia University, students give an equal amount of time to tasks they view as important as tasks they considered enjoyable. When the researchers added more enjoyable elements to important tasks, they were less persistent in completing them.

“Don’t assume in education that the best thing to do is to surround [an activity] with something enjoyable,” says Higgins. “If it’s considered fun, then adding something enjoyable surrounding the situation can inspire them to redo the activity—but if it’s important, [fun] actually will undermine it.” 

This is why our team at eSpark Learning develops games with a “play to learn,” mentality, while most educational games are built around the idea of playing after students learn basic concepts. When students learn and then play, teachers are trying to add enjoyable elements to important concepts – almost bribing students to pay attention. When students are playing to learn, they are starting with enjoyable tasks to begin with.

Conversely, you might be surprised when students rise to the occasion to complete an important task, even if it isn’t perceived as fun. When kids view something as important, they are more likely to focus on it for longer periods of time.   

Engage Students by Connecting Lessons to Useful Applications 

One of the most common questions that students ask (usually when whining about a subject), is “when are we ever going to need this?” Both adults and kids don’t like completing tasks just because someone told them to. It’s not motivating or inspiring. As an educator, it can be frustrating if you have to cover content that might not have many real-world applications. 

“[Students put] an enormous amount of trust in me, hoping that they’ll learn something useful for their professional and personal development,” says Exequiel Hernandez, an associate professor at the Wharton School. “If I can make it about them and not me, it’s really motivating.” 

When possible, try to begin your lessons with an explanation of why students need to learn a particular skill. This could range from highlighting how fractions are used in baking or explaining how understanding photosynthesis can help with gardening. This establishes a foundation for student engagement. 

These connections to the real world are why educators turn to project-based learning, where students approach an issue and use concepts taught in class to solve it. You can also provide connections by inviting guest speakers to the classroom to talk about how they use school subjects in their careers. 

Create Choices for Higher Student Engagement

Students have very few choices throughout the day. They have to go to school, have to learn certain subjects at specific times, and have to follow a pre-set curriculum and lesson plans developed by teachers. It’s very rare that kids are actually asked what they want to do. 

Stephen Merrill and Sarah Gonser shared research showing that students have to relinquish all power and decision-making in school, rather than feel invited to learn. They learn because they have to, not because they want to. This mentality is how you end up with a classroom of demotivated students – and how you can grow bored and frustrated as a teacher.

Consider building opportunities for choice in your school day. This can be as simple as asking students whether they want to start the day with math or reading. You can take small steps like letting students choose books to read or holding a vote on homework assignments. Each opportunity to choose allows students to take control of their learning.  

“By centering choice, educators signal openness to negotiating the middle ground and offer students scaffolded opportunities to practice decision-making, explore their academic identity, and connect their learning to interests and passions,” write Merrill and Gonser. 

Again, this eliminates the “do it because I told you to,” aspect of education. Students will complete tasks because they chose them, not because you assigned them.

Engage Your Students for a Better Teaching Experience 

There are some days when teaching feels like pulling teeth. Every question is met with blank stares and every invitation to participate results in silence. However, this doesn’t have to be a common experience in your class. Look for ways to build student engagement through meaningful work that they chose. 

When students are engaged in the content, they can motivate you to keep investing in them. Together, you and your students to work through the curriculum and have a successful school year. Try eSpark for free today and see how you can keep your students motivated.

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