Happy Birthday Justin Bieber: A Lesson in Student Engagement

BieberBy Katie Doyle — Working with middle school students this year, I have learned more about One Direction, Justin Bieber, and pre-teen gossip than I ever cared to know.

Do I really care which member of the British boy-band is no longer dating Taylor Swift? No, but my students do.

Middle school students have a wide range of interests.  They can be quirky, fun, hypocritical, odd, and just downright weird sometimes.  I’ve found, however, that engaging students in their interests is what keeps them interested in what you’re doing.

I plan a lot of activities for my students, and they’re not always into it.  Sometimes they don’t feel like doing whatever activity I planned for them that day – whether it’s writing a poem, moving around the room, or having a discussion about idioms.  But I’ve found that the more I engage in their interests, the more willing they are to at least feign interest in what I have planned.

A few weeks ago, one of my BRIDGE students for after-school ran up to me in the morning.  “Ms. Doyle! It’s Justin Beiber’s birthday today! Can we sing to him in BRIDGE?”  She was grabbing my hands and jumping up and down.  Despite the fact that Justin Beiber was not at school and would not hear us singing Happy Birthday, I told her that, sure, we can sing Happy Birthday to him.

When 2:45 rolled around and my students reported for BRIDGE, she again reminded me that I promised we could sing Happy Birthday to Justin Beiber.  This time she had most of the girls in the class pleading with her.  We had an activity to do for BRIDGE that day about role models and real life heroes, but I decided that I should indulge my students’ interest.  So I sang Happy Birthday to Justin Beiber.

That minute I spent singing Happy Birthday to a teenage pop star showed my students that I not only care about their interests but also that I’m willing to engage in their interests with them.  When they know that I care about them, they are much more cooperative and productive in class.  After we sang Happy Birthday, they got down to work and followed my directions without reminders.

An added bonus: I was dubbed the “Coolest City Year” at school that day.

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