Increasing Student Engagement

My school realized after five years of diminishing math scores that the school had a problem. The school received 10 years of grants and special programs for reading and so the teachers neglected math. The teachers shared a phobia regarding math. Some days the student had up to 40 minutes of math at the maximum. Some days they taught math for 20 minutes a day and some days they didn’t teach math at all.

The fifth and sixth grade were departmentalized and math became a subject that students received every day for at least 45 minutes. They hated math and rebelled by disobeying the teacher and the teacher spent a great deal of time yelling at students and sending students to the office.

Last year, I started teaching math for the fifth and sixth graders 1 class period a day as well as afterschool. They grew in leaps and bounds because of the constant practice and engagement. Their regular teacher became offended during the time that I taught her students but she didn’t have the classroom management skills or the teaching skills. The bigger problem involved the teacher’s unwillingness to take responsibility for her student’s lack of engagement.

This year we decided that I would look at the Math program at the entire school. Each grade has two teachers. My intervention involved every teacher using a research based math program and implementing math at least 2 hours a day every day and include games and other activities during math times.

My intervention involved me teaching third grade twice a week for thirty minutes.  The fourth and third grade became compartmentalized as well. So students had one teacher for mathematics and science for a half-day and another teacher for Reading, Language Arts and Social Studies. The accountability increased with one teacher being responsible for the two subject areas.

All of the teachers agreed to the plan of teaching math for 2 hours per day. 2 mornings per week, the Kindergarten, First grade and second grade would teach math in the morning and 3 days a week, they would teach math for 2 hours in the afternoon. One-third grade teacher was not happy with teaching two classes and having to bond with all the children. She felt that the children were too young to change teachers. The other teacher was ecstatic with the change. She was not ecstatic with me teaching her students 2 days a week for 30 minutes during their accelerated reading time. If she didn’t want me to teach her students, she needed to ensure that all students knew their multiplication facts before Christmas and I would stop teaching them and step back.

The plan involved observing each class at least once a week for an hour to ensure that teachers were teaching Math 2 hours a day. The greatest challenge after increasing the time would be increasing activities utilizing math. Children need to experience math as a life activity instead of solving problems with pencil and paper all day every day. They needed to be able to see the connection with math and life.  Test taking is an important skill that students need for life but the real test involves using math to solve every day problems.

I began teaching two classes for thirty minutes a day with the multiplication facts. My friend María Inés Brumana Metodología, has given me a lot of suggestions and games to use with the students with whom I am working. I observed the students for one day. I noticed that the third grade students were not disciplined. They sit quietly and perform pencil and paper tasks for math. As long as they don’t talk, no one seems to notice or care that they don’t understand how to do the problems. When I observed, the teacher had to engage the class and it became evident that the students were not accustomed to this form of engagement.

I work with the third graders again next week. I may not get to the games this week. Before I can have them interact with each other on a social level, I have to establish a new world order. What is a new world order? The children are undisciplined and lack focus. So first I establish that I am in charge by standing at the door and refusing to let them in their class until they lined up properly and entered quietly. Then I assign seating and tell each student where I want him or her to sit. I established groups and communicate with them by identifying their name and group. Then I have them to make a name plate with paper handed out by a peer who was listening and write their names on the nameplate so that I could read it.

They quiet down quickly while nervously and curiously waiting on my next directive. I have their attention. We review my rules of engagement and then proceed with oral drill. I may spend the next week acknowledging when they follow my rules of engagement and continuing with the oral drill. I will conduct some oral drills by groups, which establishes a foundation of belonging. So they learn to interact with each other in a social and civilized way.

Whenever there is a leadership vacuum, someone fills it. The two teachers that I am working with failed to provide leadership because they are looking for other jobs. The children’s regular teachers are consumed with their personal problems and burned out. They hit and holler. As long as students sit quietly, they are content.

Several students stepped out to provide leadership in negative ways. So I have to dethrone the current leaders and establish my leadership. These children have parents in leadership roles in the community.  I don’t care about community bullies. I recognize and encourage responsible behavior, which creates good citizens. I insist on student engagement, which increase achievement. I love teaching and I will keep you posted on my progress.



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9 responses to “Increasing Student Engagement

  1. Happy to hear that you are taking these steps. So many people, students and teachers alike, fear or dislike math, without good reason. On a macro level, it’s one of the reasons that our country’s educational competitiveness has continued to decline. I’m happy to hear that you are bringing Maria’s ideas and games to the scene. It’s a GREAT way to teach and maintain engagement. Looking forward to your progress updates. Paul

  2. I agree with you: without engangement there´s almost no learning, games are the way to engange students in the most natural way. They catch our attention so naturally that students make a bigger effort to concentrate and memorize because they want to win. Is this bad? Dr Gwen Bailey Moore says “Winning produces a feeling of success. Success and winning in games can be transferred to getting an A, B, or C in the next test in school. For example, a child´s thought pattern might be as follows: Paying attention helps me to win. Winning makes me feel good about myself. I am not so bad. Better grades make me feel good about myself. Paying attention can help me achieve better grades and have better feelings about myself.” Not bad at all! Games provide marvelous ways for students to improve their ability to attend. “Strategies, to be developed through the thought proceses and manual manipulation of games, are the framework on which attention spans expand.”

    • Children need to be taught to socialize. They need to learn turn taking and congratulating winners and accepting victory as well as defeat in a gracious manner. They also need to understand that learning can be fun. This separation between work and play, play and learning has to end. You can learn something useful and have fun and enjoy what you are doing. I hope to instill and teach children that you can learn and have fun. It would be great if they could play some of the games when they are at home with family or playing with friends. Before i get into the games, I am going to let them take turns being the teachers.

  3. I appreciate your clear, honest description of salvaging what most people consider to be unsalvagable.

    I have a new interest in maths myself, as my kids are now of that age.

    A nice new article for you might be advice for teachers on how to avoid burnout and value the process of life-long professional development.
    ‘How to’ articles are powerful!!

    • Thank You for the wonderful thoughtful comment. It has taken me five years and constant reminders that some teachers do not want to be life long learners. The Chinese have a saying or curse “May you live in changing times” For the first time, I am meeting teachers who choose teaching because they want a stable job with benefits and security. They do not want to be lifelong learners and they don’t want change. They want things to remain the same. So many teachers are looking forward to retirement because they don’t want to embrace technology or any of the new changes. I am going to write about the importance of knowing the why’s. So many teachers are resistant because they don’t understand the why’s. They implement so many “canned” programs because someone tells them to do it. They don’t understand why they are doing it and they can’t make modifications or adjustments. We have to peel back the layers on the top down approach and examine what we are doing and how it affects the future. How and when will a student use what we are teaching??

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