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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 17, Number 2, October 2004

Teachers' tips: Engaging teenagers in learning

by Anita Chapman

The current issue of Educational Leadership has an interesting article by Sam M. Intrator, a researcher who spent 130 days shadowing students in a California high school. He observed students who were not engaged in classroom learning. Some killed time in class by listening to music, daydreaming, or just zoning out, some used sophisticated techniques to appear engaged and attentive when they were not, and some were too busy worrying about personal concerns to concentrate. But he also saw students who were thoroughly engaged in their learning, something he calls the grail of teaching.

Intrator found that the teachers who held the attention of teenagers used a variety of purposeful strategies. They were working hard to get and keep the attention and engagement of their students. They monitored the "attention-scape" of their classes and intervened if attention waned. Here are some tips based on Intrator’s research for what he calls "antiboredom pedagogy."

Manipulate classroom pace. Plan for several changes of pace within a single class block. For example, after a fast-paced discussion, give students quiet time for extended journal writing. Break classroom routines to get your students’ attention. Take the students outside, show a powerful video clip, bring in a guest speaker. Or, as one B.C. teacher did, dress up as Mendeleev and adopt a thick Russian accent to teach the periodic table.

Feed the need to create. Give students opportunities to create their own products and express their own opinions. Teenagers want to be listened to and taken seriously.

Share your personal presence. Tell personal stories. Teach with energy and enthusiasm. Let your students in on the passion you have for your subject and for learning. A B.C. teacher relates that she paid attention in her high school biology class simply to find out why the teacher was so "pumped" about something she thought was boring.

Know students as people. Students learn best from people they have a relationship with. Find something you like about each student. Get to know your students’ experiences, interests, and needs, and use them as a bridge to the course content.

Connect content to adolescent questionings. Connect course content to the big ideas students are dealing with at this developmental stage of their lives: Who am I? Where do I fit? What talents and potential do I have? Where will I end up?

Anita Chapman is an assistant director in the BCTF’s Professional and Social Issues Division.

Source: Educational Leadership, ASCD, September 2004. www.ascd.org

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