Make it a competition!

So, my latest idea in the quest to engage students and get them to participate in their own education is something that I am trialing with my tutor group.  I have a group of 18 year 7’s who are generally lovely, but like all children, can be a bit lacklustre when it comes to putting in any more than the minimum amount of effort.

Like most, if not all schools, we have a behaviour policy with reward and consequence pathways.  The majority of my group finish each week with a positive number of points (after the negatives are subtracted from the positives), but there are a couple of exceptions. I have spoken to the individuals who are not always making the right choices when it comes to classroom behaviour, but it is not having quite the effect I  would like.

So I have proposed a small competition.  It began today, with 26 more school days in the year.  The challenge is to accumulate 450 overall points as a class by the end of the school year.  This was initially met with some gasps of disbelief, but when I explained that it was less than one point each per day, they are on board.  I hope that they will all make an effort, as there is no chance that a couple of individuals can do this alone.

My hope is that some peer pressure might ‘encourage’ all students to try a little bit harder and also to support those students who find some lessons harder to stay on task in.  If I can encourage my year 7’s to engage with their learning a bit more now, maybe they will continue to engage in years 8, 9, 10 and 11.

Will it work?  Watch this space.

Rewarding Engagement

For some time I have had a “Reward Box” in my classroom.   I tell my classes that they can earn something from the box if they put in a good amount of effort during the lesson.  The box is stocked with cheap and cheerful items from well know high street shops that are famous for selling items for £1 – you know the ones I mean – and other similar shops that have items for pennies rather than pounds.  I have always found that almost all students want something from the box and most are prepared to work for it.

Recently, this idea was picked up by my head teacher and rolled out across the school.  The kids really bought into it and commented on how it was great that they could now earn ‘stuff’ in every classroom.  And all seemed well with the world.  As long as I kept the boxes stocked up with pens, pencils, sticky notes, iPad stylus pens, funky rubbers and other such random stationery, the kids would engage with their lessons more.

That was the theory anyway.  For the first few weeks, it seemed to be working, but slowly I started to notice that, not only were some teachers no longer buying into the idea and giving the rewards out when the kids were working well, but my own classes seemed less willing to work as hard for me as they could get something for less effort in another class.

I still believe in this strategy as a way to engage less than enthusiastic students, but I think it will only continue to work under certain circumstances.  Everyone needs to give rewards consistently for the same level of effort or the system simply stops working.  I know that if this was on offer when I was at school and I could get the same thing for less effort somewhere else, I would not have had any reason to try in a lesson where I didn’t feel confident.  I think a relaunch may be necessary to get the kids back on track for the last few weeks of the year.

How do we Engage Students?

When I took on the role of Lead Practitioner in a new Maths department, one of my roles was to improve engagement.  How do I do this?  I began to have a think about which lessons my students really engaged with and which ones were trickier to keep them on task.  I found, unsurprisingly, that the more hands on the lesson, the more my students got on-board.  However, not all lessons can be fully active and I do have a few who don’t like this way of learning.  So I have decided to start blogging about the variety of ways I try in my classroom to engage students.  Although I don’t expect to find the magic pill, I hope to find a few strategies that work most of the time.  Please feel free to comment on my posts with your own feelings and ideas.