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Leadership Best Practices

Engaging a Distracted Generation

December 1st, 2017

With the increase of handheld electronics dominating individual’s attention from a young age, students live in a perpetual state of distraction. Many teachers are exhausted with constantly focusing on classroom management and re-focusing students’ attention. So, how do district leaders help teachers battle this change in societal trends and keep their attention during lessons?

Dr. Robert Marzano, a leading researcher in education, contends that “to foster student engagement, classroom instruction decisions are based on four emblematic questions: How do I feel?; Am I interested?; Is this important?; and Can I do this?1” The first two questions relate to how the students interpret the exercise, while the second two are more related to classroom management.

Five Best Practices to Help Teachers Engage Students Through Interactive Learning

1. Multimodal Interaction

Traditional lecture classes are becoming a thing of the past; teachers now need to engage students through more than one sensory modality. Multimodal teaching methods include using visual and audio representations, incorporating new media and using technology in small group work. Additionally, education videos should be used to encourage engagement. Further, interactive quiz websites, such as Kahoot, allow students to become interested and involved in learning. Dr. Marzano contends that “game like activities help trigger situational interest and provide a foundation for maintained situational interest.”

The National Council of English Teachers suggest guiding “students through the use of a blog, wiki, podcast or PowerPoint in order to represent learning of the student, literature circle group, or class.2” This interactive learning method, based on collaboration, holds students attention longer, thus helping the teacher to engage students.

Putting multimodal interaction into practice: Ask students to create visual presentations, such as a PowerPoint presentation of a book chapter or a digital timeline for a history project. Or, make writing assignments interactive by using blogs or shared documents.

2. Activity Variation

Because the traditional lecture class format, with a teacher speaking for the entire 45 to 60 minute class period, is becoming obsolete through multimodal learning, it should be no surprise that asking students to sit and listen for a long period of time also becomes a challenge. One solution is to use shorter activities to change up the traditional learning environment. For example, teachers may work on breaking the class period into shorter 10 to 15 minute blocks, which allows students to participate and refocus their attention.

Putting activity variation into practice: Teachers spend 10 to 15 minutes on the introduction of a lesson, then allow students to spend the next 30 minutes in a Think-Pair-Share exercise. This breaks down into five minutes for students to brainstorm individually, 10 minutes to discuss their ideas with a partner, and 15 minutes for each group to report their findings to the class.

3. Start with a Warm-Up Exercise

Another way to get students interested more quickly is by starting each class with a warm-up exercise. Starting with a warm up helps break up the pacing of the class and encourages immediate involvement.

Putting classroom warm-up exercises into practice: Teachers can capitalize on nonverbal engagement by having a short prompt on a projector, as the students enter the room. This works exceptionally well in art and writing classes, where students can simply start working on a drawing or written response. Social sciences, math and science class can also start with a simple equation or question related to the homework to get the creative juices flowing.

4. Real-World Goals

When using multimodal instruction and shorter interactive activities, it can be hard for students to gauge what is important. Dr. Marzano says, “Fundamentally, classroom activities that make connections to the real world will help generate a positive response.” Savvy students catch on that busy work is used simply to fill time, so teachers should aim to focus on using shorter activities to build to the larger projects in class.

Putting real-world goals into practice: Instead of focusing on hypothetical situations, allow students to work on projects that help society. This could range from persuasive environmental writing projects, designing methods to help the homeless or being engaged in planning a fundraiser.

5. Offer Choices

Students are more receptive to working on larger important projects when they are able to be involved in the topic selection. Dr. Marzano establishes, “Research has shown that providing choices to students of all age levels often increases their intrinsic motivation.” It’s recommended that teachers give parameters and possibly even a list of acceptable topics; when faced with a blank slate, students may lose interest.

Putting student choice into practice: Encourage teachers to give students a say in project topics or goals. Allow students to be creative and think outside the box instead of adhering to strict guidelines.

What works for your district?

Is your district implementing any of the above techniques? Have your teachers had any successes or failures?

Our goal is to make SuperEval a place that superintendents and other district leaders can go to share ideas, opinions, and start educated discussions. If you have a tip that helps you communicate as a leader, please leave a response below.

1. Marzano, R. J. (n.d.). Tips From Dr. Marzano: The Highly Engaged Classroom. Retrieved November 20, 2017, from

2. Wilder, P. (n.d.). Teaching With Multiple Modalities – ReadWriteThink. Retrieved November 20, 2017, from

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