Today’s post comes from a recent email from a member of our community (used with permission); also, there’s a video version of my answer at the end of the post if you prefer to listen rather than read.
Thanks for your great videos and materials. I implemented your essay codes this year and am very happy with the results! I was wondering if any of your videos cover class participation? I’m constantly running into the issue of trying to motivate all kids to participate rather than just the usual suspects.
Thanks so much for checking in with me, Ryan. Oh, if only I could crack the code of 100 percent engagement. Even after 20 years and trying every technique I can find, I still have The Floater, the kid who’ll participate only when directly called on and, even then, only with minimal energy or enthusiasm. I’ve decided some kids are just observers – or “bumps on a log” on days I’m feeling less generous. Maybe, I think sometimes, those kids will be future cubicle workers, quietly clocking in and out everyday without ever finding passion in work. Sad, right? Even with 20Time (the ultimate in self-directed learning), there are always a handful of kids who just go through the motions.
Does this mean we stop trying to hook those kids? Of course not. But it is a truth that we can’t light everyone’s fire. Maybe, Ryan, you’ll find comfort in Jack Canfield’s classic maxim, “SWSWSWSW – Some will. Some won’t. So what. Someone’s waiting.” It helps me, anyway.
Happily, those “some won’t” kids are rare, not more than two percent of all the kids I know. Most want to play and laugh and work hard – once they know we’re on their side. So how do we win the 98 percent? Here are some ideas:
• Engaging curriculum – Are we teaching skills that are relevant to their lives? Are they disengaged because the material is…well…boring? Think of our own time in professional development classes. I’ve endured plenty of presenters who made me want to push a pencil through my skull because the material had no direct effect on my actual work in the classroom. The best one ever, though, was led by Duane Habecker, a middle school math teacher at Pleasanton Unified School District who introduced my cohort to flipped lessons, gave a quick overview of the basic tools, and then set us loose to build videos for all of our different disciplines. I was inspired and equipped to make something that held real personal value. As you know from your own time as a student, engagement almost always is connected to relevancy, so let’s find ways to increase that for our kids.
• Variety – Are we mixing up our approach? I start with bellringers (see last week’s video), but the bulk of the daily lesson will vary widely in terms of structure. On Monday, we’ll use a think-pair-share that leads to a full-class debate. Tuesday is built around stations. Wednesday is a video creation challenge. Thursday is a classic sage-on-the-stage lecture and solo writing activity. Friday is Quarter Trio games and SSR. If you’re looking for fresh ways to present content that’s starting to feel stale, click here for a list of 10 ways I try to combat study question fatigue.
• Menu of options – Are students regularly given a choice about how they demonstrate mastery of material? Obviously, this can’t happen with every lesson, but a menu of options goes a long way toward getting kids excited about their work. For instance, let’s say the class is reading The Catcher in the Rye and you want to focus on CCSS RL.11-12.4: Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including words with multiple meanings or language that is particularly fresh, engaging, or beautiful. You could offer the following choices:
1. Create a Venn diagram of at least 20 pieces of teen slang from the late 1940s included in the novel and 20 pieces of today’s slang for the same objects/emotions. Then, students willl analyze three of the words in short paragraphs. What’s different about the tone of two different words from two different eras that mean the same thing? What creates that difference for the reader?
2. Write lyrics in Holden’s voice set to a popular song’s background music (you can find karaoke versions for most popular songs on YouTube) and perform the song for the teacher with a written copy of the lyrics so the teacher can follow along. The song doesn’t have to be performed in front of the whole class – yikes, that’d be a whole different level of scary for kids! After the performance, discuss some of the vocabulary choices with the teacher and explain how they impact the listener. How would a modern singer express the same idea?
3. Create a Quizlet or Kahoot game where players test their ability to match Holden’s slang with the actual modern-day meaning. Then, rewrite 10 sentences from the novel, changing an important word in each sentence. Finally, explain how the new sentences differ in tone and/or meaning from the original ones. Students could write this reflection in a paper or play the game with the class and then give a quick presentation on three of the rewritten sentences.
4. Write a diary entry describing your school day in the voice of Holden. Then, write the same content in your voice. Finally, write a paragraph analyzing the differences. How does the tone differ between the two pieces of writing? Which writer is friendlier? How can the reader tell?
5. Propose their own project. I always add this as my last option because students are a well of untapped creativity. Within reason, I try to find a way to say yes to every request.
• Fun factor –Are we having fun with our classes? When life started to feel like a drill-and-kill testing drag a few years ago, I launched a quarter-long in-class competition where I pit teams of three students against each other and keep a running tally of points on our class website. It’s called Quarter Trios and has brought fun, laughter, and a strong sense of community to my classroom. Plus, I get to unleash my inner game show host. I wrote about Quarter Trios here, including a list of 25 wacky challenges: https://laurarandazzo.com/2015/08/10/new-year-game-plan/
• Personal connection – Make every kid feel noticed. Find The Floater and talk to him. Pretty basic, right? On my prep period, I’ll visit the kid’s Spanish, history, whatever class and pull him out for just a few minutes. The kid is surprised to see me outside of our usual routine. Then, I explain that I’d love to see him participate more and wonder what he needs from class that he’s not getting. Usually, that’s all it takes. The kid realizes that I see him, care about him, and am working hard to make class meaningful. Ten minutes out of your prep period might be all it takes to flip a kid. For sure, it doesn’t always work or sometimes it works for a little while and then the kid slides back into his default setting of Indifferent Teenager. Still, it’s worth a small time investment to try, no?
Thanks, Ryan, for getting me to organize my thoughts on this topic. I even turned your questions into a video for my YouTube folks. WARNING: The video is just me saying everything you just read, but some folks know me only on YouTube and haven’t yet found the blog. Silly, I know. Feel free to skip this and save 16 minutes of your life.
I hope these ideas help us reach more of the 98 percent. If anyone out there knows how to grab 100 percent of kids 100 percent of the time, good grief, send along that magical secret and I’ll fill out your application for National Teacher of the Year.
Any other tips or ideas to help Ryan and, really, all of us? Drop those knowledge nuggets below in the “Leave a reply” box. Teach on, everyone!