Patrick McGrath, Education Technology Strategist

Motivating students to engage in their individual education journey

A recent TeacherTapp survey of teachers has suggested that engagement and motivation in general have perhaps been our greatest challenge through the recent period of remote learning. The evidence from the survey? Teachers estimated that students were spending on average two hours per day on learning. There are of course many reasons that contributed to this - an obvious lack of structure, a lack of peer support, encouragement or challenge, a lack of parental support, plus the radical change in lifestyle that lock down brought us all. But while some students have struggled with engagement and motivation, others have thrived with new found independence and autonomy by having the  flexibility in what and how they learn and the ability to focus on their own motivations.


Looking towards how our education models are changing - whether a blended learning approach, or solely in the classroom, it’s clear that we have to learn from our experiences in ‘lock down’ and build or adapt better strategies that leverage technology to provide a more proactive approach to motivation and engagement for all students.

Using technology to boost engagement

We all know that technology has been front and center in the drive through remote learning and will influence our practice for the months and years that lie ahead. But how do we use this wave of change to our advantage and increase student engagement?  The most recent guidance from the Department for Education has advised that we should “adjust existing practice and resources to ensure they are still engaging for pupils” and “use technology, so pupil engagement can be monitored through the completion of set tasks and assignments”. 

To do this, we need to understand what engagement is. Engagement is about igniting that spark of interest in our students; it’s building on prior knowledge and using our students interests to drive learning forward. Engagement is about the ‘what’ and the commitment to learning. Motivation then, is about the ‘why’. That is the magic of technology in learning - it gives each and every student the flexibility to find their own path to ‘what’ and ‘why’. By linking these two things to clear goals, we start to build agency for students. 

Technology provides new ways to ‘mix up’ learning experiences - delivering video, audio and interactivity. Ways to assess and give individual feedback to encourage students, and ways to reward students as they improve. It need not complicate how we design learning, but it does require educators to carefully select the tools and supports that can genuinely deliver.

In Read&Write, features such as dictation can engage students in writing by simply providing a different input method. Text to speech and Audiomaker can help students engage aurally with standard resources that might otherwise not be reviewed.  Translate tools can help students whose first language isn’t English, and Simplify can help ensure that students can engage with reading content regardless of their reading level. It’s empowering for students to have the choice and that leads to deepening engagement and increased motivation. For teachers, using audio feedback with ‘voicenote’ ensures personal feedback can be left for every student - its effective, its motivating and it maintains the important aspect of communication. 

In the same way, Fluency Tutor gives students a reason, a purpose and a motivation to read - by practicing reading aloud and returning it to the teacher for review and providing a feedback loop to set goals for improvement.  A simple, yet incredibly powerful method to encourage students to be invested in their reading.

Helping students to find the motivation

Motivation to write has always been a challenge both inside and outside of the classroom, and we’ve worked hard to help solve that with WriQ. We’ve provided live data to students as they type to keep them writing - giving targets and goals to help them build fluency and show improvement over time. WriQ also provides rubrics and mark schemes to students so they can easily view goals to improve their work, and we’ve added a reward system. Combine that with individual feedback from teachers and it’s a solution designed at its very core to focus on motivation and engagement.       

What do all of these Texthelp tools have in common? They are all designed around the principles of UDL (Universal Design for Learning) - which as one of its core principles states that in order to reach every learner we must ensure that we offer multiple means of engagement. By adopting Texthelp tools and the approaches they enable such as flexibility, autonomy and agency, the promise of an increase in motivation and engagement becomes much more of a reality. 

Striking a balance

Of course, technology on its own won’t deliver on motivation and engagement as we move forward - it is though an essential and critical ingredient to success. It must be coupled with effective practice, better dialog with parents, effective feedback and consistent communication with students. 

We must find the balance that is right - in the frequency and quantity of tasks we provide to students, the accessibility of content and the flexibility of assignments. To achieve this, we need to pick the right technology tools and help our students, their parents and our fellow teachers understand how to leverage them for teaching and learning. When we do, we’ll not only exceed official guidance, or match best practice, we’ll see better outcomes for all students no matter where or how they learn.
  
Educators are embracing technology enabled, new ways of learning, wherever it happens. Together, let’s all commit to ensuring we are providing the most motivated, engaged and empowered learners yet. 
 

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