In an Edutopia blog ,Ten Steps to Better Student Engagement, Tristan de Frondeville describes the importance of teachers being conscious of their students’ degree of engagement. He suggests cultivating an engagement meter:
“Be acutely aware of when your students are paying strong attention or are deeply engaged in their tasks. Master teachers create an active-learning environment in which students are on task in their thinking and speaking or are collaboratively working close to 100 percent of the time. Such teachers notice and measure not only when students are on task but also the quality of their engagement.
Although it may take years to develop the repertoire of skills and lessons that enable you to permanently create this active-learning environment, you can begin by discerning which activities truly engage your students. The more brutally honest you are with yourself, the faster you will get there.”
I recently spent a day with high school administrators and department chairpersons observing students with a focus on “who was engaged” and “at what level of engagement”. After our observations I asked them to discuss their interpretations using the following continuum.
Fear Attention Comfort Bored
What do you see and hear that would cause you to think students are bored?
What do you consider signs of attention?
I described that the desirable engagement spot is between attention and fear (anxiety)….a very focused, leaned in. purposeful attention. As a teacher I like to maximize the amount of time that I can maintain that focus with students.
What do you see and hear as students move from high focus to comfortable? What are signs that students are too comfortable?
What are signs that students are becoming too anxious?
The indicators of engagement differ among students and among learning activities. That’s why I find engagement to be a great topic for coaching and professional learning.
Here are the next steps I outlined for this high school leadership team:
Department heads will spend a day observing in their own and other departments teamed with administrators.
1. Prior to doing the observations, the group will meet and list the desired student behaviors they believe will increase student achievement. They need to develop an extensive, detailed list. (Admin team may want to do this in advance to prime the thinking.)
Here are starters:
Students presenting or teaching
Student risk taking
Students solving real problems
Students writing, producing, creating
Students self assessing and setting goals
2. Complete the observations (in groups of two or three) stopping frequently to discuss observation notes, keeping focused on ALL students.
Bring the group together and discuss:
How often did we find these behaviors? Where were they most prevalent? Where were they missing?
Did we see things that we thought were interfering with the advancement of student achievement?
How would we describe our observations on the Fear…Attention…Comfort…Bored continuum?
How strongly do leaders feel that change is needed?
How committed are leaders to assisting teachers in developing an “awareness to” and “options for” increasing student engagement along these lines?
At this point the team can identify their desire and commitment to planning for staff learning.
I look forward to my return to the school and a chance to learn about the team’s experiences.