Saturday / April 13

4 Ways to Maximize Student Engagement

Choice, Color, Comfort, and Collaboration

What type of classroom works best to engage ALL learners?

How does this classroom look and sound?

How do the learners feel?

What will they gain from being in this environment?

Will this experience prepare them for future educational endeavors and careers?  

Choice Begins With Communication

Developing viable student learning choices begins with communication between students and teachers to understand preferred engagement styles, classroom surroundings, and instructional effectiveness. As students are encouraged to find their voices, improved learning experiences take shape. Below is a communication example between a teacher and her students as they discuss assignment choices.

Student A: What format will you accept for the law project?

Student B: Yeah, does it need to be typed and double-spaced?

Teacher: Well, what are you thinking?

Student C: I would like to make a chart that compares the advantages and disadvantages of the law.

Teacher:  That works.

Student C: Yes! (She smiles and gives a thumbs up sign.)

Student D: What if we want to look at the law from another person’s viewpoint?

Teacher: Describe it to me and we can chat online.

Teacher: (Looking at the whole group). Have you ever thought about using an electronic mind map to show your thinking?

Student A: We can really do that instead of a paper?

Teacher: Of course, if it makes sense to you and you have covered your rubric metrics.

Student B: Would you please ask our other teachers to have this kind of discussion about product choice?

Teacher: (Smiling to herself) I sure will at our next Professional Learning Community

(PLC) meeting when I show the team what you can really do.

(Anderson, Borg, Edgar, 2018)

In engaged classrooms, discussing student preferences also involves varying communication methods. Face-to-face conversations in groups, one-to-one conferences, surveys, or online chats all provide avenues for dialogue. In the chart below, we have summarized some choices teachers may consider during these discussions.

Examples of Student Learning Choices

Student Choice Domain Examples

Learning Preferences

Auditory, visual, kinesthetic, sequential, random, abstract, concrete, inductive, deductive, discovery


Physical: seating, lighting, sounds, visuals, in-class, out of class, colors

Virtual: blogs, websites, eBooks

Social: groups, individual

Tools Paper based, laptops, tablets, phones, calculators
Communication Groups, face-to-face, virtual, one-to-one, expert dialogues
Demonstrations of Mastery Projects, assessments, demonstrations


Arrangement of daily activities, order of learning events, sequence of subject areas, timing for independent and group work
Goal Setting Daily targets, weekly benchmarks, final goals, data notebooks, graphs, self-reports

Adapted from Anderson, Borg, Edgar (2018), Minding the Future, Revitalizing Learning Cultures Through Teacher Leadership.

Color Promotes Positive Learning Experiences

Look at your classroom through the eyes of learners. Does the room environment make them feel energized and ready to learn? Are the colors welcoming or do they signal boredom? Are creativity and communication encouraged by the visual environment? Deliberate color choices can be utilized to subtly influence positive moods and student success. Red or yellow may welcome students to be creative and alert while green beckons learners to be thoughtful and introspective. Teachers can explore the ways color impacts learning as they discuss metacognition (ways to “think about your thinking”) with students.

Comfort Makes Learning Flexible

Comfort works hand in hand with color and choice in influencing student engagement. As students make choices about the learning styles and products, the right furnishings make these choices practicable. Students may decide to do group work in a living room setting with comfortable chairs, while seated on yoga balls at low tables, or while sitting in a quiet alcove working online with others in another part of the school, state, or world. Comfortable classrooms are flexible classrooms, so that students can arrange equipment and tools to meet the needs of their learning experiences much like they would at home. Easily portable furniture offers students the ability to work in different configurations throughout the day. For instance, high top tables give students the ability to stand as they build models in a team in the morning and in the afternoon, these same tables can be lowered and used for small group work such as researching online videos. Having options in the physical arrangement of desks, tables, chairs, walls, and dividers inspires students to engage in environments that optimize their learning preferences and strengths.

As you consider designing a comfortable classroom, imagine a space with no rows or assigned seats where learners move around colorful furniture and select task-appropriate tools to engage in powerful learning! Explore online resources such as Pinterest for low cost classroom hacks and look through school catalogs for ideas. Classroom furniture manufacturers now offer more than just plastic chairs and sturdy desks. Organically shaped tables with writable surfaces are available in vibrant colors with creative, inviting seating choices. When students are comfortable, learning thrives.

Collaboration Promotes Student-Led Learning

Comfortable, colorful, choice-filled classrooms encourage collaboration and the creation of Student Learning Communities (SLC). In a SLC, students take the lead in their own learning as they navigate challenges and celebrate achievements. Guided by group established norms, goal setting, and supportive outreach, students solve problems, communicate, and create within a flexible learning environment. In collaborative classrooms, teachers are not stand-alone soloists; they are part of the choir where students are the most active participants. Learning to collaborate in school readies students for careers where they may join teams to solve problems, create solutions, or develop new products.

By keeping choice, color, comfort, and collaboration in mind, you too can transform your classroom into an inviting, flexible, student-led learning environment. As you try out these ideas, share your experiences with other teachers, students, administrators and parents to engage everyone in the kind of robust learning that prepares students for the future.

We invite you to learn more about developing student-centered learning cultures and the power of teacher-led professional learning in our new book, Minding the Future, Revitalizing Learning Cultures through Teacher Leadership. Follow us on Twitter @AngieAnderson54, @SusanBorg6 and @SEdgar13 to share your success stories and questions if you run into challenges.

Written by

Angeline Anderson, Ph.D. is currently an independent educational consultant. She is formerly the Executive Director for Instruction in a large suburban school district in Texas, where she oversaw the activities of 124 staff members whose mission was to provide high quality curriculum, assessments, media services, and professional development to district teachers and staff. Her experience as an educator includes classroom teacher, counselor, administrator, program evaluator, statistician, and district leader. Her work and interests include social cognitive theory, quality schools, strategic planning, curriculum development, instructional technology, response to intervention, and leadership. She has presented at state and national conferences on a variety of strategies to transform instructional processes using technology integration.


Susan K. Borg, EdD, is a clinical assistant professor at San Houston State University where she supervises the superintendent certification program and teaches graduate-level principal preparation courses. Susan is also a senior associate at N2 Learning, an educational consulting company. Dr. Borg served the field of education for 34 years in a variety of roles as a teacher, assistant principal, principal, executive director, and associate superintendent. She has presented at state and national conferences on the importance of the integration of the innovation and technology into instructional processes for the education preparation of future-ready students.


Stephanie Edgar, M.Ed. is currently an associate at N2 Learning, an educational consulting company. She is formerly the Director of Campus Instructional Support in a large suburban school district in Texas. Her team provided direct support to campuses through professional development, specialist training, video production, adaptive and benchmark assessments, campus planning, and embedded technology. Mrs. Edgar has served students and teachers for 38 years as a teacher, instructional specialist, and district administrator. Her presentations at state and national conventions focus on leading innovative professional learning, student engagement, and opportunities for transformative teacher leadership.

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