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Student engagement – Are you giving your ‘quiet middle’ the attention they need?

Ben Dunford of Firefly Learning suggests some ways of improving motivation and engagement among your quieter students...

  • Student engagement – Are you giving your ‘quiet middle’ the attention they need?

After more than a decade in the classroom as an ICT and computer science teacher I got to know all the different types of students and how to get the best out of them.

There were the enthusiastic stars with their hands seemingly permanently in the air, and then there were the disengaged and occasionally disruptive. Both types demanded attention, prompting me to think hard about how to improve engagement with one set of pupils and sustain it with the others.

And like many secondary teachers, I knew full well the challenge of meeting the needs of another set – those altogether quieter students there in the middle, diligently working away.

Eclipsed from view

These students, the ‘quiet middle’, can sometimes be eclipsed in a teacher’s consciousness by the stars and the renegades. The quiet middle often goes unnoticed. They aren’t very outgoing, but their attendance is good, they work hard and get solid grades, even though they might not be top of the class.

When put like that, it might seem that this group doesn’t like a challenge, but of course we all know that they do. If a student’s efforts are properly recognised, this will create, sustain and develop their motivation and engagement.

That applies just as much to your quieter students as it does to the stars and the disengaged. When looking to improve the engagement and motivation of quieter students in particular, however, try the following:

Recognise effort, rather than achievement

The quiet middle will often put in lots of effort, but because they don’t shout about it or ultimately get the best grades, their efforts may well go unnoticed. Look for those students who are pushing themselves, however modestly.

Ask questions of everybody in class

‘Hands down questioning’ isn’t exactly a new idea, but it’s a very powerful one. Ask the students to keep their hands down after asking a question, give them thinking time, then randomly pick a student to answer the question.

Talk to everyone

If there are too many students for this to be practicable in one lesson, make it your mission to spend quality time with each student over two or three.

Get to know them

Find out more about what your students like doing outside of class, and don’t be afraid to talk about yourself and any hobbies you have. Getting to know someone works best when it’s a two-way thing.

Let them speak up

Group work can be a positive for the quiet middle if done in the right way, but be careful that quiet students are given opportunities to use their voice. Give them specific roles within a group that requires them to speak up.

Celebrate meeting expectations over time

Students are expected to turn up on time every day, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s easy for them to do so, and it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t celebrate when students consistently meet these expectations.

Automate your rewards systems

A manual approach can be an inefficient and time-consuming way of recognising the achievements of all pupils, not just your quieter ones.

Ben Dunford is a former secondary computer science teacher, founder of Epraise and head of product at Firefly Learning

Epraise is a school rewards system and learning engagement platform that helps schools motivate students, engage parents and save teachers time. A new ebook, The Rules of Student Engagement, is available now from Firefly; for more details, visit epraise.co.uk or follow @epraiseUK

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