Education took a sudden turn this year with the onset of the worldwide pandemic. With student success partially hinging on their level of engagement in their studies, remote learning added an additional engagement challenge. Whether school happens in a traditional classroom or a virtual classroom in the future, it’s important to recruit a variety of strategies to engage students in the classroom experience.

Daniel Pink, the author of the book Drive, suggests that engagement is connected to three things:  (1) Autonomy, (2) Mastery, and (3) Purpose. 

What does this look like in the classroom? For students, autonomy means having options for how they approach an assignment. Mastery is finding the balance between work that is challenging but not so difficult it’s discouraging. Purpose means helping students understand the relevance of their current work and why it matters to their future.

So, with autonomy, mastery, and purpose as the framework, here are some specific strategies to engage students in the classroom.

Tell Stories

Stories connect and stories stick. Vivid, real life examples connect to the listener more deeply than other kinds of expository teaching. Students understand how a specific lesson or truth relates to the world in which they live and the world they’re aspiring to join after graduation. They contemplate ways in which they can contribute to the world and be a part of it. 

Build Teams

Small group work is another strategy to engage students in the classroom experience. This non-lecture style work is generally well received by students and allows for greater creativity and collaboration. The diversity of perspectives, work ethic, and personalities are also good ways to prepare students for their future workplace. 

Make it Visual

While some students learn well with verbal instruction, others do not. To accommodate visual learners and add variety, visual tools are a great strategy to engage students in the classroom. Examples include videos, movie clips, charts and diagrams, photographs, or any other visual material to enhance a lesson. This variety is especially valuable for online learning. 

Communicate Respect

Students need to feel respected. An instructor’s communication with them in the classroom, off-line, and through their graded work matters. Professors should encourage questions, give respectful answers, and provide thoughtful feedback on assignments. Therefore, prompt and thorough communication outside the classroom is a good strategy to promote student engagement in the classroom.   

Flip the Classroom

A less traditional model of teaching encourages learning to be done outside of the classroom and discussion to happen inside the classroom. The expectation is that students will complete questions, discussion, and assessment during class time. Teacher expect participation. This model raises the bar for the student learner by giving them an opportunity to manage their time, workload, and engagement in their work.

Building autonomy, mastery, and purpose are all strategies to engage students in the classroom. While the future of the educational classroom is in limbo, these universal principles will remain part of the foundation of student engagement in whatever learning environment is to come.