From a classroom-management perspective, it doesn’t matter at all whether students have fun in school. What matters is that students are actually engaged with an academic task. The task may be fun, or it may be boring. If the students are actually engaged with it, learning will happen, and behavior will be better.
I am in no way saying that teachers should never have balls fly across the classroom. Similarly, colors and music and technology all have their place as well. Like volume, all these tools effect the academic and behavioral landscape of your classroom, and they must be employed to maximal effect and minimal distraction. To do that, a solid, working definition of what engagement is and is not is necessary.
The farther I get into my teaching career, the more I realize that expecting students to work, and enforcing consequences when they fail to meet those expectations, is the only engagement strategy that matters. In the absence of consequences, and the control of the classroom that consequences yield, Jigsaw doesn’t work. Neither do gallery walks, numbered heads together, cooperative learning, learning stations, data-driven instruction, sage and scribe, or even common core learning standards. If you don’t, or “can’t” expect your students to enter your classroom and grab their own materials, sit in their own seats, and work in unsupported silence to the best of their own abilities, then none of the research-based strategies above will assist you. I’m not suggesting that independent, unsupported work is a good teaching strategy, nor am I saying that the above research-based techniques are useless. I am saying that if, on a random Thursday in February, you can’t show up to school and write ‘silent work day’ on the front board with a book and worksheet on every students desk, and know that your silent request will be followed, you also don’t have the management skills necessary to make any of the above listed strategies work properly. Start by mastering volume, and work your way forward from silence.
Engagement, simply defined, means that every student is doing something academic at all times during the school day. What that ‘something’ is depends largely on the classroom, subject, developmental level of the students, and whatever state-mandated curriculum is currently proposed to be the savior of the American Education System.
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So much of the writing published about education is published by people who don't teach. I figured it was time for a teacher to write about teaching. I've been proud to teach 8th-grade ELA in Dunkirk City Schools since 2007, and to serve at Fredonia State University as an adjunct professor, teaching educational technology since 2017.