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Maximize Interest and Increase Student Engagement

By: Sophia Viglione

Out the window. That is where I remember staring longingly as the teachers of my youth droned on about seemingly useless information in the classroom. The things that I liked were out the window: grass, the sun, my bike, ice cream trucks, my neighborhood—and so was my attention. I imagine I am not the only person to recall an experience like the former. As children, school sometimes feels like a place in which teachers micromanage, creative freedom goes to die, and the only solace is recess. This does not have to be the case—educator, tutors, and parents alike can combat the idea that school is an oppressive regime by focusing on student engagement, and maximizing choice.

Learning Leaf tutor and student

Many people talk about how college becomes “more fun” and “easier to care about” when you begin taking the classes in your major. Personally, I found this to be true. It is natural that we tend to care about, well, the subjects we care about! In elementary, middle, and high school classrooms, students do not have the luxury of narrowing in on math and forgetting about reading. Instead, they have to learn to grasp all subjects, including both their favorites and those they tend to dislike.

One student I’ve worked with as a tutor is not the biggest fan of math. What we say as role models affects our students as well as our own children: “Study for your history test now because I said so!” We’ve all heard something like this before, but “because I said so” is not be the best way to encourage students to engage with academics or to do anything, really. In fact, studies show that authoritarian parenting styles have a positive correlation with increased behavioral problems in children and adolescents.[1] In order to avoid behavioral problems, teachers, parents, and tutors need to find strategies to keep students focused and engaged before the situation escalates to authoritarian ultimatums.

Increase Student Engagement: provide choices

One method of increasing student engagement is through maximizing their student’s choice in any given situation. Students tire of being told exactly how and when to do every assignment. In my tutoring sessions, I’ve worked on maximizing the student’s options, which gives them a sense of ownership and autonomy in the session. Oftentimes I’ll start a session by saying, “Ok, we have reading, spelling, and a multiplication game to work on today. Which do you prefer to start with?” I’ve often found that students jump at the chance to actively engage with the lesson by making choices, even if they are only making simple choices such as which marker to use or what color paper. I also try to personalize lessons by making them Darth Vader-themed for a student who loves Star Wars or Elsa-themed for a student who loves Frozen. The students get so into it, which is truly wonderful to witness. Once one of my students finished a Darth Vader math worksheet and said, “Next time I want one with Storm Troopers!”

At Learning Leaf, we believe that it is important to encourage learning with a positive attitude and personalized lessons that allow our students to have fun and take ownership of the learning process. Instead of, “Now it’s time to do math…” our students might hear something more like, “Hey, check out this Batman math worksheet I brought, isn’t it cool? Let’s see how if you can beat your record on subtraction problems per minute!”


[1] Anne Thompson, Chris Hollis, and David Richards. “Authoritarian Parenting Attitudes as a Risk for Conduct Problems.” European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. 2003.