Engaging is one of those buzzwords that you are probably getting sick of hearing, right? Everything is supposed to be “highly engaging,” so kids will get excited about learning because class is just so much fun. But have you ever wondered this: is our job really about engaging, entertaining – or educating?
For me, it IS about all three, but I also believe there’s a certain mix that produces quality learning. The problem occurs when there’s too much emphasis on entertaining. And it’s a problem for both the teachers and the kids.
In fact, I think that the current focus on education as entertainment is doing a severe disservice to everyone involved.
Education as Entertainment is NOT Good for Students
Now before I begin, let me be clear: I’m not saying that we should create boring lesson plans. Not at all. When I refer to education as entertainment, I’m talking about the trends that I see on social media. You know the ones: lesson plans that are theatrical presentations, complete with costumes and decorations and show-stopping special effects.
These are fun and highly entertaining. I mean what kid wouldn’t get excited about learning when their teacher appears in costume and wows them with an interactive experience? And I’m not against these at all – if they happen every now and then.
There are two problems with these performances from a learning perspective: there can sometimes be more focus on the show rather than on the learning. There may be lots of Instagrammable moments, yes, but what exactly are the kids taking away from the experience? What was the desired outcome apart from the fun of it all?
Yes, there are ways to make a lesson amazingly fun AND full of lots of learning opportunities. And again, those are ok every now and then, just not all the time.
Because we can’t teach kids that they only way to learn is when we are entertained. We can’t teach them that the only way to get motivated to work is when someone makes it an exciting process. They need to learn that yeah, sometimes learning is a lot of fun; but other times it’s a lot of work. And, there can be a great deal of satisfaction in both.
That’s why it’s important to keep them engaged, not just entertained.
Education as Entertainment is NOT Good for Teachers
Not only is this trend a bad one for students, it can be downright dangerous for teachers. Yes, you’ll get a great deal of satisfaction from a sea of excited faces amid the din of excited chatter if you nail an entertaining-style lesson. In fact, there’s nothing like it.
And, as I said, you can create exciting lessons that are full of learning opportunities. But, the pressure to do so can be enormous on teachers, especially those in their early years. It takes HOURS to learn the content for a course and to prep the lessons you need to deliver it. If you have to turn a bunch of them into learning “experiences,” then when do you sleep?
When a teacher is just learning their craft, social media can be a wonderful source of inspiration, but it can also be something that makes them feel inadequate if they feel like they need to measure up to what they are seeing others do – or post (and it’s not always the same thing).
Instead, teachers need to put their focus on keeping students engaged, rather than entertained.
What Does Engaging Really Mean?
So I began by saying that I believe there’s a certain mix of engaging, entertaining, and educating that produces quality learning. And when you get that mix right, that’s when the magic happens in your classroom.
And that magic starts with engagement, with students who are engaged in and engaged with their learning (note those prepositions). They are paying attention to something (you, a classmate, a book, a problem, etc.). They are asking questions that show they are interested or curious. They are collaborating with others or are intently working on their own.
To be engaged, your students need to be actively involved in a meaningful task that involves critical thinking, rather than just hunting for facts or passively consuming information. They are not feeling bored or frustrated because both of these things quickly kill engagement.
So How Do You Get Students Actively Involved & Engaged?
I’ve curated a list of blog posts that explain some of the lessons I use that keep most of my students engaged most of the time.
The first one, Dealing with Student Apathy will give you a formula for engagement. Then the ones that follow will give you some ideas you can use in your classroom:
Many of the activities above are included in this resource: Active Learning Exercises.
So are we entertaining, engaging, or educating? A special mix of all three can do wonders, as long as the focus is squarely on the learning.
I hope I’ve given you some ideas that you can use in your classroom.
If you want other engaging activities that you can use with your students online, I can help. Click here and I’ll send you 5 Days of Distance Learning Freebies, right to your inbox.
👉🏻 If you’d like more tips for keeping your kids engaged and learning, you can check out my digital course on classroom management & engagement my course, Creating a Climate for Learning is opening again in the spring. It’s chock full of strategies and resources that will help you feel confident about managing a class while getting your kids excited about learning. The course is closed now, but I can let. you know when it’s opening – just click below:
I hope that was helpful! Leave any questions in the comments section