Systems of Support Supporting Educator Excellence through Technology and Strategy

Monthly Archives: March 2008

You are browsing the site archives by month.

Developing a System for Engaging your Students

Today’s post goes along with the third principle of Universal Design for Learning: Multiple Means of Engagement. It is critical to keep students engaged in your lessons if your goal is for them to retain the information you provide. To do this you must engage them. Engagement must be often and relevant. Relevant simply means something related to the content you are teaching. It should build on students background knowledge. Research shows time and time again that relating content to background knowledge increases retention, so why shouldn’t engaging activities do the same?

The picture above is something I picked up from a Bob Pike Group training a couple years ago. You will see me mention things from their trainings quite often as I think almost everything they teach relates to good teaching and Universal Design for Learning. It basically says this: In a 90 minute window of time (think block scheduling for some of us) we should chunk our content into 20 minute sections making sure to engage learners every 8 minutes or so. Simple, right? Let’s take a deeper look:

90 Minute Block – This may not work for some of you teaching 50 minute classes, but the remainder of the rule still holds true. In general, whether we provide training, teach a class, or anything else that involves holding a groups attention we should be sure to provide a break at least every 90 minutes. This has been the case time and time again. How do you think they came up with 90 minutes being the optimal time for block scheduling in the first place? I can assure you it wasn’t by accident

20 Minute Chunks – You must break your content up. No one can hold attention for 90 minutes straight. You must break this up into chunks. 20 minutes has been shown to be the optimal amount of time for any section of content.

Engage every 8 Minutes – This is just a general rule of course, but it does have some research to back it up. Did you know that by the time your students graduate high school they have spent more time in front of a television than in a classroom? What happens about every 8 minutes when you are watching TV? If you guessed a commercial break you would be correct. So imagine how tough it is to hold attention for an entire class period with out some type of break in the action. This is where the engagement piece comes in. It doesn’t have to be complicated, in fact it can be as easy as having everyone stand up and sit back down. I would recommend putting a bit more thought into it than that however. For example, one social studies class I work with has a student be the timer. Every 8 minutes they ring a bell that signals time to throw a blow up globe. Whoever catches the globe must find whatever the person who threw it asks them to. The whole thing takes maybe a minute and instantly engages all students with something relevant to the content. Who should you make the timer? Doesn’t really matter, but any student who likes to make disruptions would be an excellent choice.

Hopefully this quick and easy strategy will help you design some of your lessons to be more engaging for your students. If you happen upon this post and try it, I would love to see comments about how you made it work in your classroom.