Engagement is the Only Thing

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Day 17 of #BTBC14
Share a great classroom management strategy.

     I was at a PD the other day about small group instruction in reading and the presenters, +Anne Kruder and +Courtney O'Connor, had this slide in their presentation.  Doesn't it pretty much sum it all up?  No matter what we are teaching, kindergarten to high school or emergent reading to honors literature, our students will not learn nearly what they could if engagement is not there.  

    So what is engagement?

    I had a meeting today with some teachers and admins in my district, and we were discussing this very topic.  +Shannon Soger asked us to think about what makes our district one of a kind.   Many things were mentioned.  We have had full inclusion for the past 8 or 9 years, and we are now entering our third year of having full 1:1 technology.  We have also been working for a few years on understanding the Common Core standards, and we have a strong professional development and mentor program in place thanks to +Marilyn McManus.  But what impact has that had on our students and their learning?  It seems to be that when people come to see our classrooms in action, they tend to walk away talking about student engagement.  

     There is a difference between students being on task, and students being engaged.  The blog challenge topic today is to discuss great classroom management strategies, and I am going to bypass the strategies and just go to the source of good classroom management: student engagement.  

     Phil Schlecty (1994) says students who are engaged exhibit three characteristics:
          1.  They are attracted to their work.
          2.  They persist in their work despite challenges and obstacles.
          3.  They take visible delight in accomplishing their work.  

     In terms of behavior management, if our students have those characteristics as learners, then they would be less likely to misbehave in our classrooms.  At least, that is my professional opinion. Students in my classrooms were always less likely to throw a pencil or say a mean comment when they were engaged in their activity.  (Yes, there were a few pencils thrown in my room over the years.  Not many, but a few.) 

     So how to we ensure student engagement?

     At the meeting today, +Jeremy Majeski mentioned one of my favorite Keynote speakers of all time, John Antonetti.  He created the Learning Cube to show ways to promote engagement in his book Writing as a Measure and Model of Thinking.  He says that if teachers want students to be engaged in their learning, they should pick at least one element from each side of the cube when planning.  On the top of the cube are Robert Marzano's instructional strategies.  On the right side are the top level of Blooms taxonomy.  (I would assume that they are now modified and should say Applying/ Analyzing/ Evaluating/ and Creating.)  The front of the cube are the engaging qualities from Phil Schleckty.

     If we use engaging qualities, Bloom's big idea thinking, and high yield instructional strategies, then we are better ensuring that are students will be engaged.  I would like to add, on top of that, that students need to be working on things that are within their developmental level.  We, as teachers, need to make sure that the cognitive demand we are placing on our students is within their reach.  If I pick three things from each side of the cube (like choice, application and identifying similarities and differences for example) but I didn't think about the cognitive level of the lesson I was planning, then the students might be disengaged anyway because it was just too hard or easy.  

     This week, I taught a PD session with +Felicia Frazier on unpacking the Common Core standards.  Here we are, in the middle of the summer, and teachers were sorting the anchor standards into open sorts and semi-closed sorts using Blooms of Depth of Knowledge.  They were lining up to make a ladder of anchor standard one and highlighting key terms in the standard to notice the rigor increasing.  They were finding verbs and noun phrases and coming to group consensus on their meanings.  They began to think about creating Essential Questions and assessments.  All in all, it was a full day in 3 short hours.  I truly think that because of their thoughtful work on Wednesday, their students will have more engaging lessons that are appropriate for them as learners.

What can we do as teachers to help promote engagement?  On my short list, and in no particular order, are things like:
  •  Use the Learning Cube when planning 
  •  Technology integration and SAMR model understanding
  •  Workshop model and differentiated instruction
  •  Arts integration
  •  Create relevance for students 
  •  Create a sense of community in the classroom
  •  Use formative assessment to kid watch
     So, my classroom management strategy is this: ENGAGEMENT.  Like Christopher Lehman said, "Engagement isn't a thing, it's the only thing."   It certainly isn't an easy thing, however.  It takes a lot of thoughtful work on the part of the teacher.  Somehow, I feel like the teachers in my district have found a way to achieve it.  They should be proud of what they are doing for their students and their future.

1 comment:

  1. What a great post! You are so right. The secret to good classroom management is engagement. The more students are engaged, the less you have to worry about managing the less desirable behaviors. You are also right that there is a difference between compliance and engagement. That's a shift in understanding that is happening at my school. Just because almost all the students are being compliant doesn't mean that they are all engaged. Great thoughts!
    Sarah from Mrs. Jones Teaches :o)