November 20, 2019

Increasing Student Engagement

One of the schools that I have been working with for a few years asked me to help the leadership team, including grade level PLC facilitators, examine how teachers could increase student engagement.

Their district classroom walkthrough data identified classrooms as high student engagement, well managed, or dysfunctional. This building had very few observations that were labeled dysfunctional. Grade level findings ranged from 50%-79% of the time classrooms were well managed rather than highly engaged.

The leadership team believed that if PLC’s could assist teachers in gaining increased student engagement they could get increased student achievement.

We had consensus around this statement:

Increasing the length of time, intensity, and student ownership of engagement would produce increased student achievement.



In a blog by Dr. Wendy Ghiora , the team’s thinking was reinforced and extended:

“One of the many exciting aspects of teaching is the empowerment we have to become active designers of the lesson and facilitators of learning. The teacher serves as a coach or guide for student learning. As a facilitator, the teacher challenges, questions, and stimulates the students in their thinking, problem solving and self-directed study. Here are just a few positive results of fostering student engagement in our classrooms.



Observed Outcomes

1. Students are more confident in themselves and in their learning because they are allowed to take risks.

2. Students are not bored with everyday learning because of the emphasis on creativity, relevancy, and a hands-on approach.

3. Students retain more information on a long-term basis.

4. Students have fun while learning, enjoy school, and are successful.

5. Parents are happy when their children look forward to each day with excitement.

6. Students learn at high levels and have a profound grasp of what they learn.

7. Students can transfer what they learn to new contexts.

The link between engagement and achievement may seem obvious, however, this issue frequently slips through the cracks in discussions about school reform and improvement. As schools focus on helping all students achieve high standards, reaching out to disengaged and discouraged learners becomes increasingly important. Clearly, students who are not motivated to engage in learning are unlikely to succeed.”

Design and Facilitate

These are the two elements I suggested that PLC’s explore.

What are design components that teachers can build into planning for learning to increase engagement? NECREL suggests:



Tasks for Engaged Learning

In order to have engaged learning, tasks need to be challenging, authentic, and multidisciplinary. Such tasks are typically complex and involve sustained amounts of time. They are authentic in that they correspond to the tasks in the home and workplaces of today and tomorrow. Collaboration around authentic tasks often takes place with peers and mentors within school as well as with family members and others in the real world outside of school. These tasks often require integrated instruction that incorporates problem-based learning and curriculum by project.

Instructional Models & Strategies for Engaged Learning

The most powerful models of instruction are interactive. Instruction actively engages the learner, and is generative. Instruction encourages the learner to construct and produce knowledge in meaningful ways. Students teach others interactively and interact generatively with their teacher and peers. This allows for co-construction of knowledge, which promotes engaged learning that is problem-, project-, and goal-based. Some common strategies included in engaged learning models of instruction are individual and group summarizing, means of exploring multiple perspectives, techniques for building upon prior knowledge, brainstorming, Socratic dialogue, problem-solving processes, and team teaching.

What facilitation skills does the teacher use during these learning activities that promote the increased student engagement? NECREL suggests:

Teacher Roles for Engaged Learning

The role of the teacher in the classroom has shifted from the primary role of information giver to that of facilitator, guide, and learner. As a facilitator, the teacher provides the rich environments and learning experiences needed for collaborative study. The teacher also is required to act as a guide–a role that incorporates mediation, modeling, and coaching. Often the teacher also is a co-learner and co-investigator with the students.




Student Roles for Engaged Learning

One important student role is that of explorer. Interaction with the physical world and with other people allows students to discover concepts and apply skills. Students are then encouraged to reflect upon their discoveries, which is essential for the student as a cognitive apprentice. Apprenticeship takes place when students observe and apply the thinking processes used by practitioners. Students also become teachers themselves by integrating what they’ve learned. Hence, they become producers of knowledge, capable of making significant contributions to the world’s knowledge.

I found two videos of classroom learning experiences that gave the leaders a chance to examine students’ engagement and discuss what changes a teacher might make in design and facilitation to increase engagement.

Administrators suggested this first observation would be identified as well managed on their instrument and this next one would be high engagement.

You might find the video segments helpful in your coaching and training work with teachers. These leaders agreed to facilitate their PLCs examination of the clips and explore how teachers could modify design and facilitation. More importantly they agreed to have a video from their own classrooms ready for a future PLC session. I’ll bet they get increased teacher engagement in PLCs.

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