It’s the 21st century and the world is moving faster than most of us can keep up with. We seem to have this obligation to take in as much information as humanly possible. We have easy access to ultra-fast tablets and smartphones that connect us instantly to our family and friends, and we have this seemingly bottomless resource called the World Wide Web that we can call upon at any time to provide us with any information that we might want or need. And to top it all off, the ultra-fast is becoming faster, and the bottomless resource is becoming deeper.
What does this mean for 21st century learners in the classroom? Quite simply, it means that if you’re not keeping students engaged or interested in what’s being taught, they’ll have no problem shifting their interest to become stimulated somewhere else. Surely everyone is bound to drift off during a boring presentation, but if that boring presentation stays consistent throughout your daily routine, you’ll start to find your students drifting off to somewhere else – and in their eyes, those places are endless.
The real trick to keeping your students engaged is to eliminate dead time. Sure, you may think that your awesome 25-slide PowerPoint presentation is doing your student’s learning objectives justice, and you might be somewhat right about that. But for the most part, this pedagogical approach isn’t keeping the seats in your classroom full of life. If you’re spending all of your time talking to your students and not allowing time for feedback or reinforcement, your students won’t be absorbed by what’s going on and they’ll easily find something else that interests them.
Try mixing things up so you don’t get caught in predicted routines. Your students will appreciate various approaches and respond by paying more attention to what’s going on. Do physical activities with them, allow private thinking time that encourages self-reflection, plan time for well-managed student-to-student communication – the point is to put the focus directly on them. There needs to be a shift from teacher-centered learning to student-centered learning in order for effective development in the 21st century.
When you plan your learning activities, be sure to leave ample time for discussion. One thing that you can do with this time is periodically ask your students questions to reinforce subject matter you’ve just gone over. Ask each individual student to provide at least one answer so it opens up discussion between the entire class. Another thing that you can do with this time is use it to create teamwork tactics that emphasize accountability. You can do this by dividing your class in teams for a project or task, and ask them to come to you, the teacher, only if they have asked and discussed the question with all of their team members first. This will open up discussion between team members and allow them to learn from one another, while also teaching them valuable lessons of responsibility.
Don’t be afraid to mix things up and try new instructional approaches. You owe it to your students, as well as yourself, to explore your creativity and find something that you’re comfortable with and have a lot of fun doing. Remember, your students have a plethora of things directly at their fingertips that can stimulate them, so you need to make sure that you’re eliminating as much dead time as possible so their attention doesn’t shift elsewhere. Put the focus directly on your students and we’ll be well on our way to keeping them engaged in this ultra-fast, globalized and information-rich 21st century.