How DO You Keep Your Students Coming Back?

9 Big Ideas about Student Engagement and Motivation – for This Year and Every Year!

It can be hard enough to keep students interested in their school work when spring arrives and the weather warms up. This spring poses special challenges. Students are parents are growing increasingly weary with the schooling situation they find themselves in, and many teachers are noticing a steep drop-off in the engagement of their students.


We’ve more or less lost the ability to use grades as “carrots and sticks” to motivate (or punish) our students, and this could be a good thing. Maybe we should embrace this moment in time, and use it to question why we ever allowed marks to matter so much in the first place. Are they really the only reason our students would ever feel compelled to do the work we assign? If so, let’s admit that we have a problem!


So, if grades won’t do the trick, we need to rethink the learning experiences we’re offering our students. Here at AAC we have some ideas that might help you hold onto your kids, and continue the learning this spring. And as a bonus, these are important ideas for us to think about anytime.



Take a good hard look at what you’re asking your students to do. Is there something of genuine interest in the work? Is it intriguing in some way? Could it spark their curiosity? If you feel bored by the work you’re assigning, imagine how your students are feeling right about now.


Do your best to assign work that’s relevant in some way to the lives of your kids – authentic and meaningful. This is an unprecedented time in their world, and their lives have changed in so many ways. Do your best to connect the tasks you assign to some of the things going on in their world.


Make sure you know why you’re asking students to do a task. Are you clear on the learning goal? Is it truly worthwhile, and will the task help students achieve it? Do your students understand the goal, and why it’s important? Building a shared understanding the learning goals can go a long way toward helping students care about the work.


Success is motivating, in and of itself. Does the work you’re assigning provide all your students with an opportunity to succeed? Often, the students we are most likely to “lose” are those who have not experienced much success in school. For those students, you might want to consider breaking tasks into smaller chunks, and let them get used to the idea that they can be successful. After all, it’s not a competition. It won’t matter if some students are doing different things than other students. 


Give students choice whenever possible. None of us feel like we have much control right now, and that can lead to feelings of hopelessness and disengagement. By providing choice, you can help your students rebuild a sense of control. How will they demonstrate their learning? Which question(s) will they answer? What topic will they explore? Who they will interview? The possibilities for choice are endless!


Provide an audience for your students’ work. Is there a way for them to post their project online, for their class or for a wider audience? Can they share it with family members, or with the community in some way? An audience provides an additional sense of purpose, and makes the quality of the work matter.


Learning is, at its heart, a very social endeavor. Try to find ways in which students can collaborate with others. If technology skills and infrastructure are up to it, things like breakout rooms make it possible for students to have discussions or solve problems collaboratively. Shared documents allow students to work together on a task, and with grades no longer very relevant, we don’t have to stress about assigning marks in a group project. You might also encourage students to work with a family member, and create something together.


Have fun! Do your best to provide activities that are hands-on, or that allow students to step away from their work space and get active. An outdoor shape scavenger hunt, with a camera to capture and share what you find, beats any number of math worksheets, any day.


And finally? Like always, what matters most is building and maintaining positive relationships. Make sure you reach out and connect with your students and their families in as many ways as you can possibly imagine. Find out how they’re doing, and what you can do to help – what’s working for them and what problems they’re facing. Give your students time to share their thoughts, feelings, questions, and concerns with you. Help parents and care-givers understand that you’re there to help, and that the relationships they build with their children right now matter more than completing every assignment.

We hope there’s something here that sparks ideas on your part. We’ll end by channeling one of our AAC mentors, Rick Stiggins, by asking the question: What could you ask your students to do tomorrow that they wouldn’t want to miss?

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