Student Engagement – Not my problem?


My teacher inquiry context for this year is around the issue of student engagement. Shortly I’ll be posting my official plan (which, apparently I’ll change anyway) which has an outline of what I’m planning to do, what the research has told me so far and so on.

A conversation I had today with a teacher I respect started me thinking about the level of responsibility I have towards ensuring students stay on task and motivated during the day. I have often reflected at the end of the day and almost felt a ‘weight’ or burden over a student’s lack of focus. It’s easy for us to feel less than successful as teachers if we fail to engage every student in what we’re doing – after all, a great teacher has the entire class buzzing, enthusiastic and running home at the end of the day all pumped up and loving being a learner… don’t they?

This teacher believed that the bulk of a teacher’s time should be spent with the students who want to learn and have the right attitude. They felt that our responsibility lies in creating an engaging environment for learning and that the rest, to a degree, was up to the student to respond in a positive way. It sounds so liberating to us less experienced teachers who still want to change the world for every kid but have enough class time under the belt that classrooms aren’t like that. It’s also something I’ll keep reflecting on.

This slide share, by Steve Wheeler (thanks again, twit machine), has a quote that jumped of the screen at me.

He states on slide 4 –

‘We cannot ‘manage’ self organised learning for our students.
We can only
create conducive environments within which students will
organise their own learning.’

He’s obviously talking within the context of self management but I can see his belief about teachers creating environments for students to respond to. It’s this environment that, to a greater or lesser degree, that I feel I should be focusing on creating.

6 ways to meet my responsibility and create a positive learning environment.

1. Utilise both extrinsic and intrinsic motivators that are positive and negative (but focus on the positive) – have incentives and appropriate rewards for active engagment, provide opportunities for students to monitor and reflect on their own learning, have consistent and negotiated consequences with ready access for progress to ‘redemption’.

2. Making the learning relevant and authentic – discuss the ‘why’ we’re learning somthing and have a meaningful purpose or goal.

3. Provide opportunities for student responsibility and praise them when they respond.

4. Create and foster a sense of a learning community – encourage all points of view, experimentaion and risk taking. Role modeling ‘thinking aloud’ and encouraging ‘wrong – good answers’.

5. Making the class fun! – having fun and allowing yourself to look silly in front of the class.

6. Creating and maintaining ‘one to one’ relationships with each student. – “A student won’t care what you know until they know that you care.”

(Images used under Creative Commons – Zen, Sahtu Wildlife. Sourced from flickr)
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