Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A Better Model of Engagement

FULL DISCLAIMER: The following is something I actually ripped out of part of my Intro in the draft of the book I'm writing. It just sums up my thoughts well on the topic of engagement, which was a big focus of last night's wonderful #edchat discussion!

Any teacher that has taught a great lesson knows exactly what engagement looks like; every student on task, working toward a goal, problem solving and helping each other along the way.These are the lessons that make you thirst for more and praying you can replicate it the next day! As I look back on some of my own highly engaging activities, they start to share some interesting qualities: the topic was presented in an interesting way, students were highly active and able to collaborate, goals were clear, and something was created and published by the end of the lesson or project.

This paints a picture of a highly engaged classroom, but it is also important to define what engagement is not. Too often, the word is used as if it is something that teachers do to students; as if engagement were a hammer wielded on helpless nails. This can’t be the correct perspective if we are striving to center our learning environment around students. A more inspiring way to think of this term is by, once again, putting the student at the center:

Engagement is not something that should be thought of as occurring in one direction. It shouldn’t even be thought of as something that is done by one party or the other. Rather, we should think of engagement as a two-way street where each party is invested in the other:

  • Students and teachers. It is obvious that teachers should actively engage their students by provoking thought and providing a learning environment in which students can actively collaborate, communicate, create, and publish. But it is equally important for you to allow your students to engage you in the classroom. Your students should make you think. Your students should make you consider what you’re doing and whether or not it is working. In short, your students should change you and the way you teach. Be mindful and receptive to this happening in your classroom and you will be able to better reach every learner.
  • Students and peers. Collaboration is a key component to how students today best learn. Allow them to engage each other regularly by giving opportunities to question one another and provoke responses. Let your students guide the way in the classroom and provide them opportunities to shape each other’s thinking.
  • Students and the local community. Invite members of your local community into class to provide additional insight and a different perspective. Allow students opportunities to go out into the local community and make a real difference through service projects.
  • Students and the global community. Providing chances for students to connect with people from other cultures throughout the world broadens their worldview and provides them concrete examples of similarities and differences. This knowledge as well as the building of tolerance and respect of other cultures is an increasingly valuable skill for our students to have when they enter the workforce.
  • Students and tools. Of course, students engage the tools they use (they wouldn’t work if they weren’t technically “engaged”, right?). However, the best tools work in the opposite direction as well- they are naturally engaging to students. Choosing the correct tool can have a large impact on the amount of engagement in your classroom.

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