When I first began my career in education, great teaching was often defined by a classroom where students sat quietly in rows. There was such an emphasis placed on classroom management as an effective teaching tool. And while I believe that classroom management is required for excellent teaching to occur, students sitting quietly in rows cannot be the only evidence.
Today’s classrooms are shifting from student compliance to commitment and from teacher driven to student focused. This transformation is being driven because of a concentrated effort to increase learner engagement. Author Daniel Pink suggests that people are typically motivated through purpose, mastery and autonomy. Students desire those same attributes in their classrooms today. The ability to offer students an education that is purposeful, seeks mastery and allows some sort of autonomy equals a high level of learner engagement.
Back in the late 70’s when I attended high school, I remember questioning the purpose of why I was learning some of the curriculum at that time. When I talk to students today, they ask the same question, “Why do we have to learn this?” Without purpose or a connection to their current life or future plans, learner engagement is negatively impacted. Students need to be confident that what they are doing in schools today matters! Creative thought and problem solving ability are greatly enhanced when students are engaged in meaningful learning.
When there is a sense of purpose there is a desire to improve. This is not just typical behavior for artists and athletes but for the general public. None of us wake up in the morning hoping to fail at something we truly believe in. Mastery at the school level requires educators to provide specific feedback to students. Students need to be clear as to where they are, where they need to get to and how they are going to get there in their educational journey. It further requires educators to work collaboratively with students to develop a growth mindset that promotes intrinsic motivation.
The last piece of the engagement puzzle requires students to have some autonomy in their own learning. Although curriculum is provincially mandated, students still need to have some choice in their schooling. The key is employing flexible learning groups, having teachers implementing differentiated instruction and allowing students choice in how they demonstrate their learning. Autonomy allows students to build on their own strengths.
Alberta is generally recognized as the best education system in the English speaking world. Yet, in the most recent accountability results, 1 in 4 students did not complete high school in three years. Quiet compliance in the classroom is no longer sufficient for students to develop the skills they need to be engaged citizens. We need to continue to shift our efforts to active learning that promotes high learner engagement. An emphasis on learner engagement will develop all students’ abilities to learn how to learn and experience success in schools and within our knowledge based society.
Please Note: This article published in the Lethbridge Herald on October 17, 2012.