After yesterday’s adventure at the high school, I’ve moved back to the middle school today and have been reading and thinking about student engagement. With the students takings part in another D.A.R.E. lesson today, I’ve had some additional time for reading and researching online, and with helpful suggestions from many of you, have come across some great resources on this topic.
During this time, I was reminded of another wonderful perk of the world of teaching… teacher’s lounge cake. Yes, the wonderful place where every student has wanted to explore, but never gets the chance to, was filled with chocolate cake today. Seriously, though, this cake reminded me of our educational system. Each classroom is expected to contain some key ingredients, is expected to fit a standard “mold,” and is supposed to “taste” a certain way. Undoubtedly, each classroom will have its missing pieces.
Personally, I feel there is a need for acceptance in the future for all types of “cakes,” or classrooms. There will always be pieces missing, but I feel we are more likely to see successful classrooms if they are allowed to experiment with being a “white cake,” “red velvet cake,” or even “cupcakes!”
The crucial element, regardless of if you fit the square chocolate cake pan or not, is still engaging students…and it is, indeed, a fickle game. As I’ve remarked before, I personally believe the keys to retaining engagement is variation in instruction and effective planning for technology implementation. In the CITEJournal, a wonderful technology resource for educators, Judi Harris hints at this idea…
Integrating technology is not about technology – it is primarily about content and effective instructional practices. Technology involves the tools with which we deliver content and implement practices in better ways. Its focus must be on curriculum and learning. Integration is defined not by the amount or type of technology used, but by how and why it is used. (p. 7)
When it comes to instructional variation, though, the key almost turns away from more structure and leans toward a more fluid, student-centered environment. Please do not misunderstand this as a lesser need for planning, in fact effective variation in instruction requires more, BUT the educators who are best at this are able to balance structure with freedom to create a learning environment that meets the needs and interests of all students through effectively varying lessons. The fact of the matter is students GET this! Many students understand what school is missing and could tell you, in detail, what keeps them from being more fully engaged in the classroom. Nicholas, a high school sophomore, has done just that in his writing and blogging.
Considering this, it’s no wonder that Gallup found that only 44% of high school students are engaged. To be honest, I found this figure to be quite high. Many students (myself included) the education community might consider engaged are really not that interested in learning. To some of us, school has become a ceaseless competition to do the best on the next test and graduate with the highest GPA. I don’t see how this kind of education is preparing students to be successful in the 21st century. To fix education and get students excited about learning, schools need to first re-engage with the world in which students live. Doing this requires some dramatic change.
This goes far beyond students and teachers simply understanding this idea, though. Many standards and curriculum requirements are essentially suffocating teachers from doing this effectively, and some of this change needs to start from the top-down. What is encouraging is a moment like Brandon Busteed gave educators with his talk on Gallup’s Student Poll in Des Moines last week. Busteed gives Iowa teachers hope that there may just be others out there who “get” what engages students.
Maybe you’re a “numbers person?” Gallup’s poll took care of that for you too… finding only 44% of high school students are truly engaged.
This research makes it clear that change is needed and steps forward need to be taken. Educators cannot expect to make progress in the classroom or make a difference in students if they are unable to even engage 50% of them, and this starts in the individual classroom. So…what piece of the cake is your classroom missing? Find it, frost it, and change it! …and student engagement is a great place to start.