Engagement. Is this a buzz word of the moment? It’s everywhere. It’s even in the National Professional Standards for teachers. We need to be engaging our students to learn. I agree that they need to be ‘into’ what they’re learning and where ever possible excited, enthralled and loving what they’re doing. Passion is one of the greatest driving forces behind learning. At least, it is for me.
What is engagement in learning?
To be honest I have a bit of problem with this word. Too many times, it seems that the default answer is fun. Fun is awesome but is it the ‘everything’ of engagement?
I know from personal experience that you can create show-stopping lessons with all the bells and whistles and your students could make little or no progress. I remember painstakingly planning one lesson in which I desperately wanted to show the senior manager, who was about to observe (and grade) me, what I could do with ICT. I followed the 4 part lesson plan as best I could and I created an incredibly engaging, immersive lesson on descriptive writing. I chose New York for this immersion and used a carousel activity structure to move students around to different stations in the room. I greeted students at the door with bagels (New York bagels), New York, New York was playing as they entered. We shared our learning objectives and went for it. I had three computers live streaming webcams from Time Square, a video of some other aspect of New York was playing on the Interactive Whiteboard. I put those kids into New York so that they could get all the adjectives, nouns etc that they needed to write their travel piece. We spent an hour exploring New York virtually. My lesson objectives were focused on improving students’ writing – the sub focus being using varied sentence styles (thus all the word level features and my idea to focus on helping them to get a feel for the place so they could find the words to use). There was one table in this carousel that had activities where students were asked to construct sentences.
At the end of the observation i got a ‘satisfactory‘ – Satisfactory doesn’t mean as it sounds when OFSTED come a knocking. Why? Because although my students were engaged with New York, they weren’t particularly engaged with meeting the English learning objectives I had set out to achieve. There just wasn’t enough progress being made. As you can imagine, I was gutted! So was my head of department! However, I learned a valuable lesson about engagement and how to use it to improve learning and teaching that day.
Please don’t get me wrong. That learning experience, the engagement the kids had with it was memorable and great fun. There was a lot of learning happening there about Geography and culture, about ICT and a fair bit of social learning too. I enjoyed the lesson and so did the kids. That stuff is important. BUT… if every lesson is designed to be fun, motivational and enjoyable without careful consideration being made to WHY we’re doing it then there’s a real danger that our bells and whistles will actually hold back kids not help them to progress.
I guess it’s a little like the use of technology generally. If you bring it in then, in my opinion, it needs to be adding something to the learning. Bring on the pedagogies. Are we using it because that helps to scaffold, model, create pupil lead learning experiences, increase or slow pace etc.? All those bells and whistles to create engagement need to lead somewhere good for learning.
Some of my most truly engaging learning rich lessons have been created through a culture of success. I found that kids who ‘didn’t like learning’ were often (not always but very often) kids who felt they were no good at it. Who needed to see success and get excited about what they could achieve. They needed to be enabled and switched on to learning through positive reinforcement and coaching. I use a vast array of bells and whistles – i try very hard to show my passion for my subject ( even when i’ve been up marking/ writing reports all night) and, as a result, most people find my general nature to be ‘engaging’.
This image is of a brainstorm I completed with some teachers last Friday. I am working with them on an inquiry based project in which we’re exploring how technology could increase engagement in their language teaching. It was so important that we broke that word down. We took each thesaurus synonym of the word and tried to connect that with teaching and learning.
What was it they were trying to achieve? There are plenty of ICT tools that can be used to have fun in the classroom. Can we ask more of it than that? Can we use technology in a fun and engaging way whilst using it as a mean to create learning opportunities that require deep thinking and learning? What is deep thinking and learning? Is that engagement?
When you explore the National Professional Standards and look for the word engagement (in the context of student learning) you will quickly see that it’s coupled with words like “understanding”, “achievement”. When it comes to our question about the use of ICT we turn to standard 3.4 where we’re reminded to “engage students in their learning.” Maybe that’s the key part? It’s a key that we must never forget. We need to engage students so that they can experience successful learning opportunities, where they achieve and enjoy achieving in as many domains or taxonomies as possible!
So, professionally, what’s are the synonyms for the word Engagement?
- Lesson Planning
- Behaviour Management
- Positive Reinforcement
- Opportunities for Deeper Learning
- Challenge / Support
What do you think?