How to Increase Student Engagement in the High-School Classroom

About 71% of U.S. adults are concerned about K-12 students’ academic progress. Between the pandemic, the shifts back and forth from virtual to in-person learning, a growing addiction to technology, and an overall shift in student attitudes, it seems more difficult than ever for students to stay engaged with their lessons.

High school students have extra challenges. Teenagers are often more difficult to engage than young children.

We’re here to offer advice to educators who are trying to engage their teenage students with ABA methods and more. Read on to learn more.

Set Clear Expectations From the Get-Go

Both at the beginning of the term and the beginning of every day in the classroom, it’s important to set clear expectations for the students. While high school students are teenagers and generally better at understanding what’s expected of them than younger students, clear reminders help keep them engaged and on track.

At the beginning of the term, teachers should give a list of expectations to their students for them to keep in their binders. They should also go over each expectation on the board to make sure students all understand.

At the beginning of every day in the classroom, those lists of expectations will relate to the actual activity at hand. Teachers can write them alongside the goals for the day and even connect them.

For example, if students are working on a group project, expectations may look something like this:

  • Students will cooperate in groups to complete the assignment
  • Students will not use their headphones during the assignment
  • Students will use their Chromebooks for assignment purposes only
  • If students have questions, they will raise their hands to ask
  • Groups will end the day with a finished product ready to present in class tomorrow

Students are better at staying engaged when they know what’s expected of them. When you write things on the board, they don’t have to keep asking questions and you can direct them to the board if they’re getting rowdy or not paying attention.

Build Relationships With the Students

“Building relationships” has turned into somewhat of a “buzz phrase” in the world of education, but it’s for a good reason. It can help students stay engaged in the classroom. Building relationships with high school students is a challenge, but it’s worthwhile if you can do it right.

Teenagers are still learning how to build relationships and engage socially and emotionally with the world. Teachers are important connections for them (even if they don’t always see it that way).

Even if students are currently in a virtual classroom, building relationships is crucial. students who feel as though their teachers care about them and their education are more likely to engage in classroom activities.

Optimize Your Classroom Seating Arrangement

For younger children, classroom seating tends to be more strict. For older children, you can often afford to be more flexible, but this doesn’t mean that it should be a free-for-all.

High school students want some level of freedom and autonomy, and by creating a strict seating arrangement, teachers are taking that away from them. In some cases, it’s necessary, but teachers should consider optimizing seating while still keeping it flexible.

Make seating make sense for the assignment at hand. While having all students sitting in rows facing forward makes sense for lectures, it doesn’t make sense for all activities.

Circle seating arrangements tend to work well for classroom discussions, for example. All students can see each other and engage in the activity.

Evaluate a variety of classroom seating arrangements and choose the one that works best for the students. This may change over time, and that’s okay.

ABA Techniques: Praise and Reward Positive Behavior

There are some applied behavior analysis (ABA) techniques that work well in conventional classrooms. Positive reinforcement is one of them.

Often, teachers choose to call out bad behavior but respond neutrally to good behavior. It makes sense, as that bad behavior is often disruptive. However, this isn’t the best option.

Teens often misbehave for attention. Teens who are misbehaving want a response, even if that response is negative. They will continue doing so if they keep getting that response.

If, however, you respond neutrally to bad behavior (either by not responding or responding by removing the student and sending them to the office if they’re disrupting others), the student won’t get that attention.

Instead, show the students that you respond to good behavior. Reward and praise students when they’re doing things well. Students who want attention will start doing what they’re supposed to do to get more praise.

Give Students Options

As we mentioned, teens crave autonomy. Give them options if you want them to stay engaged in the classroom.

This isn’t an option for every type of activity, but if it’s possible, try letting students choose what they want to do (within reason). For example, if students have to complete research projects, let them choose the topic (though teachers should make sure topics are appropriate).

Students will be more engaged if they care about what they’re learning.

Connect Learning to “Real Life”

Teens often struggle to understand how their education relates to the real world. Instead of using vague concepts, connect lessons to real life.

Let’s say that the lesson is about writing persuasive letters. Teachers could choose a relevant real-world topic, such as an issue going on in the students’ community, for the students to write about.

Perhaps the students are writing to an elected official to request more funding for local parks, for example.

This helps students understand how the skills they’re building contribute to the real world.

Use Technology When It Makes Sense

In a world where virtual learning is getting more and more common, high school students are very familiar with technology. There’s a time and place for everything, and sometimes technology can be too distracting. Teachers should use it when it makes sense to do so.

Play games, like Kahoot or Jeopardy, to engage students with technology. Only allow students to have their phones out if they’re using them for class purposes.

Show students how to use technology to their advantage rather than endlessly scrolling through social media. Better yet, educate them on how to properly understand what they’re scrolling through. For example, you can connect a lesson on persuasive techniques to how social media influencers influence their audiences.

Keep Your High School Students Engaged

Improving engagement in high school students is tricky. They’re rebellious and going through a lot of physical and emotional changes that are making them more difficult to manage. They often struggle to pay attention in class.

These techniques, ABA and otherwise, can help educators keep their teenage students engaged in the classroom.

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