Modern classrooms are now digital and face to face.

Empower Every Learner: 8 Innovative Strategies to Captivate Every Student

Student engagement is a vital aspect of learning, but how do you engage students? These eight practical strategies from a 23 year classroom teacher will get you started along with tech tips and tools to help you promote equity and engage every student in learning.

Today, a one-size-fits-all approach to learning is rapidly becoming obsolete. However, student-teacher relationships are more important than ever. In this guide, I’ll share a spectrum of strategies that promise not to just engage but to captivate every learner. Student engagement doesn't have to be hard. It is doable.

When we embrace the principles of blended instruction, self-paced learning, and mastery-based education, we can move past passive student experiences into active, engaged, self-motivated students who are part of their own learning journey. In this post, I’ll share eight innovative strategies I use in my classroom to improve student engagement, and the challenges and issues you need to know as you set your personal learning objectives for your classroom this year.

A note from the author as you look at these 8 student engagement strategies

Let me encourage you to “innovate like a turtle.” (I fully explain this transformational innovation strategy in this article, but basically, you pick 15 minutes twice a week to explore something new.) This guide is intended to encourage you and share ideas about the student engagement strategies that work for me. There is no guilt here! We all have different approaches. But I can guarantee that we all need to be setting goals for what we’ll learn next. We all benefit from learning additional strategies that promote student engagement.

Modern Classrooms can help you engage your students.

Modern Classrooms Project will help you bring engaging, exciting teaching to your classroom with their free online course and community. Go to coolcatteacher.com/modern right now to sign up for the Modern Classrooms essential course for free where you will learn about the strategies, research, and resources that can drive student-centered, self-directed learning in your classroom.

They can show you how to use technology to unlock deeper student relationships with your students.

So many people ask me how to respond to Artificial Intelligence and my response is always, that we need to shift our pedagogical practices in the classroom to the time-tested research-based best practices. That is what you get with Modern Classrooms so go to coolcatteacher.com/modern today and sign up. You’ll be glad you did.

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Strategy #1 - Blended Instruction.

Definition

What is blended instruction?

Blended instruction enriches student understanding and engagement by combining digital with traditional teaching methods.

Modern classrooms are now digital and face to face. Student engagement happens in both places and is necessary for an effective blended learning approach.

Modern classrooms are now digital and face to face. Student engagement happens in both places and is necessary for an effective blended learning approach.

Since 2005, I’ve been writing about “bricks and clicks.” So, we have had the face-to-face classroom or “bricks” for quite some time. And when we blended the classroom and added online classrooms, we added “clicks.”

This blended learning method offers improvements in learning versus just the face-to-face classroom alone. This has been shown to be true in multiple countries.

Blended learning just works. Research shows that we can promote active learning, maximize student engagement, and manage the cognitive load as we select videos.  Learning how to do this effectively can help us improve learning and increase student engagement in our classrooms as we blend the classroom.

How I  Blend Learning in My Classroom.

In my blended classrooms, I create videos on topics like HTML programming, creating a profit and loss spreadsheet, writing a business letter, and many other topics as I share on my YouTube channel.

Then, I embed these videos in tools that prevent skipping so I know they watch the whole video. Additionally, I embed formative questions for them at key points in the video to check for understanding. I also ask open-ended questions to receive feedback from students. (I often use an open-ended question at the end of the video, almost like a “ticket to leave” for a homework or class assignment. This helps me measure student engagement with the topic at hand.)

Blended Learning Tools.

To make this happen, I use tools like Edpuzzle, Peardeck, and Nearpod and am beginning to experiment with some of the newer tools like Scribehow and Synthesia.

Exciting News Ahead.

Video creation is about to get much easier for all of us (since research shows that teachers can struggle with this), making blended instruction available to all teachers. If you can Zoom, you can use flipped learning and blended instruction in your classroom.

Connecting with Students and Improving Student Engagement.

A strategic use of blended learning extends beyond content delivery and helps improve my connection with my students. For example, when I use YouTube videos already created through Edpuzzle, I can record my voice on the video and use it in Edpuzzle. This way, they will hear from me in the videos. Additionally, I'm moving around the classroom and helping them. I believe this strengthens my connection with students who can also pause and replay content that gives them trouble.

Helping When Students Are Absent.

Additionally, I like to use blended learning when sports or extra-curricular activities are causing students to be absent or when I have to be out of the classroom for personal reasons. I ensure that all students receive high-quality instruction and the formative assessment I find so valuable during these times.

There is a time for face-to-face instruction and a time for video instruction. But it is not all the time for either of these.

When I Always Use Videos.

For example, I've moved completely away from point-and-click teaching, where I demonstrate a piece of software, and then students do it. So, for example, when I taught Google Keep, I used a  demonstration video about how to use it and how to integrate the research from Google Keep into the Google Doc, and this was done with a video, letting students move quickly into the research phase. Additionally, when we went into our spreadsheet unit, I demonstrated a profit and loss financial document, and students followed along with me and created their own.

In my experience, using blended learning with videos is the most efficient way to teach for sophisticated software programs. I can just move faster than when I was doing “point and click” step-by-step instructions that I often had to repeat as I moved around the classroom. 

Virtual Manipulatives and Simulations Can Be Very Engaging Tools.

But you can use more than videos. Virtual manipulatives and simulations (like the math and science simulations used at PHeT) are also amazing parts of a blended learning classroom. 

However you do it, blended learning is a great topic to add to your personal professional development plan as a teacher as it can improve learning, help students who struggle, and help you improve your pace in the classroom. 

Strategy #2 - Self Paced Learning

Definition

What is self paced learning?

Self-paced learning accommodates individual learning speeds, leading to better comprehension and engagement.

Self-paced learning lets students progress through coursework at a rate that suits their individual learning speeds. It also caters to the needs of all students, those who want to move more quickly and those who need to slow down and have extra time learning a skill.

Research has found that students perceive self-paced learning environments as useful and motivating and can increase students' interest in a subject and the value they see in the content they are studying. Furthermore, self-paced learning provides increased flexibility, autonomy, improved time management skills, and lower stress, as learners have full control over their learning pace and can tailor the learning to meet their specific needs. 

While self-paced isn't perfect for every situation, it can be beneficial at many times during the school year. 

Self Paced Units can benefit students.

I often implement self-paced learning for 2-3 week units in my classroom, especially when teaching complex software like spreadsheets, PhotoShop, or Adobe Premiere Pro. In my experience, this approach allows students who catch on faster to move quickly into creating powerful products. Furthermore, the whole class moves faster as a synergy of excitement and learning builds as students help each other and see the work their fellow students create. 

Enrichment Activities Improve Everyone.

Additionally, I like encourage students to “make more than a 100” by engaging in extra, exciting enrichment projects to challenge them and create more fun projects. 

How Self-Paced Learning Improves Student Engagement in My Classroom.

Self-paced learning helps me meet the diverse needs of my students during the busiest times of the school year. It helps me teach tough subjects, and spend more one-on-one time with students who struggle while producing fantastic technology products that students love to create. 

In my opinion, having the capability to design self-paced learning experiences is an excellent skill for teachers to have in their tool kit. When I had to be out for six weeks while recovering from a broken foot, I had to create six weeks of self-paced activities and had excellent success. I found that the students kept pace with my regular expectations and tracked well without losing out on some fantastic learning. 

Strategy #3 - Mastery Based Learning

Definition

What is mastery-based learning?

Mastery-based learning focuses on competence, ensuring deeper understanding and skill acquisition.

Mastery-based learning can lead to increased student satisfaction, more positive attitudes, and less differences between students in what they learn. 

Teaching in my classroom is not just about grading but is about learning. I believe in creating a system where students can rework final products until they master the skills. I have a system where most of the work in my classroom since it is a technology-based course, allows students to improve upon and master the skills.

My Observations About Mastery-Based Learning.

In my classroom, implementing mastery-based learning has resulted in better learning outcomes and much-improved grades. So, when students do work, they receive extensive feedback. They then can take that feedback to edit and improve their original work, thus mastering the skill I was trying to teach. In most cases, students don't have the option of reworking, but it is required as one lesson builds upon the other. 

Students understand what they are doing as they are mastering each step. For example, when I'm teaching spreadsheets, students have fundamental knowledge about building formulas that they need to master so they can move forward. By ensuring mastery, I prevent what used to happen in my classroom with students having a cumulative loss of points because of a skill they didn't learn early in the unit. 

Furthermore, a mastery-based approach just makes me happier as an educator because I'm seeing students excel and truly grasp the material. 

Mastery-based learning is a different approach but one that can be learned and adapted in your classroom every day, so this is also something that can be added to your teacher toolkit. 

Strategy #4 - Technology Integration

Definition

Why is technology integration important?

Thoughtful integration of technology in classrooms enhances learning experiences and aids in achieving educational goals.

As I integrate technology, here are some of my personal views about the best success I've seen with it:

  • Criteria for Technology Selection. When I select technology, I base it on what works. Does it use multiple senses? (Video, audio, text, graphics, hands-on learning?) How does it personalize the learning? How does it support accessibility for all students? I also look for the ability to check for understanding at key checkpoints as well as the ability to provide feedback at a variety of checkpoints.
  • Personalized Learning. I like Edpuzzle because I can add my voice and add questions. Similar features are available in PearDeck and Nearpod. Because I'm using my voice, I'm keeping that personal connection but also making sure that students understand the content. Additionally, I walk around the room and interact with students as they learn to provide face-to-face support. No “feet on the desk for me” ever. When I use personalized learning tools, it is like a clone of me providing instruction via video while I move around the room and help students.
  • Addressing Absenteeism. I like to select tools that allow me to easily share them with students who must miss that day. Absenteeism can be a problem at certain times during the year or when sickness occurs in the area. So, when I use a tool that can be easily sent home via email for work, students can keep up with what is happening in class. 
  • Enhancing Student Engagement and Understanding. For sophisticated programs like spreadsheets, movie software, and photo editing, I believe using technology to teach about technology fits with a generation of learners who need to be comfortable learning about new software using tools like YouTube. While I'm making the videos, I'm also teaching students the long-term skills they need to troubleshoot and be independent, self-directed learners when faced with software challenges.

I believe that approaching technology intentionally helps me personalize learning, maintain student engagement, and also helps me address practical challenges like absenteeism. Learning the effective ways to integrate technology is one of the most useful things teachers can master..

Strategy #5 - Catering to Diverse Learning Needs

Definition

What does it mean to cater to diverse learning needs?

Modern classrooms must adapt to various learning needs to provide a comprehensive educational experience.

My Mom, who was also a teacher, first taught me about working to fully engage students. Here are some ways I use in my classroom to do this.

  • Multimodal Learning Approaches. I work to engage a variety of sensory experiences for students as I teach. For example, as I teach microprocessors, we use play dough to model the various components and how they work. Students then photograph and integrate them into a slide show with video explanations of each type of processor and the components that are included in them. Learning to do this can help improve learning with all students.
  • Equity in Class Conversations. When having conversations, I enjoy using the Equity Maps tool (shown in the graphic above) on my iPad to map out the conversation. This app lets me show the conversation dynamics (which students are talking with each other, which students follow up in the conversation to other student's comments, and people who work to include others.) This practice supports equitable participation, where each student's voice is valued and representative. The use of technology to visually map participation helps in promoting inclusive pedagogy but there are other tools that also help teachers do this.
  • Adapting Learning Environments. There are times that we will move class discussions outside or to different locations. This often engages different students who may not enjoy the classroom environment as much.
  • Promoting Emotional Intelligence and Interpersonal Skills. Equity Maps, the app already mentioned, can aid in conversations about including others. Additionally, when completing collaborative group projects, students reflect in writing on the content learned and their experience working with others. This reflection helps students develop empathy, understand different perspectives, and helps students collaborate effectively. Additionally, experiential questions can be easily verified, are unique, less likely to be “AI written,” and are more likely to be something students can speak to in class as well. 

Again, learning how to reach diverse learner needs is something especially important for today's teachers. We want to reach every child and learning more about this will help us.

Strategy #6 - Promoting Independence and Metacognition

Definition

What is metacognition?

Metacognition is "thinking about one's thinking." Vanderbilt University's Center for Teaching defines it as "the process used to plan, monitor and assess one's understanding and performance. Metacognition includes a critical awareness of a) one's thinking and learning and b) oneself as a thinker and learner."

Metacognition and independence are vital for students as they learn.

  • Promoting Self-Regulated Learning. As my students work in collaborative groups, they also reflect on their learning process. Students set goals, monitor their progress, and adjust their strategies based on their reflections. Additionally, I provide feedback on the process of reflection and help guide students in this process.  Self-regulated learning is shown to help students become more motivated and empowered.
  • Enhancing Metacognitive Awareness. As students bring in personal examples in their project work, this helps build metacognitive awareness. This aligns with Flavell's (1979) concept of metacognition, involving both knowledge and regulation of one's cognitive processes. As they reflect, they can connect classroom learning with their personal experiences. This helps them understand how they learn and process information.
  • Developing Collaborative Independence. As students work on group projects, they work together on a common goal and reflect on how they interact and learn within the group. In line with Vygotsky's social constructivism theory, social interactions are important in the development of cognition.
  • Facilitating Emotional Intelligence and Interpersonal Skills. This process of reflecting on group interactions also nurtures emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills. I want them to become self-aware and understand team dynamics as they interact. This is an essential aspect of Bandura's social learning theory, which emphasizes the importance of observing, modeling, and imitating the behaviors, attitudes, and emotional reactions of others.

Developing metacognitive skills by helping students set goals, reflect, and become more self-aware helps students grow and learn. Furthermore, it also gives an effective means to have students write works that can only be written by them, providing many benefits to both the classroom instruction of writing as well as student performance in every area of life.

Strategy #7 - A Strong Classroom Culture and Positive Teacher-Student Relationships

Definition

Why do classroom culture and student/teacher relationships matter?

Modern classroom practices positively transform classroom dynamics and strengthen teacher-student relationships.

Every classroom has a culture. It is amazing to walk into a room with unexcited students who are asleep or even talking while the teacher is at the front of the room, frustrated. Then, you see those students in another room asking questions, excited and learning. If the students are the same, it must be the culture of the classroom that is different.

While I do not advocate a “teacher is to blame” approach (schools have a culture, too, after all), if students are engaged in room 310 and not in 311, then there are things that can be done with those students to improve the culture and learning environment.

Culture is so important. Do my students want to learn? Do they help each other learn? Are they interested in the subject? When students are excited about learning, positive peer pressure emerges to supercharge the excitement about the subject and learning in the classroom. 

Examples of How I Work to Build My Classroom Culture in a Way that Improves Student Engagement.

But in many ways, it starts with the student-teacher relationship. As I shared in Hero at the Classroom Door, it can even start as students enter the classroom. Student engagement starts with how I talk to students and the relationship we have as human beings. I don't just want something out of them (to learn) I want to just know them because they are intrinsically important.

This is also something you can learn. For me, some of the examples of how I build classroom culture include:

  • Adapting to individual needs and absences. I like to select tools that let me easily share with students who miss that day. Additionally, those same tools are multi modal giving students different ways to learn the same content.
  • Everyone matters. Using tools like Equity Map, which I've already mentioned, improves content knowledge and helps students realize that every person matters in the classroom and needs to be included.
  • Faster feedback. I use AI Custom GPT's on my phone to provide faster and more varied feedback as students personalize their learning and move forward at their own pace. This gives me more time to move through the classroom. For me, AI helps provide more feedback mechanisms, and I even give my students prompts I've designed based on the rubric to help give them feedback.
  • Fostering collaborative learning. When we work with group projects and collaborative learning, I help them develop their metacognitive approach by having them reflect on the content of the collaborative experience and what they learned about working with others.

But this is my approach. So many things go into classroom culture, which is worth adding to your personal learning plan. But know this: a positive classroom culture positively impacts student engagement.

Strategy #8 - Experimentation, Learning and a Seasonal Approach

Definition

Why should teachers experiment and learn about how their students learn?

Implementing modern classroom practices comes with challenges, but strategic solutions can effectively address these issues. Additionally, sometimes different seasons of the year require different approaches from teachers.

Students are different. Schools are different. Sometimes seasons of a school's year may have very different needs. Learning to experiment with different methods of teaching and learning can help teachers find their “sweet spot” for their content and personal approach as well as what works with their students. Sometimes, as I experiment, I have to change from year to year.

My Personal Classroom Learning Experiments and How It Impacted Student Engagement.

Here are some of the results of my experiments in learning:

  • I have learned to go into self-paced learning for 2-3 week units based on whether we're teaching difficult software or at times where sports or illness is causing significant absences. This improves student engagement with the content and keeps the pace moving in class without leaving anyone behind.
  • Rapid feedback and assessment help my students go back and rework tasks while it is still fresh.
  • As new technology like AI offers different opportunities, I experiment with AI and get feedback. I want a culture of experimentation, learning, and ethical thinking about new technology, both because this analysis is required in my AP Computer Science Principles course and also because it is something that needs to be done.
  • Achieving beyond the grade. I also want a class that pursues excellence because excellence is awesome and just what we do. So, I work hard to make sure that when we move to self-paced learning that I give rich, exciting options for those who move faster or want a challenge and are more advanced. This fully helps student engagement for those who have completed work “early” and gives them meaningful learning experiences (and prevents classroom disruption that happens when students aren't learning.)
  • A flexible, relational environment. Life happens. When I give grace to a student having a difficult time, then when they get through it and onto the other side they come back ready to learn. My students are precious human beings with amazing potential first, and we will get the content in, but we must connect relationally before we can get to the learning. So, sometimes it means I need to experiment with a different approach because something is just not happening with students.

Classroom culture is different for many teachers, and that is part of what makes an excellent school a beautiful place. As we learn how a particular class learns, we can move ahead and make progress. So, part of my classroom culture (see strategy 7) is this culture of experimentation and learning and flexibility based on what is happening at the moment.

How to Move Towards an Excellent Classroom with Higher Student Engagement

In this post, I've worked to share my own classroom experiences in the hope of giving you ideas for your personal learning plan to boost student engagement.

⭐Modern Classrooms, the sponsor of this post, has many ideas for improving your classroom as you take their courses. 

Each strategy we've explored in this post, from blended instruction to fostering an awesome and engaging classroom culture, helps us more fully engage our students (and also makes the classroom more exciting for us teachers, for sure.) 

I know we have many struggles, and sometimes implementing new strategies can be difficult. For me, I'm always innovating like a turtle and picking new things to learn. I usually pick an edtech tool or two and an instructional strategy like one of these. In fact, many of these things I've shared with you directly result from the professional development and learning on these topics.

Keep an Open Mind and a Willing Heart as You Seek to Engage Your Students

I encourage you to embrace these strategies with an open mind and willing heart. I challenge you today to pick a topic and start learning. For those of you seeking guidance and resources to improve your classroom even more, the Modern Classrooms Project stands out as an incredible resource and community of educators to join.

Their approach to personalized, self-paced and mastery-based education aligns seamlessly with the ideas we have discussed in this post. You'll have the tools and support you need to bring these innovative strategies to life in your classrooms.

Let's all move forward together to help create classrooms where every student is engaged and excited about learning and every teacher is empowered to make a lasting difference in a job that is truly a noble profession.

Feel free to share your work in the comments below or on social media. I'd love to hear from you!

Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored blog post.” The company who sponsored it compensated me via a cash payment, gift, or something else of value to include a reference to their product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe will be good for my readers and are from companies I can recommend. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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