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8-Steps to Engagement in Lessons by Jenetta Hurst

Updated: Oct 22, 2020

A smiling female teacher stands in front of her class
If you Can Engage Them Then You Can Teach Them

The opportunity to blog about ways of engaging young people in the classroom really caught my attention.

Thinking about this topic quickly took me back to my NQT year, during which I worked as the Teacher in charge of Music in a small community school in the shires of the West Midlands.

It’s easy to make the assumption that engaging young people in Music lessons at school shouldn’t be too much of a challenge. Young people tend to enjoy music. Most people tend to enjoy some form of music, be that pop music, traditional or contemporary religious music, jazz, rock, or traditional music that reflects their cultural background.

Yet still, in my NQT year I inherited a class of 17 year 11 students who had a huge feat ahead of them in order that they pass their GCSE in Music at the end of the academic year.

A mixed ability male-dominated class, which I have found to be typical of music GCSE classes, and with the exception of one or two, a class who were largely disengaged. The model that I put in place during my NQT year proved to be successful in engaging my students, supporting them to achieve a strong pass rate and is a model that I have replicated throughout my teaching career in a range of school settings.

If you teach another subject and think this blog may not be for you, I urge you to stick with me for a few minutes!

Here are my suggested 8-steps to Engagement in Lessons that I believe can be applied to all subjects:

Step 1 – Believe in your students’ ability to succeed

Step 2 – Find a catchy hook

Step 3 – Mine for skills and knowledge gaps

Step 4 – Identify and address misconceptions

Step 5 – Give students a quick win

Step 6 – Use retrieval practice techniques to build up students’ stamina for exam success

Step 7 – Celebrate students’ successes and find something to celebrate in each student

Step 8 – Be authentic and guide students in using next steps for success

I’m going to elaborate on my suggested 8-steps to Engagement in Lessons a little further, below.

Step 1 – Believe in your students’ ability to succeed

Encouraging Dweck’s (2006) growth mindset in students requires you to have a growth mindset as a teacher. This ultimately means having the belief that each student can make progress, can learn more and can achieve with additional effort and work. As an NQT meeting my class of 17, I had to get to know the class quickly and I had to believe that they could pass their GCSE, with my support. The bar is automatically raised when growth mindset is at play.

Step 2 – Find a catchy hook

Get to know your students. What subject knowledge do students already have? Who is their favourite author, artist, sportswoman/man? What do they already have an interest in?

I once had a year 7 tutee who could accurately identify and tell us facts about every animal on a visit to a local zoo. The student was an avid reader and had a passion for knowledge of animals, developed during his time in primary school. As a teacher of Biology or Science, having this understanding of a child’s interests that they already bring to the subject is a surefire conversation starter and way into building respect and trust with that student.

Step 3 – Mine for skills and knowledge gaps

Through one to one conversations, checking for understanding through quizzes and by providing a whole class summary slide in response to teacher marking/review of work, a teacher can begin to build a picture of any gaps in students’ knowledge and skills. This then highlights content to be revisited and clarified with individuals or groups of students.

Step 4 – Identify and address misconceptions

Encourage students to respond to questions in class by identifying misconceptions and reframing them in a way that those students will understand. Dual coding is one such way to reframe misconceptions through the use of visuals such as timelines or images to represent key words and learning content.

Letting students know that misconceptions are a part of the learning process and building their confidence to be wrong and strong will ultimately allow students to find their voice on their journey to gaining a full understanding of the curriculum content.

Step 5 – Give students a quick win

Creating opportunities for students to show their understanding and share their learning allows us to offer praise. Praise will encourage self-belief and engage students further.

This may mean finding success in short activities such as quizzes, creativity tasks such as producing work for classroom displays, or composition and initial design tasks that focus on the initial stages of a new topic, theory or concept.

Step 6 – Use retrieval practice techniques to build up students’ stamina for exam success

This technique does what it says on the tin, requiring students to recall and retrieve prior learning, demonstrating that knowledge through quizzes, making revision notes and low stakes tests – I like to use ‘5 Quick Questions’ as a Do Now activity that can be shared on the board ready to go at the start of a lesson.

Step 7 – Celebrate students’ success and find something to celebrate in each student

Here are some suggestions: student of the week; star of the week; top 3 students (be sure to rotate to give everyone an opportunity to be praised!); sharing good practice; modelling excellent work through the use of a visualizer to highlight high-quality responses to the whole class; positive letters home; positive parent phone calls; school rewards (merits; credits; Vivo points); postcards.

Step 8 – Be authentic and guide students in using next steps for success

Assessment for Learning (AfL) suggests that students need to know where they are now and how to improve, to achieve their learning goal. You play a key role in supporting students’ ability to identify next steps for success.

Learners only ‘know what they know’, so next steps will need to be modelled to them either by you, or through sharing another students’ work (this could be a current or past student).

Jenetta Hurst is a music specialist with 15 years’ experience working in secondary schools in a range of settings. Jenetta is currently Head of Department for Music in a large secondary school in East London, and is a former senior leader. Jenetta’s interests are staff development, CPDL, ITT and teacher induction and she graduated from UCL Institute of Education with the MA Leadership in 2019. Jenetta is also an Honorary Member of the Birmingham Conservatoire. Catch her on Twitter @MsHurstMusic.

Thank you Jenetta, you knocked it right out of the park! As our second guestblogger, you raised the bar - thank you so much!

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