Teacher Speaker Series: Tips and Methods for Student Engagement

Denise Richardson is a second-grade teacher; she has taught grades 1-6 throughout her career and is entering her 19th year of teaching. Denise has been teaching second grade for the past 10 years and is experienced with teaching in multiple different states.

She has a passion for teaching, which only grew stronger seeing her own children’s love and enthusiasm for learning. Like many others, Denise had to change her teaching style during the Covid-19 pandemic. However, the year proved to be valuable in other ways, and she is excited for the coming school year.

Reflecting on the Past Year

As a school based in a military town, the class is a mix between students in military and civilian families. Also, a wide range between learning and skill levels exist within the classes — some students read at a kindergarten level, while some others are at a 4th or 5th grade level. 

Denise explains, “Same thing with their math skills. Within the last year, they ranged anywhere from first grade all the way up to fifth/sixth grade.” This diverse range added to the challenges of the pandemic.

“This last year was very challenging. With all the masks and the shields, and wearing a microphone… It was interesting trying to navigate all that. But we pushed through.”

She also had to change how she taught her students. Denise normally uses a very hands-on method, but with Covid restrictions, she had to switch to more digital activities. She comments that she likes using technology, and it worked out well in her class. 

She was able to learn a lot about herself and her students: “Kids can do more on technology than we think they can… Once you show them, they are pretty resilient.”

Advice for Moving Forward

Denise loves to mentor and help teachers, both old and new. With her many years of experience and reflections on the past year, one piece of advice stood out to her.

“The one thing I would say, to new or ‘battered’ teachers, is [have] consistency in every area you teach. If you’re consistent with your practices and your procedures and your habits… the classroom can almost run itself.” 

If teachers are consistent in the classroom, then students will know what to expect and be able to comfortably and confidently function within the classroom, even during a pandemic. 

“I think organization and consistency are my two big takeaways. If you are consistently teaching procedures, students know what to do.”

Student Engagement

Another aspect that proved invaluable in the class, especially during Covid, was student engagement. One method she implements in her classroom pulls on both student engagement and consistency. 

Her students have different folders they can pull work or activities from throughout the day. Two examples are “Ketchup folders” and “Pickles folders.” The “Ketchup folders” hold work that students were unable to finish before, while the “Pickle folders” contain fun activities the students can choose from once they have completed the work in their “Ketchup folders.”

This system provides students the chance to choose what activities they participate in, allowing them to engage with fun activities. 

Engagement for Denise also looks like students working and focusing on their assignments. 

“Student engagement can be where they are putting forth effort. They are doing their best, they are trying. There might be some struggle in that-- ‘brain sweat’ is good, we all need to do that. Struggle is also engagement; they are working through that process.”

How Boddle Helps

During last year, Denise used Boddle in her classroom to engage with her students and strengthen their foundational math skills. 

She first discovered Boddle through Instagram and immediately integrated it into her students’ learning platforms. Denise scheduled Boddle time twice a day, but the students often wanted to play it more throughout their day. During the morning scheduled time, students could use Boddle to practice skills they might have missed or lost last year, and later her students would use it after her lessons. 

When asked how her students felt about Boddle, she stated, “They love it! They love, love, love it.” They enjoy the game component of it. “I remember one student said, ‘Are you sure we’re allowed to do this? ‘Cause there’s games involved’... And anytime I had not assigned it, they were asking ‘Can we do that?’”

For next year, she plans to use the lesson-assignment feature on Boddle to help supplement her lessons as well and is looking forward to the upcoming diagnostic test, which will be implemented August 2021.