Friday, January 12, 2007

Engaging students - the art of the teacher.

This teacher of 10 /11 year olds has no trouble engaging her students - in this picture students are sharing their personal writing.
Engaging students is not so much of a problem in junior classes but there seem to be an issue with students in their early secondary years.
Much of this dis-engagement can be put down to antiquated school structures and associated fragmented specialist teaching but I came across an article ( ascd Leadership Magazine Sept 2004 Vol 62 Number 1 ) which provided some real insight into the problem.
The author's research was based on 130 days 'shadowing' students in Californian High Schools. The writer wanted to know' 'what is going on in students hearts and head as they experience school' and , ' what characterizes classrooms .....where students become wholly engaged and energized, finding genuine meaning'. The writer wanted to, 'detect links between what teachers do and what young people take in'.
These are important questions as nothing deflates a teacher more than bored students.
'Classrooms', the writer says, 'are powerful places. They can be dynamic settings that launch dreams and delight minds, or arid places that diminish hope and deplete energy.' The students 'shadowed' experienced them as both but generally described their school experience as listless and tedious. Earlier research by John Goodland (84) confirms this stating, 'boredom is a disease of epidemic proportions'. Csikszentmihalyi (84) found that when students are bored, ' concentration is difficult; they feel self conscious and strongly wish they were something else'.
School is more than 'wishing you were at the beach'. Stern( 75) defines it as 'weariness brought on by tedious iteration or dullness.
Students he found experience time in several different ways.
Slow time - time as monotonous,predictable, routine and dull. One student expressed it as, 'being in a car with your parents on a long road trip without a CD player'. When students experience 'slow time' they invent ways to occupy themselves or drift off into daydreams.
Lost time - a more intense form when time unfolds without students being able to describe or articulate what has happened.Students passively waiting for the class to end.
Fake time - aware that some teachers monitor their engagement students tactfully position themselves to appear attentive. What one writer calls 'doing school', or going through the motions, to appear as if they are learning.Many students use this time to craftily do other tasks while monitoring the teacher.
Worry time - high school students evidently spend a lot of time worry about non school matters etc that distract then and drain their attention to what is happening in class.
Play time - some students are able to look involved but without really involving themselves in learning. A lot of group work falls into this category.
One wonders who is actually engaged in any one classroom and how many of students are playing what Robert Fried calls, 'the game of school'. The same could be said for many staff meetings!
The final category - engaged time. This represents when students are deeply immersed in learning. The author of the article , in his 'shadowing' role observed students 'roused to life, animated with feelings and ideas'. High School students experienced these moments as, 'provocative, enchanting, memorable, and enjoyable'. At such moments time , the students report, goes fast.
The writer, after days of 'shadowing' believes such moments ,'represent the triumphs of teaching', and believes they happen , 'because the teachers made critical pedagogic decisions...and cultivated a powerful classroom ethos'.
After observing these 'potent' episodes the author noted one commonality, 'these teaches fought fiercely to hold their students attention'. These teachers , he continues, 'appear to recognise that teenagers are unabashed and savvy consumers of many things....Teen intuitively grasp that the inalienable taste for things fast, jazzy, and loud.' Another writer, Moses (2000), writes. 'global teens have been brought up to experience and expect sensory stimulation', and, 'have a low threshold for boredom'.
While schools remain locked into a linear transmission book world young people have been exposed to multi media experiences and are used to creating their own learning.
Schools will have to change to engage such students with their minds 'shaped' in the 21stC .
Successful teachers were observed to practice , 'anti boredom pedagogy' , and were relentlessly attuned to the 'attention-scape' of their classrooms.
Some 'anti boredom' practices:
Varying classroom pace , alternating faced paced questioning and periods of quiet journaling time. Teachers also broke routines to get students attention by introducing video footage, bringing in visitors, and field trips.
Developing a need for students to create. Students were most vital when creating or thinking about something new. It is important to involve them in planning projects and allowing them to express their originality. Students 'tune in' when they feel ownership over ideas and when they feel they are in a safe place to share their ideas. Students have a yearning to be listened to and to have their insights taken seriously.
Introducing your personal presence. Energy and passion matter. The writer observed that when people yawn others soon follow. 'Energised expressive teachers foster energized learning; sedentary, monotonous teachers sabotage attention'. The point is made however that personal presence needs to be authentic. Teachers who 'connect' share personal stories, conveyed their passions, and express emotion and vulnerability. Students said about such teachers that they were 'real persons'.
Students respected teachers who shared the 'own love affair with learning' and when teachers showed a passion for what they taught and who shared what they were currently learning with their students - the students 'might roll their eyes' but rarely meant it.
Know your students as people. The students observed wanted their teachers to know them as people.They wanted their teachers to understand their experiences, interests, aspirations, needs , fears, and idiosyncrasies; their feelings known, understood and apprecited.
The successful teachers observed genuinely enjoyed young people. 'They were kid-savvy and created opportunities to get to know their students beyond the classroom....teachers used this knowledge of the personal to create bridges between their students and course content'.
Connect content to teen questionings. The teenagers 'shadowed' were seen as on journey to figure out who they are, where they belong and to discover what talents and potential they might have. Successful teachers used virtually any subject matter to open up meaningful conversations about such big ideas.
Wining the hears and mind of students is a challenge all teachers must become involved in no matter what level or subject taught. When students 'hearts and minds' are engaged they can then discover genuine meaning and value in their school experiences.
Classrooms, as the author of the article writes, are powerful places to amplify, rather than diminish, students hopes, energy and dreams.
We need to learn off those teachers who have learnt the trick of engaging their students.
All schools have them.


Anonymous said...

I don't think you would have to spend 130 days 'shadowing' students to appreciate that schooling and education are not synonomous. I suggest that individual teachers( and BOT members) be released to 'shadow' one student for a day. It would be more pertinent if they were to 'shadow' a non academic student. At the end of this experience they might consider how disengaged students might be attracted to become learners.

Anonymous said...

The anti boredom pedagogy you describe in this blog is the basis of personalized learning you often mention?

Bruce said...

It doesn't take long when visiting classrooms too see which ones have the 'magic'.

Anonymous said...

Far too many students, and teachers, playing the 'game of school'; as a result we all lose!