Middle School Hallways

Student Engagement

July 12, 2021 Jeremy Episode 3
Middle School Hallways
Student Engagement
Show Notes Transcript

What is student engagement? How has student engagement changed for you over the last 2 years? 

This episode tackles both the definition of student engagement and how it has changed. Also, there are some strategies shared on how we can engage our middle school students both face-to-face and online. 

Middle School Hallways Podcast - Episode #3

Happy Summer, everyone, and welcome to the Middle School Hallways podcast! On this episode, we will be discussing student engagement. There is a lot to be said about this topic, and I look forward to sharing my thoughts with you. 

I am your host, Jeremy Hyler. Currently, I teach middle school English, science, and Media Literacy in the beautiful state of Michigan. The past 20 years of teaching has taught me that every day is different and is a new experience.  Like my students, I am still trying to figure out this thing called middle school.

Besides being in the classroom, I have been part of the Chippewa River Writing Project since 2010 where I have had many professional opportunities including authoring books, blogging on MiddleWeb, and leading youth writing camps.

I want to remind my listeners that the goal of this podcast is to benefit middle school educators and anyone interested in middle school education. I want to open up discussion for all things middle school and give a voice to all stakeholders; including teachers, administrators, counselors, and parents. Middle school is a time for mood swings, self-discovery, and learning what our students are passionate about. If you are like me, it is nice to hear how others may be handling middle school, no matter what role you may be taking on.

Before we dive into this episode’s content, I want to acknowledge the fact that it is indeed summer. In addition, we just passed 4th of July.  My hope is that you are taking time or have taken the time to relax and unwind. As mentioned in my last episode, we all need that precious time to relax and rejuvenate, no matter how you may choose to do it. 

For me, as my own children spent the last week with their mom, I took time to finish facilitating the Summer Institute through the Chippewa River Writing Project with some phenomenal educators. In addition, I took time to read, write, lift weights, and be by myself. Many days it was just my dog and I hanging out in the afternoons while I took the time I needed to regroup and try to reignite the flame within me that was all, but burnt out from a trying year. Yes, I even ate bad at times and enjoyed popsicles and ice cream. I truly hope you have taken time to find something fun and exciting to do, or at the very least enjoyed floating in the pool with your favorite beverage.

This episode is not about our favorite drinks, but I will be discussing the topic of student engagement, which could be potentially lengthy. However, I want to share some of my thoughts that come to my mind when I was asked about discussing this topic. It isn’t the first time the topic has come up in my 20 years of teaching or the time I have been doing professional development. It can be a hot button topic that can lead to some meaningful conversations. First, I wanted to see what was being said about the definition of student engagement. What does student engagement actually mean? After doing some research, and putting it into my own words, student engagement is a student’s excitement in their own academic learning, or it is meaningful participation by students with the lesson or activity at hand. 

Okay, so think about your own definition. What are your thoughts here? What do you think the definition of student engagement is, and what does it entail?  Now, while I was thinking about how student engagement is defined, I also have been thinking about what does it actually mean to engage our students. More than once, I have had face-to-face conversations with colleagues and other teachers about how students are very disengaged, and it didn’t matter what they did, they couldn’t get students to actively participate in the lesson being taught. I specifically remember a colleague saying to me that they felt they had to entertain in their lesson to reach students. Whether it was dancing, telling jokes, or just being goofy. My colleague felt that this was not their responsibility. They felt they didn’t have to “entertain” students.  Is this the route we should be taking? Are we in an age where we need to entertain our students while they learn? Furthermore, now with virtual learning more prevalent in schools, student engagement looks different, and I am not sure how we entertain students. We don’t just engage students in our physical classrooms anymore.

There is a lot to process with just understanding student engagement. Perhaps take a moment and pause the podcast to allow yourself to think and process just the idea of student engagement.

So, how do we engage our middle school students? I want to offer suggestions in two different ways; both face-to-face and the virtual setting. 

For both face-to-face and virtually, I strongly believe we need to start with building relationships with students. If we ever want our students to participate and be willing to take chances academically in our classroom, we need to build relationships. For many listeners, I am probably not saying anything that isn’t already known. However, when students seem distant or withdrawn from new activities, think about the relationship that has been established first. Have you taken a genuine interest in their life outside the classroom? Do you know how each of your student learns best? Can you tell when a student walks into your classroom that they are having a bad day? All of these questions I have asked can help us to better engage students when they arrive each day. Think about what student’s dreams, needs, and abilities are to help build a good foundation for student engagement. 

Next, is there active learning going on in your face-to-face classroom. For me, active learning means students are not just sitting and getting instruction. Students should have opportunities to get up, move around, stand if they have to, so they can stay engaged. Perhaps you have some bouncy balls students can sit on or bean bag chairs. Also, do you provide group work opportunities where students can actively question each other about what they are thinking with what they are learning? This brings in the idea of cooperative learning, which can be another great way to engage students. In my opinion, a noisy, busy classroom is usually a classroom where student engagement is taking place. 

If we think more about virtual learning when it comes to engaging our students, I feel one of the best things we can do for our students is offer them the opportunity to do personal learning. Perhaps engage them by having them set their own academic goals and how they will achieve them. Don’t just have students take a multiple choice test, but give them choices on how they are going to show you what they know and have learned in the lesson or unit. One of the best things I have done while we were online this past school year was to allow students to create infographics and posters using a site called Canva. That is C-A-N-V-A. It can be found on canva.com. You can check my blog post on infographics on middleweb.com. 

Finally, one of the best ways I have been able to engage students both online and face-to-face is to connect the lesson or unit to the real world. What ways can you help your students see application that can help them in real world situations. If students can see meaningful purpose, they are much more likely to engage in the lesson and want to learn. Bringing in community speakers or inviting parents to come in to show connections that students may not have made before. Teachers could also search YouTube for videos to show in class. TED talks are always a good way to help students see connections as well, and I have used them many times. 


I hope this podcast has helped you in some way. Though the ideas I pose may not be new, perhaps I have reminded you of some easy ways to get your students engaged more as we gear up for our upcoming school year. A huge shoutout to my friend and colleague Todd Bloch for today’s topic. Todd is a middle school warrior who constantly pushes my own thinking and is always keeping students and teachers at the center of what he does. Todd is the founder of #mschat on Twitter and you can join in on those weekly conversations Thursdays at 8:00p.m. eastern time. Please join Todd and other amazing middle school teachers. As always, thank you to all of my listeners for all the support for this podcast and those that have liked the Middle School Hallways Facebook page. Please see the page for updates and information about the podcast. Middle School Hallways is now available on Spotify, Google Podcasts, and Apple Podcasts. As well as Amazon Music, Stitcher, and Iheart Radio. 

My goal is still to push out a new episode every couple of weeks. This one took a little longer because of the 4th of July holiday and as I mentioned before, I myself was engaged in some great professional development through the Chippewa River Writing Project. If there is a topic you would like to hear about on this podcast, shoot me an email on [email protected] or shoot me a message on Twitter @jeremybballer. You can also like and share the Facebook page Middle School Hallways. Any sharing of this podcast is greatly appreciated. Like the page to get podcast notes of the podcast and to find out when the next episode will drop. 

Join me next time as we dive into preparing for a new school year. A new school year where some students haven’t even been in the physical classroom for over a year. If you have any suggestions on preparing for what could be an interesting, yet awesome school year, don’t be afraid to contact me on the Facebook page, Twitter or email me at [email protected]

Until the next episode of Middle School Hallways, enjoy the rest of the summer and make sure you take time for yourself. Engage yourself in the activities you find enjoyable, and we will be back in August.

Stay Steady and onward everyone!