Recently, I read an article in Educational Leadership entitled 4 (Secret) Keys to Student Engagement by Robyn Jackson and Allison Zmuda. The article promotes ways teachers can capture true engagement in the classroom. What struck me most was a brief subtitle asking the question, “Compliant-Or Engaged”? I paused in my reading and thought about the “well-behaved” classes on which I used to pride myself. The kids did their work; they raised their hands; they were respectful; but, were they engaged? This got me thinking about the dangers of mistaking management for engagement, which then prompted me to ask the question, how do we design instruction that promotes engagement- real authentic engagement? Not a subdued space where nice kids turn in their work on time, but where students grapple with the learning in a busy, messy, sometimes noisy way? How do we get there, and more importantly, how do we sustain that energy?
Over the next few blog posts, I would like to share 4 ways to engage students, from Jackson and Zmuda’s article. So, this month, let’s examine the necessity for clarity and relevance of the tasks we place in front of students. One of the highest compliments I ever received was when one of my graduating seniors wrote, in a letter to my future students, that “her lessons are all relevant. I have never learned something and wondered what the purpose was.” Upon looking back, I realized that things did indeed go more smoothly when the students and I had a clear goal for the learning. Perhaps, we begin by asking ourselves, “What will my students know and be able to do as a result of this task?” Perhaps we get there by asking the big questions, those with no single answer. You know the ones that I speak of, those that lead to more and more questions. These essential questions serve to spur the learning, to give it meaning and relevance as we ponder how to truly engage learners.