Five Tips

Embracing technology in the classroom can lead to higher student engagement. (Photo from Pixabay.)
Embracing technology in the classroom can lead to higher student engagement. (Photo from Pixabay.)

I have heard much from frustrated instructors that they cannot motivate students in their classroom to learn. They are teaching the same basic skills they have taught for years, and they cannot seem to understand why the engagement is no longer there. The answer is, many instructors are teaching the same way they have for years and have not adapted to the needs of their students. The following five tips can help motivate your students.

1. Maintain a Stakeholder Focus

So how do we reach and engage all generations of students and different learners to bring them onboard with our initiatives? It starts with changing how we have always done things and shifting our teaching methods on the groups being served over our personal comforts and agendas. Chief (Ret.) Alan Brunacini, Phoenix (AZ) Fire Department, says it best, “Firefighters hate two things, change and the way things are.” We need change in the classroom to progress. The students in your classroom are your stakeholders and are the future of the fire service. It is important for instructors to bridge strategies to stakeholder interests to create value for the student in the classroom. Instructors need to align learning strategies to meet the needs of the students, which in return helps to reach classroom goals. This may mean the instructor needs to become the student to learn new methods to make lesson plans engaging.

2. Generational Shift

Yes, there has been a generational shift and, in some cases, that has caused an “us against them” mentality. What we need to remember is there has been a major shift in learning from the mature generation and baby boomers (born 1920-1965) to the generation Ys (born 1980-2000). The issue is, the majority of our seasoned instructors grew up in an era prior to the World Wide Web and struggle to relate to a new era that looks at life through a different lens. Prior to the development of the Internet, the self-identity of a person was based on a restricted geographical location. Identity was developed from relationships within neighborhoods, churches, and the firehouse for most firefighters. The foundation of the pre-Internet generation came from a biased world, restricted by locality. The post-Internet generation was born into a huge world, where identities and relationships could develop from across the globe with just one click of the mouse.

Learning has also changed. Books are now delivered electronically and world news is told in real time. The world for the post-Internet generation is constantly evolving at a fast pace, but constant and rapid change has always been the norm for this generation. Our younger generations are like chameleons - always adapting without hesitation, because this is all they have known. It is up to the instructor to adapt to this new lens of learning and thought in the classroom.

3. Cater to Different Learning Styles

Not everyone learns the same. It is up to the instructor to cater to the different learning styles of students. The three major styles of learning are auditory, visual, and tactile. Auditory learners learn best by hearing information and listening. Retention and comprehension of a lesson best occurs for auditory learners when information is heard. Visual learners understand and remember things they see or read. Sight of information is important for learning in the classroom. Tactile learners learn best through hands-on activities where they can perform what they are being taught.

A lesson plan can easily be modified to meet the needs of all three learners. Take a course on knots, for instance. Offering written steps to students and reading those steps aloud to them will benefit auditory learners. Encourage this group to sit where they can clearly hear the information being taught. For your visual learners, offer links to videos on knots they can watch in advance and demonstrate the tying of each knot before they try it. Offer pictures of each step next to the written steps to benefit visual learners. It is important that visual learners sit/stand where they can clearly see the task being taught. Tactile learners will benefit from being able to touch the rope and tie the knot as you walk them through each step. To sum up the lesson for all three learners, demonstrate visually how to tie each knot, offer written steps with accompanying photos, read the steps aloud as you walk through each step, and have students try each step mimicking your action while you verbally explain each step.

Encourage students to find out what type of learner they are, and keep a record of their learning type. If students are struggling, circle back to their learning style and offer additional assistance adapted to meet their learning needs. Here is a free self-assessment tool students can use to find out their learning styles and methods to help them best understand information:

4. Embracing Technology

Embracing technology in the classroom can lead to higher student engagement. Often, pre-Internet generations see post-Internet generations on their phone during training and assume they are being disrespectful. What they fail to realize is that often the young student is taking notes on the device, sharing the information, fact checking what you are teaching, or surfing the Internet for additional information on the topic. Post-Internet generations are comfortable with technology and use it daily.

There are a number of ways instructors can use mobile devices in the classroom. Instructors can encourage students to research and share something related to the lesson. Develop online groups with discussion feeds to share homework, lesson information, announcements, and critical thinking questions. There are a number of free apps and tools that can be used to enhance learning in the classroom. is a free tool that can be used to create virtual flashcards for students. Kahoot offers instructors the ability to create a free interactive game for the classroom where students use their devices to participate. Google also offers a number of free classroom tools such as shared drives, survey creation, classroom builder, and classroom blogs that can be incorporated.

5. Incorporate Learning Hooks

It is important for instructors to create hooks to engage learners and teach them why the information being provided is important. Starting off each new lesson with a learning hook will grab the attention of the students and pull them into the learning process. Emotional and pop culture hooks are two methods that work well.

An emotional hook plays on the emotions of the learners to create a desire for them to want/need to learn the information. An emotional hook can come from a video or from a speaker with a powerful message. The donning of proper personal protective equipment (PPE) is not the most exciting or engaging lesson, but showing new fire recruits the video from Boston (MA) on cancer in the fire service titled, “Firefighters recall colleagues who died from occupational cancer,” will send an emotional message of why proper PPE at all times is important and will motivate the learner. Listening to Mayday radio traffic and sharing videos produced by the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation are all tools to help support information being taught in the classroom through an emotional appeal.

Pop culture hooks come from mixing current event videos or entertainment with the lesson being taught. This shows the student how the information being taught is relevant to current times. These hooks can be funny yet engaging. Pop culture hooks are great attention grabbers for the start of a lesson or to break up a long day of teaching.

Continuous 360 Feedback

Continuous feedback is critical to the learning process. Our post-Internet generation has grown up in an era where they have received constant feedback from peers and strangers on social media all their lives. It is important to continue offering that feedback in the classroom. Provide constructive criticism that outlines the steps needed for growth.

It is just as important to receive feedback from students, regardless of if you want it. Gathering feedback from students on a continuous basis will help instructors know what is working and where they can improve.

Sending out a Google survey to students is a great way to collect that information, and it will easily be stored online at no cost. Encourage students to share what they like about your class and what they would like to see in the future, and identify areas for improvement. Remember, your students are your stakeholders, and feedback is the key to knowing if your teaching style is meeting their needs.

Our generations are continuously changing, and we as educators need to adapt to meet these young stakeholders’ needs and adapt to new styles of teaching. As we move forward, it is important to consider how our younger generations learn and best practices to accommodate these stakeholders.

Current Issue

October 2017
Volume 12, Issue 10