As a former English/language arts coach, I visited a great number of schools and classrooms. During my first visit to a school, the principal or assistant principal would usually walk me around to different classrooms. They would point out those teachers who were great and those teachers who might need assistance. I began to notice the distinction between these classrooms would often be the level of noise in the room. Those teachers were praised were usually teachers with quiet classrooms and students in straight rows. All leaders want engaged classrooms in their schools. They want classrooms where students enter the door wanting to learn. So what do engaged classrooms look like? Here are five ways to identify engagement in classrooms.
- Students are working
This doesn’t mean students are simply filling out worksheets. Instead, students are designing and creating something. Whether it is a new government in history class based on the qualities of government they have learned, writing a speech to argue for a cause, or using math to solve a problem, students are the ones doing the work.
- Students are talking
As an educator, nothing worries me more than a quiet classroom. Of course during instruction, tests, and a few other situations, a class may be quiet. However, they should be noisy places where students are asking questions of their teacher and peers. Talking about the latest topic they just learned, and discussing ways they can do something with the new information.
- The teacher is listening and moving
Engaged classrooms require teachers to do their best work before class starts. During the planning process, the teacher creates learning situations where students can become engaged. In class, the teacher moves from student to student or group to group to listen to students and guide their learning, or the teacher may be working with a small group of students. See how English teacher Sheila Kosoff encourages talk and engagement in the Teaching Channel video Inquiry-Based Teaching: Discussing Literature .
- Desk are not in rows
If your desks are in rows, your students are not talking. If they are talking it is most likely not about your work. For some teachers, having their students sit in rows is a management tool. They want to limit student talk instead of using it to leverage student learning. Sitting in groups does not mean that on-task discussion will automatically happen. Discussion is a skill that must be taught and practiced. However, start with placing students into pairs or groups.
- Spontaneous things happen
Teachers will engaged classrooms allow for spontaneity. They veer off of their lessons plans and allow students to take the lead in where the learning goes. Teachers in engaged classrooms are not afraid of not knowing the answers.
No matter the school, engaged classrooms are busy classrooms. They are loud, noisy, and productive spaces. Students are doing the work, and teachers are facilitating that important work. Don’t be afraid to let students do the work. You will be surprised at what they can do!