6 Ways to Boost Student Engagement with SEL

Spring is just around the corner. Educators know that this means students may become distracted, less cooperative, and less engaged in their learning. And this year, normal “spring fever” challenges are compounded by the difficulties of the pandemic and long months of remote or hybrid learning.

Your students likely need a boost in their engagement so they can finish the school year strong. Here are six ways SEL can help your students feel more motivated and engaged in their learning.

1. Build strong student-teacher relationships. As an educator, one of the strongest impressions you can make on students is how you make them feel. When students feel their teachers care about them and want what’s best for them, they are more likely to engage, enjoy school, perform well, work hard, cooperate, and follow class rules and policies.

Strong relationships are an important cornerstone of any SEL program and are especially critical during distance learning. SEL programs and activities can help you take an active role in connecting with students and showing them you care and are committed to their success. Here are three strategies to build stronger relationships with students and improve their learning experiences. Aperture also has an SEL training program for educators, EdSERT.

2. Nurture growth mindsets with your students. We’ve all heard the buzzword, “growth mindset.” But what exactly does it look like in the classroom, and how do we help children develop it? Researcher Carol Dweck puts it this way: “In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work — brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.”

3. Commit to educational equity. It’s important to commit to educational equity in our schools and communities to ensure that all students have equal access to resources and are treated fairly — no matter their race, ethnicity, gender, family income, disability, cultural background, or religious affiliation.

Take time to reflect on how remote learning has impacted instruction and create an action plan to support students through equitable instruction. SEL should be an integral part of this plan and will help increase student motivation and engagement. 

4. Connect with students’ families. Parents or caregivers are a valuable source of support, especially during remote learning. When you are in close communication with students’ families, you can alert one another if something is going on with a student that should be addressed.

Host virtual parent nights to help students’ family members continue to feel connected to the school. Conduct regular surveys to check in on how they are doing. Visit our SEL at Home web page for more resources to support families during this transitional time.

While it is important to keep families involved, also be aware of limitations and what additional supports are needed from school staff, family liaisons, and community partners. If something is affecting the student at home, you can talk with the student, offer support, and connect the student to outside resources. If students do not have access to supportive family/home environments, there are many out-of-school networks and organizations that have proven track records for helping at-risk youth who live in unstable home environments.

5. Teach to a range of learning styles. Students learn in different ways, and there is no proven one-size-fits-all teaching method. Presenting content in a variety of ways creates a more effective learning environment where all students can achieve. This is especially important during remote learning since many students will struggle with virtual and distance learning.

Here are a few ways to ensure instruction meets the needs of many learning styles:

  • Use a dyslexia-friendly font on handouts and assignments.
  • Make a free e-reader app available to students who have poor eyesight or learn better with audio.
  • Make fidget toys available to students who need extra help focusing and staying on task.
  • For kinesthetic learners, incorporate role-play into instruction or encourage students to visualize the subject matter being acted out (i.e. the student could imagine she is a character in a story).
  • Create flashcards for visual learners and use color to highlight important points.
  • Whenever possible, incorporate sensory elements into instruction that engage students’ sight, touch, taste, smell, and hearing.

6. Identify those students who need extra support. Students who display high emotions, disrupt class, or seem withdrawn often need additional supports. But other students may also need extra help, even if they don’t initially show symptoms that they are struggling.

Make a list of your students and rank how well you think you know them. Make a point of learning more about the students who are at the bottom of your list — often these students can benefit the most from extra attention.

Also be sure to use a quality SEL assessment to identify students’ social and emotional needs. Aperture Education’s comprehensive SEL platform includes a suite of strength-based assessments, a universal screener that can be administered in less than a minute (the DESSA-mini), and growth strategies and foundational practices to strengthen social-emotional competence for students K-8 and 9-12. Actionable data and reporting helps SEL program administrators measure the impact of their programs and helps educators understand students’ SEL strengths and needs.

This spring, students need extra help keeping engaged and motivated. SEL can help students feel more connected to their teachers, promotes equity, can leverage family support, and improve instructional practices. SEL can also help you identify students who need additional support.

To learn more about how to keep your students engaged so they can finish the school year strong, contact our team through the form below.

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