Engagement for Students and Teachers

In a recent article in Education Week (July 16, 2008) Engagement is the Answer, Joseph Renzulli, www.renzullilearning.com, suggests schools need to adopt a new guiding principle, “No Child Left Bored”. He recommends that the drill and practice teaching especially present in the classrooms of poor and struggling students be replaced with teaching to develop high-end learning skills:

*Plan a task and consider alternatives
*Monitor understanding and the need for additional information
*Identify patterns, relationships, and discrepancies
*Generate reasonable arguments, explanations, hypotheses, and ideas
*Draw comparisons to other problems
*Formulate meaningful questions
*Transform factual information into usable knowledge
*Rapidly and efficiently access information
*Extend one’s thinking
*Detect bias, make comparisons, draw conclusions, and predict outcomes
*Apply knowledge and problem solving strategies to real-world problems
*Work and communicate effectively with others
*Derive enjoyment from active engagement in learning
*Creatively solve problems and produce new ideas

Renzulli states that these skills promote engagement, which he defines as infectious enthusiasm students display when working on something of personal interest pursued inductively. He believes this high engagement results in higher achievement, improved self concept, and self-efficacy, and more favorable attitudes toward school and learning.

I found a great example of teaching for high end learning in the July 29, 2008, New York Times.
Steven A. Farber is a biologist who studies how vertebrates digest fats, research that may be useful in combating heart disease. But Dr. Farber, 45, an investigator at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Baltimore, moonlights at a second job. He heads Project BioEYES, a nonprofit organization he founded seven years ago to bring science to inner-city schools in Baltimore, Philadelphia and South Bend, Ind. He and his staff members try to introduce children to genetics, natural selection and the scientific method. Their tool of choice is Dr. Farber’s favorite experimental animal, the zebra fish.
Note the approach………………………………….

On the first day, we bring in a bucket of zebra fish and say: “Now that you’re scientists, you have to be good at observation. Which of these fish is male and female?” After some hits and misses, the kids usually figure out that the fish with the swollen belly is female and the sleek one is male.

As I re- read the list of high-end learning skills, it struck me that the same list applies to teachers working in professional learning communities. Check the list. Do you agree?
Here are a few I have personally seen while observing effective PLC’s:
…..applying knowledge and problem solving strategies to real-world problems
….. working and communicating effectively with others
…..deriving enjoyment from active engagement in learning
……creatively solving problems and producing new ideas

Those of you serving as instructional or peer coaches should be able to identify that much of your work is designed to create many of the same skills for your coachees.
…..planning tasks and considering alternatives
…..monitoring understanding and the need for additional information
…..identifying patterns, relationships, and discrepancies
…..formulating meaningful questions
…..transforming factual information into usable knowledge

As instructional leaders, school administrators should be focused on learner-centered skills of their staffs as a strategy for the development of learner-centered skills of their students. Engagement is the answer.

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Steve Barkley

For the past 30 years, Steve has served as a consultant to school districts, teacher organizations, state departments of education, and colleges and universities nationally and internationally, facilitating the changes necessary for them to reach students and successfully prepare them for the 21st century. Read more…

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