How to retain and engage students?

A checklist for enhancing student success and engagement. The list provided by an experienced teacher works well with on-campus groups and in online learning environments and is meant for getting a good start with a student group. It can either be used for starting off a course or when designing a single lesson.

On the first day of the course

  1. Start off strong: introduce yourself and your view on the subject, explain the topic (why and what).
  2. Give students an icebreaker to get to know one another.
  3. Provide significant, meaningful and topical content.
  4. Organize the course content in an easy-to-grasp manner with the schedule, assignments, deadlines, teaching resources and assessment readily available.
    Ensure that the instructions are available and accessible to all.
  5. Give an assignment that makes the students to get acquainted with the VLE (virtual learning environment).
  6. Greet the students at the door/beginning of the session and take the time to learn their names.
  7. Start and end the class on time.
  8. Have students share their expectations for the course before you run through the course details (e.g. on slips collected from students, pair discussion, as pretask).
  9. Express your rules and stick to them. Keep pointing out throughout the course that it is every student’s responsibility to come in to each class/participate well prepared as that is the key to learning.
  10. Promote self-seeking behavior by prompting students to pose questions, to find answers independently from the provided material and to use your counselling hours. Keep reminding them of these possibilities regularly.

Build connections

  1. Set up a buddy system so that students can contact one another or form study groups.
  2. In online settings, enable students to chat and comment on each other.
  3. Use different models for teaming up students. Sometimes it might be advisable to let students form the groups themselves, whereas sometimes you may wish to go for mixed groups.

Motivate students and make each class relevant to their needs

  1. Have students set goals for the course, for individual assignments, for teamwork and for their future careers.
  2. Make sure students understand the importance of each learning session. What are the key points and why will the student need the skill or piece of information in the future?
  3. Plan each class carefully by following the class model of a starter, main body and plenary. Each class should follow a lesson plan. Don’t go into the classroom and wing it but be prepared. Allocate each class one main lesson to be learnt and avoid carrying out monologues at length.
  4. Use various media and modes of presentation to guarantee student engagement. Don’t lecture for more than 15 minutes at a time. Go for videos, PowerPoint or Prezi, blogs, H5P activities or even role-play.
  5. Let the students get their hands on to learn. Allow moments when students can share their thoughts by interacting. Having students collaborate and discuss has each learner engaged. Vary solo, pair, share, small group, learning café and other interaction models.
  6. Use real-life examples from various perspectives and have students solve real problems. You can go for current events or have the students work on a work-life commission given by a local company.

Offer support for learning

  1. Try to catch problems early.
  2. Keep posting current events and deadline reminders. Allow students to ask questions, too, and have them answer one another’s questions.
  3. Create a safe learning zone in your classroom enabling each student feel safe to ask any questions they like. If the students are reluctant to ask questions (e.g. due to shyness) have student pairs prepare a list of 1-3 questions together.
  4. Advice students on study-related services provided by your HEI, such as the library, counseling or any other relevant services.

Provide feedback and prompt assessment

  1. Provide feedback on assignments as soon as possible.
  2. Remember to be encouraging.
  3. Use non-graded feedback when applicable. Create quizzes, give oral feedback or use a variety of different techniques.
  4. Maintain a gradebook or make grades accessible to students so that they can keep up with their progress.
  5. Enable students to see what they will be able to achieve at the end of each class and at the end of the course. Have your objectives readily available and make sure they can be understood by the student, who is not a pedagogically trained teacher.

Source:  The text is adapted from “101 Things You Can Do in the First Three Weeks of Class” by Joyce Povlacs Lunde, University of Nebraska at Lincoln