How High School Teachers can Better Engage their Students, according to Teens

If students are going to get the most out of school, they need to be engaged. Research shows, for example, that disengaged students are more likely to suffer a range of bad consequences, such as failing a course, repeating a grade, and dropping out. Yet however much rhetoric we may hear about building a “student-centered” education system, the education research world spends little time focusing on student perspectives.

To amplify student voices, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute commissioned a survey last year asking high schoolers about their classroom experience. The nationally-representative sample included students from forty-eight states and the District of Columbia, representing all types of schools-traditional public, public magnet, parochial, independent, and charter. The results, published in Fordham’s What Teens Want from Their Schools, gave us a broad portrait of student engagement in the country, and a peek at how students view America’s education system.

What is the secret sauce that makes a classroom interesting-especially to teenagers, notoriously hard to impress?

For one thing, students like doing. They like discussing, creating, researching, and they’re less interested in activities that revolve around watching and listening. Yes, those are often necessary parts of classroom activities, but a wise educator will recognize the danger of leaving students passive, and draw on strategies like cold-calling and turn-and-talks to keep them participating during lectures. Flipping the classroom, where students do the “lecture” at home via a video and then have more time for interaction and collaboration during class time, is another promising new trend.

For the results of the survey, see: