Relationship Building

Strategies for Student Engagement (Ep. 305)

Engagement is an ongoing challenge, as we are always trying to find ways to get students involved and excited about what is happening in the art room. In today’s epsidoe, Tim talks to AOEU’s Chelsea Fleming about why engagement is so important and how we can get kids to participate actively in what we do. Listen as they discuss the different levels of engagement, ideas on how to structure classes, and how involvement can foster a sense of community in the art room.  Full Episode Transcript Below.

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Tim: Welcome to Art Ed Radio, the podcast for art teachers. This show is produced by the Art of Education University and I’m your host, Tim Bogatz.

Student engagement is something that we should always consider when we are planning our activities, planning our lessons, thinking about what we’re going to be doing in our classrooms. We want kids to have a great experience in the art room. We want art class to be something that they’re going to remember. And something I talk about all the time is building a sense of community in your classroom. Kids want something to belong to. And when you get kids engaged, that community starts to develop.

They want to be a part of what’s happening in the art room on a day-to-day basis and part of what’s going on in the art room in a much bigger sense as well. And all of that can be driven by just making sure the kids are engaged with what you’re doing. And sometimes that’s about excitement. Sometimes that’s about relationships, sometimes that’s about just finding quality content to present to them. Good artists, exciting artists, exciting artworks that you can talk about. To discuss all of these things today and to share some great strategies for what you can do in your own classroom, my AOEU colleague, Chelsea Fleming is here. I will let her introduce herself but she’s here. She’s waiting. She is excited to talk about engagement so let me bring her on now.

All right, Chelsea Fleming is now making her very first appearance on the show. Chelsea, welcome. How are you?

Chelsea: Hello. I am fantastic. It is warm and breezy in central Indiana today and that is great.

Tim: Ah, that is fantastic. It is cold and miserable here in Nebraska so I’m happy for you. I’ll just say that. Can we begin with a little bit of an introduction since I’ve not talked to you on the podcast before? Can you tell everybody who’s listening just a little bit about yourself?

Chelsea: Absolutely. I’m Chelsea Fleming. I am the K-12 professional development and curriculum specialist here at AOEU. I am privileged to hold that position. I spent 12 years in the middle school art room before transitioning to be an instructional coach for all content areas in a middle school building. I did that for five years. I’m a dog mom, a Ravenclaw and a fitness fan and that’s a little bit about me.

Tim: Fantastic. I don’t know if we’ve talked about the Harry Potter thing before. I am also a Ravenclaw so that works out well.

Chelsea: I do have Hufflepuff tendencies, I’ll say that.

Tim: All right. All right. I lean a little towards Slytherin if it comes down to it. Anyway, we can still be friends though. I think this is good.

Chelsea: Absolutely.

Tim: All right. Today we’re going to talk a bunch about engagement strategies. Just to kind of set the table for that discussion, can you just talk a little bit about why engagement is so important for us as teachers?

Chelsea: Sure. Engagement really is, I like to think of it as how is it that students are engaging with our content during our class time? It’s the what are kids doing? And I think in the art room that can feel pretty easy sometimes, especially when it comes to art making. We have a lot of students who love to get their hands dirty and work and make and do. And there’s really that kind of wood pile at the end of the class period sort of speak. They can see the fruits of their labor but not all of our lessons are those types of lessons where kiddos have their tongue sticking out as they draw or they’re climbing up their chair because they’re so excited to talk about what it is we’re excited to talk about and things like that.

Engagement is just, I think really important for teachers for encouraging active participants, regardless of the type of lesson we really want our kiddos to be active instead of just passive consumers of information. We really do want grow those experiences that kids remember. Yes, we really do love those art making ones but there are times too when we really want kiddos to soak in what it is that we have to offer, especially about our amazing content. And so we want them to remember those. It also is going to really create a more inclusive environment. If we can get more kiddos engaged in the lesson, throughout the lesson in any type of lesson, then everyone’s kind of taking part and really just promotes some community and relationship building. We want to have students interacting with us as educators but we also want students interacting with each other as well. Really kind of grows that community feel in the classroom.

Tim: Yeah, absolutely. And people who listen to this podcast a lot know that I talk about that community thing all the time. Kids especially as they get older, they need something to belong to. And for a lot of kids, that is the art room and the more we can foster engagement, the more we can foster community and those types of things, it’s going to be really, really beneficial to all of our kids that are coming through the room. I wanted to ask you also just, I guess, as kind of a way to know where our students are at any given point with, what we’re teaching, can you explain Marzano’s levels of engagement? And like I said, how we can use those to tell where students are with regard to engagement.

Chelsea: Sure. With my background in instructional coaching, I’ve spent a lot of time just digging into information from a range of educational gurus on what engagement is all about and even that idea of connecting that level of engagement with checks for understanding or even formative assessment and things like that. And so Marzano is one of them that’s just clearly pretty popular. A lot of people know his work. And so I do really enjoy digging into the things that he has to say because it often creates some common language.

In his most recent edition of The New Art and Science of Teaching, he really kind of talks a little bit more instead of levels engagement per se, he kind of talks more about actual look fors when it comes to student behaviors and teacher behaviors regarding engagement. And so that’s really kind of a cool thing to think about in a way. I feel like it just made things seem a little more concrete as far as well what does engagement really look like? And what does that do for our classroom? Versus it just being one of those I don’t know about you but with my teacher evaluation rubric, it made reference to lots of things like types of engagement, noncompliant and compliance and strategic compliance and authentic engagement. And I don’t know, maybe not authentic engagement. Who knows?

It just kind of put it in a little more concrete terms for me to kind of see it that way. He really talks about just the importance of students sort of being able to know and recognize the fact that the teacher is aware of engagement levels in the classroom throughout the class period. He also mentions really trying to encourage students to increase their own levels of engagement. To sort of have that self awareness that’s there and that when students are asked, they could really share with you that the teacher does expect high levels of engagement in the classroom. And so to kind of make all those things happen, you really have some components to look for on the student side as well as the teacher side of things.

Those kind of really fall into a couple different areas. The first one is just paying attention and that’s that idea that if asked quickly a question, a student would be with you or be on topic or if you’re looking at an article, they’re with you on the same article, they’re not looking at some something else, et cetera. But then it kind of ramps up pretty quickly to things like being energized, being intrigued and being inspired. And I think those are really kind of tough things to measure.

That’s sort of like we can check for those things visually, we can even ask a student how excited about something they are or how intrigued or inspired they feel but that really kind of falls back on the student to be self-aware and to really think from their perspective. And so I do think there are some ways to do that and I think we can dig into that if you want. But I think one of the things to really think about is just that remembering students aren’t always going to be that sort of sunflower following you around the room all the time.

That’s not exactly what we’re looking for. We really want our students to be actively engaged and participating, not just listening, not just watching us, not just waiting for the next thing. We really want their brains working that entire time as well. And that may even look a little different than we would expect or we would think maybe even our administrators would expect. But I think we’re kind of used to that as art teachers, that our classroom sometimes looks a little different or student learning might look a little different than in others.

Tim: Yeah, for sure. Well, hey, can I interrupt for just a second? I’m sorry.

Chelsea: For sure.

Tim: I was just, I am at the level of being in intrigued by these ideas but when we’re talking about energized or being intrigued or being inspired, we can’t expect that our students are always going to be inspired. Because I’m just, I’m thinking about hey, fill out this self-reflection or let’s do this critique. Those are, I don’t want to say necessary evils, but those are things that we want as part of all of our instruction. To have a good arts education instruction, you have to be doing all of these things, whether or not they’re always exciting. And there are ways to get students more engaged but can we expect them to always be inspired? Or is that just something that we shoot for with particular things? How does that look?

Chelsea: Sure. I think that’s really a balance thing. How exhausting would it be if you spent the entire seven hour school day completely inspired and excited and hopeful. Goodness gracious, there has to be some of that downtime. I think it is just that balance that there are going to be times when kiddos are really just going with the flow and they’re doing what you ask them to do but we really hope to encourage those times where students are doing a little more of the thinking than we are or at least we kind of hope to get that way where they start asking us questions and they want to know more and they want to sort of pick up what we’re putting down.

I think it really is just finding that balance of what is it that we can do throughout a class period to make sure that we’ve got everybody with us as we’re moving but then you also do have that balance. There needs to be those times when it is a little less inspirational or energized or exciting because we do need to strike that level there, where we can let our students have that excitement and not get burn out from class to class or day to day or hour to hour and so on.

Tim: Okay. Cool. Cool. Thank you. And just before we move on to other stuff, any big takeaways? For people listening, what are the takeaways from Marzano and just seeing if your kids are engaged?

Chelsea: Sure. Thank you. I’m a rambler clearly. I would say that first is that the biggest takeaway for teachers is just being aware of student engagement. Noticing when students are or aren’t engaged in your classroom. And then I think it really is important to think intentionally about engagement. When we’re thinking about our lesson planning or thinking about what students are going to do in our classroom to really think about what is going to engage our students and how can we pace our lesson? How can we chunk information? What activities can we do to make sure that everybody’s an active participant versus just listening to what we have to share. And then students can recognize their own lack of engagement.

The ideal would be to get to a point where students can recognize when they’re not quite with us or they’re not hanging that day and then have maybe some strategies in their pocket to be able to adjust. If they are feeling distracted that day, what strategies do they maybe have to help? Or if they are feeling really, we used to say really in the blue, so just unmotivated or just not feeling it, is it take a break, do a movement break? Do we need to switch to something else? Do we need to stand up for a little while? Just some of those things that can help kiddos bring it back and bring a little bit of self regulation to then stick with us throughout.

Tim: Okay. Okay. And that’s an awesome explanation so thank you. Next thing I wanted to ask about, I have always thought that starting off class is really important. Just getting kids hooked at the beginning really leads to engagement throughout the time together. I guess my question for you is what are some of your favorite hooks or openers or anticipatory sets when you’re starting lessons?

Chelsea: Yay. That’s fun, the get everybody excited from the get go part. I love that. There’s a lot of things you can do. I know that there’s some books out there and some people out there who talk about things like adding a little Vegas to your lesson or some of that glam or teaching a pirate type of stuff. And I love when teachers have excitement and they are the type of personality where they’ll dress up or act things out or do things very dramatic to get things going and excited but I don’t feel like everybody fits that mold.

Tim: I was going to say, that’s not my personality at all.

Chelsea: Yeah, that’s not me either but I know there are a lot of people it is and that’s fantastic. But there are some things that you can do that don’t require quite such that personality, starting out with simple things like thinking prompts or quotations, movie clips, images to take a look at and think about. I really love even nature photos or photographs of things that are just interesting or strange or cropped or some thought provoking tidbit or even asking kiddos to start with maybe a creative writing prompt that in some way connects with the topic at hand or even opportunities for students to share their opinions is a great thing. Or at least as a former middle school teacher, my students loved being able to give their opinion on just about anything. Opinions sharing is great. A chance to even think about experiences that might relate to the content or experience they’ve maybe had that could relate or asking about experiences is great as well.

Anything to really kind of bring students in. It doesn’t always have to be such a tight connection. It doesn’t have to be necessarily, oh, look at this artwork by this artist and then we’re going to go on and create something specifically about it. We can think about things like themes, maybe the artwork that we’re looking at has to do with something, gosh, I don’t know, some big theme, maybe about identity or things like that. We can really pull from that theme for that content versus necessarily digging so deep or so specific into artists that might be inspiring or artworks that might be inspiring. We can look at other things like images, prompts, quotes, clips, et cetera.

Tim: Yeah. That’s a lot of good ideas. I’m just sort of thinking my way through a class here. We’ve got them hooked, we’ve got them engaged with things and at the very beginning of the interview, you talked about how art is just inherently an engaging subject but that still has its limitations. And so we’ve done our anticipatory set, we’re in a lesson but what if that lesson’s taking a long time? You’ve been working on things for quite a while or it just becomes a little bit too much, how do you continue to keep students engaged through a lesson that’s maybe not as exciting or a lesson that’s running for a long time? How do you keep them engaged and involved with that?

Chelsea: Oh yeah. I love that you mentioned that even those lessons or units or focuses that might just be going for a long time. Because holding attention can be just as difficult as getting the attention. The first thing to consider is really chunking content. And I like to really think of it, I had heard this thing and who knows if it’s even research-based at this point or who I heard it from but I had heard to really kind of think about student attention spans in sort of chunks of time that match with their age. If I’m teaching 13-year-olds at this moment, then I really need to kind of think about keeping my chunks of instruction into about 13-minute chunks. And it’s just at least a good rule of thumb to kind of think about at least being aware of the fact that a full 50 minute class period is probably too long to try to stick with something, even if it is something that we enjoy doing.

Breaking that task down into smaller chunks or at least giving breaks at certain time increments, like every 10 minutes let’s take a quick movement break and get up out of our seat or every 15 minutes let’s do quick check in and maybe walk around the room, do a gallery walk and see where everyone’s at and things. Just kind of chunking up the lesson a little bit. Also doing pulse checks. Even just those quick check ins, how is everybody doing? Do you need a break? How do you feel? What questions do you have? Kind of opening that dialogue and then honoring that if students do say they need a quick break or they could use some help or need to kind of come back to something a little later.

Checks for understanding are great too. Those simple, maybe you have a three question quiz planned and you were going to save it until the end of the class period. Why not put that in the middle if it’s something that doesn’t depend on the information that’s coming later? Because then that splits things up, gives everybody a break and then they can get back to the task at hand. Or maybe you’re doing some voting on an online platform or doing a quick little vocabulary quiz to review for something going on later in the week.

Some of those activities can happen throughout the class period. We don’t necessarily have to kind of pile everything together. Everything doesn’t necessarily have here’s my intro, here’s all of my instruction or all of the doing or making and then here’s the end. We can kind of mix things around a little bit. And then always a great go to is peer engagement opportunities. If students have the chance to talk with each other, to partner up, to share ideas, to look at each other’s work, to get up out of their seat and engage with each other is always going to help bring everybody back.

Tim: Yeah. Very cool. All right. The other thing that I was thinking about as you were talking is just the students who don’t want to be engaged at all. I know that’s a big problem for a lot of secondary teachers but you see it at every level. I guess what would your advice be for students who are not or don’t want to be engaged? How do you motivate reluctant learners?

Chelsea: Yeah. The first thing I’d say is don’t take it personally. It’s not you. I would say just do a little bit of perspective taking maybe and consider what might be that something that’s causing that barrier with that student. And it may be something completely out of your hands. However, there are a couple things that you can try out and I think I’ll kick back to Marzano again on this one. He has some different things that you can consider based on what might be going on with that learner. For instance, maybe this is a student that has that real fear of failure. They either have sort of that perfectionist and I’m not going to try it unless I can do it exactly right. Or maybe they’re just afraid of not getting it correct, not being right, not being happy with the end result. Some things that you can think about doing is sort of those growth mindset ideas.

This might not be an easy thing for you to do yet but here’s how we’re going to get us or even modeling or doing think alouds and especially of mistakes can be really helpful so that that student can see that it’s okay to mess up in this classroom and we’re going to support you the whole way and things like that. Opportunities to redo or improve things is great. Maybe a mess up has happened and if it’s not a huge deal, well, let’s try it again. Also making sure you’ve got some clear objectives happening. I really love the structure of, we will do this today so that we can ultimately accomplish said thing and we’ll know we have it when we’ve done this. It just really helps to let students know that the tasks that we are completing are ultimately getting us to this goal. We’re working towards a certain something and here’s how we know when we’re going to get there. And I’m here, my job is to support you in that along the way.

Things like that and then pretests even can help. Then you’re just really aware of what students do already know or don’t know so that you can address that upfront. If there is a skill that is lagging or extra support that a student might need, you could give that one on one or give that in small groups or provide some extra supports, I guess. If you know of that ahead of time.

One of the other things would be lack of background knowledge or experience. It’s just something that our students are just kind of reluctant because they really don’t know nothing about that and it’s just sort of they don’t have necessarily that anchor there of an experience or something they already know to kind of tie them to or give them that interest. Just I would think about encouraging lots of wait time when asking questions or asking for volunteers, just giving students time to really think first because the classroom moves really fast and we do want that. We want the class period to go quickly. But sometimes we can discourage kiddos who have that kind of lack of experience or feel a little less secure, by really rushing things. Giving adequate wait time, of course, that encouragement, thanking people for their responses, giving positive feedback as often as we can.

And then I really love the strategy of phoning a friend. Anytime a student is called onto answer something or needs a little extra support, to always give them the option to ask another student in class to help respond. I think one of the things I would suggest with that one is if a student is able to phone a friend and ask them to answer for them, that you then go back to that same student and ask them whether they agree or whether they would’ve answered that way or to even just repeat the answer back. Go ahead, and you tell me that answer as well. Then they’ve also still engaged with you in a positive way so then you can also give that praise for their answer too.

And the last one would be a really lack of connection and I think that’s honestly the biggest one. And we kind of talked about this earlier, having that connection in the classroom to you and to the other students in class. That’s another reason a student might be reluctant and so I would encourage some self-reflection there as the teacher, am I offering some differential treatment in any capacity? Am I not engaging that student? Is there anything I could do to build that relationship with them in a better way to encourage more active participation?

One of the ones I really love is just greeting students at the door and saying something to every single student as they walk in. Or there’s even one where you can sort of set a challenge for yourself to spend two minutes talking to that student about something non-school related for 10 days in a row. To just really kind of deep dive with them a little bit. Giving kids opportunities to talk about themselves, especially gosh at the middle school level, that was a huge one for me. To ask questions to where they could talk about themselves.

Tim: I was going to say, that’s big at the high school level too. Kids love anything that’s about them.

Chelsea: Yeah. Yeah, just building that connection is a huge one as well.

Tim: Oh, that’s awesome. We’ve talked about beginning class, we’ve talked about going through class, we’ve talked about engaging students. Now I’m curious about how we wrap things up. How do you in class in a way that keeps students engaged either through the end of the class or all the way through the end of an entire unit or an entire lesson?

Chelsea: Yeah. Let’s get cleaned up. We do need to clean up. And that definitely has to happen. And there are days when supplies aren’t out and all of that too, but I would really encourage regardless of the type of lesson is really thinking about the closure. You talked or asked me earlier about starting the lesson and that that’s super important. And I do think that ending the lesson is just as important. I don’t know if you’ve heard this theory of primacy and recency thing but it’s often the first and last thing that gets remembered really well. What was the first thing that caught my attention? And then what was the last thing that I got? And so to really focus on that start and end is a really smart move.

Wrapping up, I’d really love, honestly, circling back to any essential questions of the lesson or any of those big ideas that don’t have necessarily a right or wrong answer. And this could be done through a quick write in a sketchbook or journal, this could be have a conversation with a peer or this could be a small group or a whole group sort of talk about it, discussion, but really kind of posing those big questions to get students thinking about those that may have been mentioned at the beginning of class or the beginning of the unit. It’s a great way to kind of put a bow on things, is to bring it back to the beginning.

Reflections are always great. Reflecting on the class period itself, reflecting on the artwork or the learning in particular, reflecting even just on self and emotions and how we’re feeling going into the next class or leaving for the school day or being done with said project. Review games are great. And just even quick ones can be fun. I love the idea of doing things like teasers or thought provoking questions for the next class period or the next school day. Kind of a little something dangling there, almost like that cliffhanger ending at the end of the show for next week or that kind of thing, kind of putting something out there or oh, tomorrow you are not going to believe what we’re going to do. And of course, everyone wants to ask what and you just have to zip it and be dramatic and they can walk out super excited.

And then riddles or puzzles to solve are kind of a cool idea as well. Sending them on their way thinking about something related to your content or related to your class. And they might even do some Googling on their own or they might ask the student from another class, “Did you hear about this?” Kind of posing a thought-provoking question or a riddle that has to do with your content and then sending them on their way without the answer. They’ll leave wanting to come back the next day for sure.

Tim: Oh, I love all of these ideas probably because that’s stuff that I love to do myself but I think they will all work really well. You have a lot of ideas that I would love to dive into more but I think we need to wrap it up for today. Can you come back another time and we can talk a little bit more about this?

Chelsea: Oh, absolutely. I would love to. Thank you, thank you.

Tim: Awesome. Yes, thanks for coming on today. Chelsea, it’s been awesome conversation. And like I said, hopefully we can continue it more in the future.

Chelsea: Thank you.

Tim: All right. Just two points, so I can wrap things up really quickly. Chelsea said a lot of great stuff but two things that I really want to point out before we leave. Number one, you don’t have to go over the top. You don’t have to spend energy. You don’t have to, as she said, go Vegas or teach like a pirate. You need to do what feels right for you. You need to do what’s true to your personality because more than anything, authenticity is what students want from their teacher and that authenticity is what’s going to help you get your kids engaged. Plan exciting things, do fun stuff but don’t do anything that you don’t feel comfortable with. Make sure, like I said, you’re staying true to yourself and to your personality and to your teaching style.

And secondly, Chelsea said, “Go past just clean up.” I think this is the hardest for so many teachers, we clean up and then shoot the kids out of there and there’s nothing else that gets done at the end of class. But she gave so many incredible strategies to not only wrap up your class but to let kids take away some additional learning just by what you’re doing at the end of class and how to get them excited for the next class.

I’m hoping that those ideas can help you and any of the ideas, I think we talked for half an hour, so there’s a lot there and I’m hoping that you can find something there that can help you. Thank you to Chelsea for coming up on, for sharing a lot of those different strategies. And hopefully when she comes on again, we can dive a little bit deeper into the idea of engagement.

Art Ed Radio is produced by the Art of Education University with audio engineering from Michael Crocker. Thank you as always for listening and I will be back next week with Kyle Wood and a quick introduction to art’s madness, that I think you’re going to enjoy. We’ll talk to you then.

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.