Engaged Learning? Why? Our future is at stake!

Can anyone seriously argue that potential learners do not need to be engaged, or that engagement is not a contributing factor to learning? Have you ever been in a classroom full of energetic, eager learners who aren’t engaged? It can get pretty hectic. Not a lot of learning going on… at least not the kind that’s typically focused on national, state, district or school learning goals! Contrast that with those same learners, actively engaged in work that they are curious about AND that happens to be relevant and meaningful (in terms of academic preparation for the 21st century).

If we all agree that engagement is more than just a good idea, it’s necessary… why do we find so many dis-engaged potential learners?

Are we making room for questioning? Do students get the opportunity to really benefit from inquiry by ‘going deep’? Is Project-Based Learning a fantasy? I find it interesting (there were so many other words I could have used here!) that many of us (educators) feel confounded by the new generation of ‘instant information’, and complain that kids can not stay engaged in ANYTHING for more than a few minutes. Really!? Let’s look at two, somewhat fictitious, Middle School classrooms:

Mr. Enthusiastic is well known amongst students and parents as a good teacher. He has great rapport with his students, has established a positive climate with clear expectations, rules and disciplinary procedures and he LOVES the current MS History textbook. He also LOVES to lecture. He knows that students have a variety of learning styles so he throws in visuals, graphic organizers and the occasional group activity (answering questions from the text). However, most of class time is spent going through the textbook, answering questions and copying his notes while he tells (somewhat) related stories. Being a Middle School teacher, Mr. Enthusiastic recognizes that he should try to vary activity in the classroom to keep students from losing interest, so, every 20 minutes he has his students stand up, jump in place and rotate seats to keep the blood flowing. He makes sure to have one major group project each semester, usually a PowerPoint presentation that requires each student to do research, write and present. Student assessment results are above average. Yet, whenever another teacher covers his class, students are somewhat disengaged, but usually kept in line by his consistent routines. Sometimes, students complain that class is boring and that Mr. Enthusiastic isn’t as funny as he thinks he is but most students still say that the class is better than many of their other classes.

Ms. Reflective is a quieter teacher. She certainly has the respect and admiration of parents who have had children enrolled in her classes. She also teaches Middle School History. She established the rules and disciplinary procedure, collaboratively, with her students. She has taught the students questioning techniques and she uses them, often, as they do research and read important background information. She also works collaboratively with the other grade level teachers, trying to develop meaningful, relevant cross-curricular projects. This has meant that there are times when she and another teacher co-teach a combined class (twice as large as the 33 students she has in most of her classes) when they share back-to-back instructional periods. She will normally have students work on 4-6 cross-curricular projects per year. Her students also do a lot of writing and peer editing in class and occasional debates. Typically (unless they are writing or doing research), her classroom is much noisier than Mr. Enthusiastic’s, yet, she doesn’t have more discipline issues. In fact, when someone else covers her classes they find that the students are very much self-directed, focused and engaged in their work for extended periods of time. Her students’ assessment results are consistently very high. Students report that they not only learned a lot about history, they also learned a lot about themselves, as learners. Quite a few also complain about the amount of reading and writing they have to do (but… will admit it was probably worth it).

Which teacher do you want for your children?

 

Engaged, meaningful, learning is important. There’s some simple ways to engage and there are more complex (and, initially, work intensive) ways to engage but the fact is… kids are worth it! They are OUR future! Let’s make it a promising one.

Here are some resources that may help engage students, more:

Reflection: Is the “Why” of a school administrator the same “Why” as a teacher?

From DepartmentOfEd Flickr https://www.flickr.com/ photos/departmentofed/8102546041. CC use https://creativecommons.org/ licenses/by/2.0/legalcode

From DepartmentOfEd Flickr https://www.flickr.com/ photos/departmentofed/8102546041. CC use https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode

I have been fortunate to have spent the entire school day in several elementary, middle and high school classrooms in the past month. Why do I think this is fortunate?

Because, the fact is, we don’t often have the opportunity to witness a wide variety of teachers and students, in the classroom learning environment, for extended periods… and, it’s incredibly valuable!

I firmly believe that school administrators SHOULD spend as much time in classrooms as is practically possible. It can really help us concretely connect to the WHY of our jobs, it helps us connect to students, it helps us witness exemplary teaching (and, sometimes, not so

From US Army Corps of Engineers Europe District Flickr at https://www.flickr.com/photos/europedistrict/4595576424. Under CC license https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode

From US Army Corps of Engineers Europe District Flickr at https://www.flickr.com/photos/europedistrict/4595576424. Under CC license https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode

exemplary teaching)… in short, it gives us meaningful material to reflect on as we consider what we want our learners to achieve, how we know they are (or, aren’t) achieving that and what we need to do to ensure their success.

We all see with different lenses. This can be one of the greatest strengths for a learning community that is focused on the same questions and issues… as long as we truly consider the entire range of observations that come from our community.

Trust flows from a respect for each other’s ideas and the more we share our learning experiences and ideas with each other the more we can tackle the questions that answer why we are here, why we are educators… it is the same why. We just may have different ways of moving forward on supporting our learners.

A Cause Greater than Yourself…

Book Cover

Here’s a book on global citizenship!

I was led to that book from watching a video interview by Katie Couric that really gave me something positive to reflect on… service to others and the difference it makes. Not only does it feel good to know you’re helping others… you can actually make a real difference.

Educators make a difference in the lives of their students on a regular basis. How can we get our kids to take that and ‘pay it forward’. I’m convinced that we can combine helping opportunities with encouraging stories (like the one above) to really build global citizenship.

AND! We benefit by helping others! It’s a win-win! There’s plenty of evidence that shows that giving of ourselves is good for us, so let’s get out there and give what we can!

From Therese Borchard’s article: “How Giving Makes Us Happy”.

Did the 4 Cs replace the 3 Rs?

3Rs vs 4CsSometimes, it seems like it’s simply hyperbole… Communication, Collaboration, Creativity and Critical Thinking. Is that really so different than Reading and Writing (Communication)? If you really engage in Arithmetic and learn how to Read and Write well aren’t you also tapping into Creativity and Critical Thinking?

It is not the same.

There’s no doubt that teachers, some teachers, great teachers, have taught the 4Cs for a long time. However, if we use the 3 Rs as the basis for our educational paradigm, students may or may not learn the 4 Cs. If we move beyond the basics and embrace the 4 Cs as the essential skills that all learners must become proficient with then we have begun to shift our goals for education to providing complex learning environments that match the complex, real-world problems that we all have to deal with.

Of course, Reading, ‘Riting, and ‘Rithmetic (aka literacy and numeracy) are still foundational skills. Critics often ask how we can possibly focus on ‘higher order’ skills when so many struggle with basic skills. Of course learners struggle in an increasingly irrelevant model of education (the 19th Century factory model). Learning them in an environment that often lacks real-world context can be challenging. So, why not embed them in complex problems that require learners to think critically and creatively and collaborate with others? One of the great values of modern technology in the classroom is that it allows students to become masters of their own learning. Learners can engage in the curriculum in ways that are more

From: The Southeast Technology Network CIC Grant Project http://nrctech.weebly.com/21st-century-skills.html

personally meaningful for them AND that hold more relevance to the real world. Learners can direct their own learning, while meeting curricular goals.

Here’s some related articles/links:

Are there really 6 Cs?…. The 6 C’s of Education for the 21st Century

6 Cs Infographic

How can I be a catalyst for changing education from a 19th Century factory model to a 21st Century model focused on developing globally aware learning and thinking skills?

QUICKPOST: 7-Step Prep: Make a Weekly Plan for YOU!

7-Step Prep: Make a Weekly Plan for YOU!

I know I’ve been posting “QuickPost”s more than more reflective and individualized posts but… it’s still summer (barely)! This one really reminded me that I need to visit Edutopia more often. It really is choc full of very practical, immediately applicable resources.

This one is simply good advice for getting and staying organized.

7-Step Prep: Make a Weekly Plan for YOU!.