When I tweet, I feel like I’m talking to myself and my words will simply come back to me in perpetuity as Timehop entries. Yesterday, my name was mentioned in a tweet and I got notifications about it all afternoon.
@BeaLeiderman “Engagement is not about who’s on task it’s about what’s coming out of the task.” #edtechrva pic.twitter.com/a0CNhGAT69 — Pete Gretz (@PeteGretzGCPS) March 12, 2015
Dr. Gretz picked up that quote when I was discussing Phillip Schlechty’s levels of engagement. What I was saying to my audience was that assuming students are engaged because the classroom is quiet and everyone looks busy is not a good idea. Until you see what the outcome of the work is, you can’t know whether the kids were engaged or not. It is not just about observing the behavior. When students are truly engaged, they care about doing the best they can, not just meeting the minimum requirements set forth in a rubric. If students are constantly asking if the paragraph they wrote is “long enough” and you keep sending them back to their desk, they might be busy, but they are not engaged.
I’ve been pointing to Schlechty’s work for a while when talking to teachers in Goochland because, while we might know what engagement is, he puts it into words that can help teachers reflect upon their practice.
I believe engagement is made up of two separate components. The first is the relationship between the teacher and the students. If you want your students to be engaged, you have to know them and you have to get along with them. You don’t have to be their friend, but you cannot lead students in learning if you have an adversarial relationship with them. The relationship between the teacher and the students is the main ingredient in the mix that makes up the classroom environment, and a toxic environment discourages collegiality and collaboration, which are so important to learning.
The second component in engagement is thoughtful and carefully planned instruction that is accessible and relevant to all the learners in the group. If tasks are too difficult, students will be frustrated, and if tasks are too easy, students will be bored. Allowing for some choice and creative flexibility lets students find the right combination of their own skills and the challenge in the task to be successful. Notice that there are tasks for the students to carry out. Instruction should be an activity in which the students are doing something, not passively listening or watching.
So how do we get here? Stop lecturing. Embrace project-based learning, inquiry-based learning, plan student-centered activities. Need help? Remember I’m just an email away.