Engaged, Involved and Accountable…

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”

~Benjamin Franklin

Holding students accountable for learning is a key characteristic of effective classrooms. This doesn’t have to mean exposing students to numerous worksheets, assignments, quizzes or tests to check for their understanding. There are many ways to hold students accountable by involving them in a community of learners. Having a room full of engaged & involved students is our primary goal as educators.

Recently I’ve been demonstrating strategies in quite a few classrooms. I thoroughly enjoy my time with the students and teachers. Yet, I’ve noticed a few differences from my own teaching days. First, as a part-time Instructional Coach in three buildings, I may recognize students and they recognize me, but we really don’t know each other. I try to make it a practice to visit their classrooms at other times just to start to get to know them. I’ve also found that I’ve been relying too much on calling on students with their hands raised. This has felt very uncomfortable, since it wasn’t a practice I used much in my own classroom. In this blog I will outline a few past practices and some new ones I’ve found to help keep students engaged, involved and accountable as a challenge to myself to start adding them into the demonstrations I provide. English language learners, students on individual educational plans, as well as all students, benefit greatly from a wide variety of cooperative learning and active participation strategies.

  • When I taught I either used cards or Popsicle sticks with students’ names on them. With both I included the students’ names twice and made the teacher rule that I could shuffle the cards or mix up the sticks at any time leaving all names to chance. One other twist, that my students seem to like, was the inclusion of my own name. Students loved it when I had to call on myself to answer a question! Neither the cards and Popsicle sticks were meant to make students feel uncomfortable or put on the spot. As a teacher, I built a level of trust and risk taking among my community of learners.
  • I recently found an online Random Name Generator similar to the cards/Popsicle stick idea. I may give this a try in the future to add a little novelty to a common practice once I’ve built a relationship with the students.
  • One of my favorite cooperative learning structures is Numbered Heads Together. The strategy is best used when you are asking complex questions. The video below does a nice job explaining the process. A variety of directions can also be found on the internet through a search for Numbered Heads Together. In the video the teacher numbers each group and each student. I typically assign each group a letter and number each student to avoid some confusion. Last year I used an online spinner and dice to add another twist.  (Both the spinner and dice are adjustable to assist with a variety of group sizes and labeling needs.)
  • There are many other cooperative learning strategies that can be used in the classroom to engage and involve students in the learning process. Two resources I have found helpful include this website and Jim Knight’s Cooperative Learning Coaching Manual. The manual can be found on the Big Four Ning (on the left side).
  • Two key educators in the field of active participation strategies that I am familiar with are Dr. Anita Archer and Dr. Kate Kinsella. At the link provided for Dr. Archer there are three video clips that provide demonstrations of various active participation strategies. At the link provided for Dr. Kinsella you will find a variety of strategies. Dr. Richard McGrath introduced me to one set towards the middle of the web page entitled Language Strategies for Active Classroom Participation, after having the opportunity of learning from Dr. Kinsella at a conference. This power point presentation explains these strategies as Precision Partnering. Another helpful websites that explain these strategies and more can be found at the Santa Clara County Office of Education. I was able to witness teachers successfully using these strategies after Dr. McGrath introduced them to his elementary teaching staff. I was amazed by the academic language and formal spoken English that came from students in a school with an over 60% ELL population.

Sometimes the word accountability takes on a negative connotation. Many see it only as a word used when it comes to standardized test scores. Our goal as educators has always been to provide students with the best education possible. Providing opportunities for  students engagement helps ensure that learning is taking place. The strategies here only touch the surface in creating environments where students are engaged, involved and accountable.

How do you engage and involve your learners?


  • Aviva @grade1 6 Nov

    Another great post, Kathy! I love your ideas, and I’m going to try them out too. I have used backchannels a lot in the classroom to keep students engaged. I’ve had them work either alone or in partners on laptops to contribute our conversations online. It’s been great! I also get them to get involved in “leading” the lessons. Students love listening to other students, and this helps keep them even more engaged in the lessons.

    I’m excited to see what others have to say about this too!

    • Kathy Perret 7 Nov

      Thanks for your comments, Aviva. I need to learn more about backchannels! The concept sounds very interesting. Finding multiple ways to keep students engaged in their learning is so important. I agree, students do love to learn from their peers. Many times they can explain concepts a user-friendly manner. Plus the benefits for the student doing the “leading” is also amazing. We learn best by teaching others!

      I’m looking forward to many more ideas as well! I love learning from my PLN!


  • Jessica Dubois 6 Nov

    Wonderful ideas here Kathy. Thank you again for sharing your knowledge!

    I also use popsicle sticks but had never thought of putting my name in there too. What a great idea. I will also add our teaching assistants name too.

    I agree that ensuring active participation is the key especially when you are teaching ELL students, where, in my case anyway, English (the language of instruction) is a 3rd or 4th language for my students. I also think that being able to discuss the topic and ideas in ones first language, which I see automatically happening in our class when working in small cooperative learning groups, allows students to help each other understand new concepts and build common understandings together.

    I am going to check out your links now! Thanks again 🙂

    • Kathy Perret 7 Nov

      I’m glad you found some of the ideas shared to be helpful. I’m anxious to hear of your students reactions when you add your name and your teaching assistants to the Popsicle sticks!

      Your point of allowing for students to discuss a topic or concept in their first language so important! This is a wonderful way to keep students engaged. Thank your for reminding us all of its importance!!


  • brandy75 7 Nov

    Great post, I remember those “teacher rules” so glad we learned and went on. We use cooperative learning based on Spencer Kagan. In fact, he came to Hawaii this past summer and facilitated the workshop. In fact, it was so popular the advanced sessions are scheduled for next summer. Kids respond when the playing field is fair and that’s what cooperative learning creates along with accountability.

    • Kathy Perret 10 Nov

      WOW! What an experience to be able to be trained by Spencer Kagan in Cooperative Learning! It sounds exciting that the process has gone over so well in Hawaii! Guiding all kids to learning is powerful work!


  • Elizabeth Peterson 7 Nov

    What a great post. I’m so glad I have now seen your website!

    I also use pop sticks, but think it’s great to have the kids names in twice. Tomorrow, I will be making a deck of cards for when I want to have students names in there twice and keep the sticks for when I really only need them once.

    Your video for the Numbered Heads Together was a great help – so glad you did that. I will be looking for those times in the day to use that strategy.

    This year, I have really be talking more and more about my students (4th graders) “Owning their own learning.” We discuss this and reflect on it often throughout our day. They are starting to get it and some are showing signs of becoming learners and not just fact memorizers. That’s the goal, anyway!

    Thanks again for your wonderful ideas!

    • Kathy Perret 10 Nov

      I’m happy that the resources shared were helpful! It is so rewarding to watch the progress our students make throughout the school year! It sounds like they are off to a great start!


  • Terry Lopez 10 Oct

    I am a Principal of an Elementary school in a large school district where we still find students who have attended our schools from Kindergarten through 6th grade and still can not speak English. I plan to standardize these “best practices” so that our students can be accountable for their learning and teachers accountable for active engagement of ALL students. If teachers practice Kindergarten through 6th grade, then students go from grade level to grade level with the same expectations. These become a part of the teachers rituals and routines.

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