Saturday, May 6, 2017

Engagement.

This word: engagement. Can we talk about that? I’ve learned so many things this year as my district is implementing some Marazno work. It was at a training that I learned the most interesting thing: engagement can come in different forms! I feel like a lot of us teachers hear the word “engagement” and we automatically think “BIG, EXCITING, AND INTERESTING!” ...And I think that can and should be a part of it. I just want to explore and chat with you about the idea that there are different kinds of engagement. I’m sooooo not saying that one is right and one is wrong- but they are DIFFERENT and can be used at different times. I just can’t sit on what I’ve learned about engagement...so, let’s chat.

In reading the work of  Robert J. Marzano and Michael D. Toth (among others) I’ve learned that class structures can come in a few variations. Classrooms can be teacher-led, student-led, and student-led with RIGOR. Usually, no class is one way ALL of the time, nor should it be. These are fluid variations.

In a teacher-centered classroom, the engagement comes from the teacher’s personality or actions. The engagement is therefore dependent upon the teacher. That reminds me of the time that I decked my classroom in red gingham and straw. I hung up big farm animal cut-outs and I brought cream and containers in to learn about farm life. We made butter. There might have been adult overalls, pigtails, and a neck handkerchief involved. It was a blast- and the kids were engaged. But they were engaged because of ME and what I brought in, set up, and displayed.  And that was cool- I do support and think that there is a time for that.

The next kind of engagement comes from a student-led classroom. That looks like students working together in groups while the teacher provides the instruction or activity. The cognitive engagement is up to the students- and that may or may not happen. The teacher is still playing a hefty role in the learning but the students are free to own more of their engagement. I think most of us live right around here. We teach something, assign an activity, and then send them off to work independently. This one can be tricky (for me) because true engagement can be hard to observe. Compliance can easily be mistaken for engagement. The student looks on task, so we assume they are learning.  Of course, we are monitoring while this happens so we can get the evidence of learning- but we are still really involved as the teacher. So, again, there is a time and place for this! There has to be.

Another variation of instruction is a classroom that is student-centered with RIGOR. This means that the engagement comes from the cognitive complexity of the performance task and group work. This means your students are working on a cognitively complex task at higher levels of independence. This also means that you become more of a facilitator and less of a teacher because your students are the ones doing the heavy lifting. They say the one who is doing the talking is the one who is doing the learning, right?

Now, if you know me at all, you know that I’m always looking for ways to move toward a student-centered classroom with rigorous activities. Even (and especially) in kindergarten.
I wanted to take kindergartners past recall and recognition tasks. Before my new learning about rigor, I wanted to meet every student where they were...because that’s what “good” teachers do. The problem? I was struggling to keep from running myself into the ground in the process. This year my class was split in half as far as academic performance. I had about 11 that mastered everything and about 9 that really struggled. Whole group lessons were challenging so I decided I’d teach them in rotations.  I was writing two sets of plans, making two sets of copies, and making twice the mistakes. I needed to get in front of those kids and deliver exactly what they needed, right? How else were they going to learn?  Oh boy. This is why I love our profession. There is always something to learn and get better at! I will say that this wasn’t all bad. My kids were getting exactly what they needed- but it was hard for me.

Once I figured out the magic of the word rigor, there was a whole new world to discover. Instead of teaching in rotations so that the students with mastery would get more content covered more quickly, I kept everyone on the same skill and found ways to give them cognitively complex tasks so that they could just go deeper.  I felt that if I could put some activities and routines in place that would get them using their knowledge (which is the highest cognitive level) then I could let the students with mastery go off and create things.

When they are creating, they are stair-stepping all of these really great cognitive tasks. They are problem solving, analyzing, executing, experimenting, investigating, and so much more. I started the year off by giving my studentstools to create games...




And most recently, we are creating academic songs and jingles to help others learn. The “helping others” part has been the most rewarding part of this rigor work. The students with mastery feel a sense of pride when they use the knowledge that they already have in order to create something that will help others learn what they know.  


Below, there are snapshots of our creating songs unit! Click any image to see more! 








So what do you think? How does engagement look in your room? I think there is a place for all three versions- so don't judge if you see my dressed up as a farmer again! ;) 

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