Increase Student Engagement by Connecting Students with Real People
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Increase Student Engagement by Connecting Students with Real People

In an Education Week post, Here Are 3 Top SEL Strategies That Can Help Improve Student Engagement Right Now, guest bloggers Alex Kajitani, Tom Hierck, John Hannigan, and Jessica Djabrayan Hannigan identify three high impact elements to increase student engagement:

  1. Students are connected, safe, and welcomed.
  2. Students have choice, voice, and agency in their learning.
  3. Students are able to connect what they are learning to real-world meaningful applications.

I have always realized that those outside the classroom often have an easier time than the classroom teacher in convincing students that there is a real-world application of the content they are learning. Kalitani, et al write:

“We can help students gain a true sense of real-world, meaningful application of what they’re learning in class by connecting them with real people from their community. With distance learning, there has never been an easier, or better, time to bring in “special guests” (via videoconferencing) who can share with students about their jobs and lives and how they’ve applied their experiences in school. The key is to invite guests who live in the same neighborhood as students and who reflect their ethnicity and experiences. Studying square footage? Invite a local contractor to join you in your next class meeting. Studying story plot? Bring in the local reporter. (Be sure to have the students read some of the reporter’s stories in advance, to provide context.) You won’t need to go far to find people—start by asking your students or colleagues if they know someone who fits what you’re looking for. When students meet living examples of people from their community, they connect what they’re learning in class with what they need to know for the “real world,” all while helping them create a clearer vision for their future.”

A fifth-grade student watches a lesson on her computer during school. <br /> <strong> Photo by Allison Shelley for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action </strong>

For those who have started back from the break in a virtual setting or those in a hybrid form with some time scheduled for virtual instruction, bringing members of the community to interact with your students might provide a student engagement boost. The resilient educator website’s post 5 Ways to Involve the Community in Your Classroom by Kara Wyman, offers these suggestions:

Invite local professionals to problem-solve with your students.

Consider having your students tackle a local or more global problem and inviting professional as well as local community members with personal experiences to be key sources of information and perhaps even partners in brainstorming and/or assessing and predicting the effectiveness of ideas. As an example, students could research places where people are struggling with having clean drinking water. This experiment could be used in the classroom during a hybrid class as a kickoff or modeled by the teacher in a video clip. Global organizations dealing with the drinking water problem and local scientist or city water employees could be interviewed online perhaps by a few students who had gathered interview questions from the entire class.

Have students interview locals and present to the community.

Incorporating interviews into your curriculum gives students a chance to learn first-hand about a local person’s experience with topics such as their experience immigrating to America or what they went through during a historic moment that occurred during their lifetime. Could your students examine the impact of COVID 19 on your local heath community and/or on other local services? Might they create a presentation for parents or the community on creative ways that people have dealt with being quarantined?

Involve your students in a local non-profit.

Consider having students create a PR campaign for a non-profit organization. To create an effective campaign, students need to research and connect with the organization’s local staff, create an organized plan and collaborate in groups. Meaningful connections between students and non-profit organizations help both parties feel valued. This type of project can have students working in breakout rooms during a synchronous lesson, allowing the teacher to interact with smaller groups of students. Students’ initial designs might be critiqued by a representative from the organization during a whole class session that includes feedback and ideas from the class for increasing effectiveness.

Man examining plants while standing in greenhouse

Bringing the Community Into the Classroom by Emelina Minero states that experts abound in every community, and these engineers, chefs, etc. can be an authentic audience for student work. She illustrates by citing educators at Hood River Middle School, Oregon, who work with community members as learning partners to make student learning relevant, engaging, and applicable to the real world.

“A learning partner is an expert in the community or somebody who can help us take our learning from the classroom and apply it into the real world. Learning partners can bring their passion to students. A local geologist did more than make student learning relevant — he shared his 25-year passion of being in that field. That’s a real gift.”

Search Institute identifies expanding possibilities for students as an element of building developmental relationships. They recommend connecting students with people and places that broaden their worlds to inspire them to see possibilities for their futures and to broaden their horizons by exposing them to new ideas, experiences, and places.

This may be the perfect time to reach out to the greater community to find sources of engagement that increase student ownership of their learning. Chances are good that these resources will add to our learning and engagement as educators as well.


Photo of student by Allison Shelley for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action

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