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Viewpoint: Engaging students is worth the effort

Engaging learners is a tricky business.

Students want to be engaged. You don’t often hear that students would rather just sit and listen. And teachers, admittedly, want their students to enjoy the lessons they’re hearing. It’s much easier to maintain a positive and educational atmosphere when students feel like they’re wanted, known and yes, even entertained.

An entertained and engaged student body has been proven to be a better one. Quality teachers know a well-prepared classroom filled with activity-based learning is the best classroom. Behavioral problems are avoided because students don’t need to act out to get attention. The sense of belonging that stems from lesson engagement is also worth the extra effort that goes into planning lessons, because students begin to build more accountability over the subjects in which they feel engaged. Students want to succeed in the areas where they feel their teachers want them to succeed.

Many education professionals, however, look at the idea of engagement as no more than an ideological, hippy-dippy tenet of new educators. This old-fashioned old guard, armed with worksheets, two-hour lectures and daily homework assignments, would say that trying to coddle students by entertaining and engaging them only excites them, and doesn’t get anything done. The only thing these students will remember, according to educators who have not updated their syllabi since the early ’90s, is that they were excited. No content matter, no hard data, no empirical information.

But the fact is that education, as it stands in America, is built on puritanical standards of one teacher standing in front of a terrified group of cold and silent children. Through the influence of the Industrial Revolution, this already-rigid atmosphere was “improved” by forcing adolescents to come to school hours before their brains are really active, keeping them in their chairs and never letting them laugh.

It could be reasonably argued that many general education classes are still taught after this fashion. Of course, because there are often so many students in these classes, it is hard to engage the entire class. Some students start to slip through the cracks, attending sparsely or missing out on one-on-one teacher attention because they are shy, socially awkward or just introverted. Other students who crave engagement and social learning interactions have their growth stunted by lecture-and-notes lessons, online quizzes and clumsy PowerPoint presentations.

Some teachers may also argue that lesson plans based around heavy engagement-structured activities skew toward subjects within the humanities. Free-writing, group discussions and games are easier to put together in subjects like English, history, social sciences, art, music and communications, where much of the information is theory-based and mastery of the content deals less with memorization.

Still, a greater overall focus on engaging learners would not go amiss. Instead of the standard setting of an omniscient expert standing before a crowd and dispelling information (with all of the accountability sitting in the laps of the students), changing that setting to involve more engagement activities will elevate this university to a higher academic plane.

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