Lora Callahan

Speak-Up to Increase Engagement

As a teacher specializing in special education, I work closely with general education classes spanning from kindergarten to fourth grade. In addition to co-teaching, I provide targeted interventions for students with special needs and those in Response to Intervention (RTI) programs. This study focuses on enhancing student engagement, particularly for those facing academic challenges. My aim is to uncover effective methods to encourage struggling students to actively participate in classroom discussions.

In the current educational landscape, many students devote a significant amount of time to technology, whether on social media platforms or playing games, leading to a preference for constant entertainment. Educators are continuously seeking ways to capture students’ interest and promote their active involvement in learning. A common issue identified by both teachers and students is a lack of engagement, often stemming from decreased interest or motivation. Surveys indicate that students may hesitate to participate due to task difficulty, lack of confidence, or uncertainty about how to contribute effectively. On the other hand, teachers believe that participation challenges could be influenced by socio-economic factors and inadequate support systems.

To address this issue, I explored various tools and interventions. The Thoughtful Classroom provides resources designed to enhance student engagement. One such tool, the Questioning in Style tool, offers diverse question formats to deepen students’ understanding of key concepts and actively involve them in the learning process. Student feedback highlighted a lack of confidence in expressing their thoughts as a barrier to participation. The Thoughtful Classroom’s Speak-Up Stems, aimed to increase student engagement levels, were found to be particularly helpful for my students.

Hypothesis: If it is true that students with academic difficulties are not participating in group discussions due to a lack of confidence because they are not sure what to say, then the use of Speak-Up Stems will increase student engagement during group discussions.

To test this hypothesis, I observed and tracked student engagement during discussions over two weeks, focusing on students with academic difficulties. Students completed an initial survey to gauge their attitudes toward group discussions. Introducing the Speak-Up Stems tool, I integrated it with various reading strategies to foster group discussions. Students received cards with prompts to facilitate discussions at their desks. Students needing additional support worked in small groups to grasp the tool before engaging in whole-class discussions. Throughout the following four weeks, I monitored student participation using a tally system, with the classroom teacher also tracking engagement.

Analysis of the data revealed a significant increase in participation among struggling students using the Speak-Up Stems tool. Prior to its implementation, only 27% of struggling students participated in discussions. After four weeks, this number rose to 82%.

Following the study, I sought feedback from students who showed minimal progress. Suggestions included alternative participation methods, such as using a discussion board to type responses instead of speaking aloud, particularly beneficial for students with speech disabilities who prefer written communication.

The Speak-Up Stems tool emerged as a valuable resource in the classroom, enabling students lacking confidence to express themselves effectively and boosting participation from 27% to 82%. Equipped with appropriate resources and support, students facing academic challenges can enhance their engagement in group discussions. Further exploration of tools to assist struggling students is underway.

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