Total Engagement: Lessons from the Dogs

Issy and Molly Totally Engaged
Issy & Molly totally engaged!

This morning prior to coming to work, I took time to play with the canines that share our home. In doing so, not only was it fun for me but it struck me how they were both totally engaged. Issy will wait for several minutes just for that ball to be tossed- her entire body at attention, quivering with excitement, with laser like focus waiting for any subtle indication of direction I will toss the ball. No one can dispute that she is totally engaged in the play. Molly (much older dog) will wait with full attention for any command – anticipating the tasty treat that follows. Training for her, is both work and play and has a level of satisfaction for her. As I then drove to work, thinking about finishing my blog entry on student engagement the parallels struck me. Now, not to say, that educating our children is the same as training and playing with dogs but I do have the hope and dream and goal that students in our educational systems can also be so engaged, so involved with what they are doing that they consider learning play, finding satisfaction in their experiences,  finding excitement and relevance in learning.

What is student engagement? Is it the student who appears interested, completes assignments, and participates in class discussion? Maybe.   After all, I worked with middle schools students who we would actually “teach” the rules of school and how to “fake” engagement in an effort to not have as many behavior issues! So while the completion of work, appearing to pay attention and completing classwork may be a start, it is not adequate for true engagement. I find myself more frequently and deliberately using the term cognitive engagement. The term cognitive engagement better expresses that I am talking about learners working their brains! Busy work is not engaged work.

Nicolas Pino in a December 8, 2014 Edutopia post nicely summarizes the varied ways a student might be engaged. He also promotes that attending to levels of cognitive engagement is critical   “because students may be behaviorally and/or emotionally invested in a given activity without actually exerting the necessary effort to understand and master the knowledge, craft, or skill that the activity promotes.” His post continues on to suggest six golden rules to apply as educators design learning experiences. The tenets listed are: meaningful content, sense of efficacy, student control and choice, collaborative learning, relationships, mastery orientation or fostering a growth mindset. Whether it is through project-based learning, supporting students from poverty, or other encounters you may have with OCM BOCES Instructional Support, we are working with educators to create learning experiences and environments to grow and support behavioral, emotional and cognitive engagement of students.

What I would appreciate hearing from you is a success story. When were you able to provide a learning experience and environment that captivated the learners to be totally engaged? What contributed to the success?

Radicello_Lynn_WEBLynn Radicello
LRadicel@ocmboces.org

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