For students to learn, they need to be authentically engaged, both in their classroom community and curriculum. As educator Zaretta Hammond explains, when students have made meaningful connections in the classroom—with the content, with their teacher, and with one another—their brains are better able to process new information. This, in turn, allows them to take on more rigorous work, as they are emotionally and psychologically prepared for the vulnerability that growth and learning require. This is why authentic learning experiences engage students and support learning.
We know that capturing students’ attention—and keeping it—is a high priority for most educators today. And this is for good reason; students continue to report boredom in school. Plus, engagement is tied to many markers of academic success. In this post, we’ll discuss the importance of student engagement and offer tips for ways to engage your students using research-based strategies authentically.
We’ll also show how you can leverage Flocabulary as you build a positive learning environment where students feel genuinely connected to the content, their teachers, and their peers.
Want to learn more about bringing Flocabulary’s authentically engaging experiences to your school or district?
What are the challenges facing student engagement?
Success in and out of school depends on engagement. Numerous studies have shown the link between engaged students and achievement. Engaged students tend to earn higher grades and test scores than similar students identified as disengaged. (Finn & Rock, 1997; Patrick, Ryan, & Kaplan, 2007; Skinner, Wellborn, & Cornell, 1990; Sing, Granville, & Dika, 2002; Wang & Holcombe, 2010).
According to ASCD Whole Child Symposium, they also are more likely to stay in school, graduate with skills needed for higher learning and careers, and develop a greater understanding of how to contribute to society.
Unfortunately, students continue to report feeling bored and disengaged. In 2022, Speak Up Research Project reported that 50% of students are not engaged in their learning most of the time. Other surveys over recent years have shown that from sixth grade to eleventh grade, student engagement drops significantly and that students of color and students of lower socioeconomic status are more likely to be disengaged compared to their peers. These factors compound to indicate that students today are suffering from a lack of engagement and that there are engagement gaps across our education system.
To overcome the challenges of disengagement, it’s imperative to create learning experiences that resonate with diverse learners, that reflect students’ lives and interests, and that bring joy into the curriculum.
What is authentic engagement in the classroom?
When we describe “authentic engagement,” we are referring to classrooms where students understand not only what they are learning but also why it matters to their lives and the lives of others. They see themselves as belonging to a community of learners. And learning in such classrooms is inspiring. It sparks curiosity, creativity, and delight.
To create authentic learning experiences that engage students at this level, educators need to teach with students’ lives, interests, and culture front of mind. Importantly, culture includes more than the visible, surface components we tend to think of first—like holidays and foods. These are elements of culture, but there are many deeper and invisible aspects that learners bring to the classroom as well. The deeper layers of culture include things like our norms for communicating with peers and showing respect for our elders.
Understanding and reflecting on these deeper layers of students’ cultures will help all learners to feel respected. It also creates trust, which serves as the foundation for engagement and, therefore, achievement. This practice is part of culturally responsive teaching, and it takes more than simply motivating disengaged students. As Zaretta Hammond writes, it takes rebuilding trust and maintaining a rapport with every learner. Trust and belonging are prerequisites for the brain to learn.
The focus isn’t on motivation but on improving their brainpower and information processing skills. Motivation is only a small part of it.”
How to create authentic learning experiences to engage students
Below, we offer three tips to create engaging and authentic learning experiences for all students that tap into the deep layers of students’ culture and that help establish and maintain trust. We’ll also discuss how Flocabulary—with its powerful use of hip-hop music, its dynamic and inspiring approach to multimedia, and its inclusive and diverse content—can be a tool for authentic engagement in your classroom.
1. Leverage and honor music and culture that’s relevant to students
Hip-hop is the most popular genre of music for young people across the globe. More than a genre, it’s also a culture with a rich history still being written and evolving today. For many young people, hip-hop is the main genre of music they are growing up listening to and loving.
Because of this, teaching with and through the culture of hip-hop can be a highly effective way to make instruction relevant to young learners. Music of any genre has the power to engage us cognitively, behaviorally, and emotionally. Hip-hop has a strong emphasis on language through rhyme, rhythm, and literary devices and can make a learning experience particularly meaningful and memorable. This genre also has the most words per song compared to other popular music genres, providing more opportunities for vocabulary acquisition.
But remember that authenticity is key. This is the case when using hip-hop in the classroom and when doing anything with the aim of engaging students. Authenticity is of the utmost importance to young people. As a general rule, young people are extremely skilled at discerning when an adult is not genuine, and they have a low tolerance for “corniness” or being fake. It can be easy for attempts to engage learners using hip-hop to prove counterproductive, alienating students who can feel pandered to or, worse, disrespected.
2. Anyone can use hip-hop to engage students—even you!
With this in mind, know that not every educator is comfortable rapping, and they don’t have to rap! Educators can still leverage the power of hip-hop with students without being corny, fake, or—worst of all—stereotypical.
Flocabulary’s hip-hop videos feature songs written and performed by professional hip-hop artists. The lyrics are packed with vocabulary words and wonderful examples of the wordplay and rhythm that make rap as popular as it is.
Teachers can play Flocabulary songs for students and analyze the lyrics together. Together, they can look out for similes and metaphors that help illustrate key concepts and alliteration and rhyme that make the vocabulary and key ideas catchy and memorable. With Flocablary’s Vocab Game, teachers and students can build a hip-hop beat as they practice the vocabulary words from the lesson. Lyric Lab can be used to write raps, rhymes, or poems. Encourages students to be their most authentic selves as they engage in these activities.
We recommend starting with our lesson on Hip-Hop Fundamentals so that students can learn about hip-hop culture and honor it as they explore it further.
3. Maximize your use of educational videos
Video’s role in the classroom has many great uses. It can offer an engaging hook to a lesson, illustrate a different approach to instruction, and help capture students’ attention. Research says video viewers retain 95% of a video’s message compared to only 10% when reading a text. Unfortunately, not all videos are created equal.
Many videos that purport to be for a student audience miss the mark in a few key ways. When infusing multimedia into your lessons, be on the lookout for videos that uphold these basic principles:
- Videos should not water down content in a misguided effort to reach young learners
- Videos should feature compelling and high-quality visuals and audio to captivate the audience
- Videos should not overly rely on tropes, formulas, or repeat storylines and characters, which can bore the audience with a lack of variety that becomes predictable
- Videos should showcase relevant and varied visuals and examples that speak to and reflect the rich and diverse world of students
The best and most engaging multimedia in the classroom inspires the student audience through the creative use of audio, visuals, and animation. That means that the videos offer an experience beyond what a text, presentation, or whiteboard demonstration could.
4. Find educational videos that authentically engage students
At Flocabulary, our videos are created by a team of professionals. We take a curated approach to our content, and our videos have extremely high production quality. As noted above, our hip-hop videos are written and performed by hip-hop artists and recorded by audio producers and engineers.
Our Nearpod Original lessons—now available as part of Flocabulary Plus subscriptions—leverage humor to create a nonjudgmental atmosphere for learning, relatable hosts who offer clear and resonant examples, and compelling and unique narratives that inspire wonder and awe. These videos are written by professional writers and editors and showcase diverse talent in voice-over acting, hosting, and more.
Flocabulary’s art directors work with illustrators and animators from around the world. Our curriculum team reviews the video at every step of the production process, ensuring that the lyrics, scripts, visuals, and animation are accurate, appropriate, and authentically engaging to students. The end results reflect the very best of what multimedia can bring to a learning experience.
One great example is the 3-D animation treatment taken to historical photographs and footage in our lesson on The Tuskegee Airmen. The power of the visuals, the hip-hop lyrics, and the performance combine to make this video an authentic learning experience that can inspire and engage students.
5. Reflect on the diverse lives and interests of your students
We can’t overstate how crucial it is to make learning relevant when trying to engage students. That’s especially critical for students who identify as disengaged. The content used in the classroom should ideally serve as both a window and mirror for students; that means it reflects their own lives and helps them see into the lives of those different from them. Seeing their cultures and voices reflected makes it possible to establish trust and create those personal and emotional connections in the brain that are necessary for learning. Further, bringing in examples that speak to students’ lives and interests will naturally create opportunities to foster a positive learning environment in your classroom where all voices feel welcomed and heard.
Flocabulary’s videos use hip-hop as one aspect of youth culture. We also have videos that feature relatable and diverse hosts, humor, and storytelling. Experiment and see what speaks most to the learners in your room. You can tailor the content you choose to their learning styles and needs. Encourage students to make personal connections to the content and create a space in your classroom where they feel supported in sharing those connections.
Learn more about Flocabulary’s commitment to inclusivity and how we approach creating content that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive.
What the research and teachers say about authentic engagement
A lesson that fails to capture students’ attention and to do so authentically will prove neither effective nor memorable. But learning experiences that authentically engage students can and will not only help them achieve academic success but also inspire them to become more curious, critical, and creative problem solvers. Authentic learning experiences will also help foster trust and community in your classroom, where all learners belong, and all voices are heard.
Flocabulary has proven to be an effective resource to engage students. 97% of educators who use Flocabulary daily or weekly find that students that are challenging to engage will engage with a Flocab lesson!
Here’s what educators who have used Flocabulary in the classroom have to say about its ability to create authentic learning experiences:
My students are actively engaged during Flocabulary lessons. Even the ones who hardly ever participate in class are eager to participate in Flocabulary.”
— 2nd-grade teacher, Olanta Creative Arts and Science Magnet School, Olanta, SC
For those who struggled, I believe Flocabulary was the difference between passing and failing.”
— 8th Grade Teacher, Tyner Middle Academy, Chattanooga, T
One of the highlights of the school year for me and for the students was the day the test results were given. Simply put, the test results were stunning! I heard comments like I’m so smart and saw smiles on faces where test results would normally give them frowns.”
— Janice Lee, Language Arts Teacher, Del Dios Middle School
Use Flocabulary to engage students through authentic learning experiences
Remember: for students to achieve, they need to feel a sense of belonging and connection. Using the power of hip-hop, leveraging multimedia, and ensuring that your content is inclusive of diverse learners are all great ways to create an authentically engaging classroom where all students will thrive. Flocabulary is here to help you every step of the way!
Want to learn more about bringing Flocabulary’s authentically engaging experiences to your school or district?