I just spent a lot of time writing a post that deleted when I hit the publish button. I’m now feeling the frustration of some of my learners. Today is all about increasing learner engagement.
Learner choice is the most important way that we encourage learner engagement. We start with a driving question that has multiple answers (This is always fun to teach to ninth graders. There is not always a correct answer.) and we allow them to choose their answer. Sometimes we use this information when we are grouping learners, but we always try to give them a choice in their learning. Our most recent project involved learners creating a documentary that explored our rights and responsibilities under the Constitution. Student engagement was pretty present throughout the project, and I promise you that I know more about Cruel and Unusual Punishment and the Death Penalty than I ever wanted to know. When they are interested in the learning, when it directly applies to them, they are more engaged.
We also have really high expectations. Do they all rise to the occasion and wow us with their brilliance? No. That’s okay though. Even those that don’t meet our expectation usually impress us with what they do accomplish. We are really focused on having a growth mindset, so learners know that what we really want to see is improvement. We want them to be always pushing forward, always pursuing the best versions of themselves. During this documentary project, one group showed their almost complete documentary on the due date, but they were tired of working so hard and didn’t think that they were going to finish it. They knew my expectations and at 9:45 I got an email from one learner in the group. Attached was the finalized documentary. I was pretty proud.
The last thing we do? We eliminate busy work. Busy work does nothing for anyone, and it usually adds to the already backed up pile of grading that I need to be doing. Every assignment, every workshop, every reading directly relates to the final project or learning skills that they will eventually need. If a learner asks, I am able to tell him or her exactly how this assignment or activity will help him or her. When everything has meaning and everything is useful, the work just gets done more quickly and more efficiently. That’s all there is to it.
So, increased learner engagement in my classroom comes down to a few simple principles: choice, high expectations, and the elimination of busy work. I also read a few articles on edutopia, like this one about curiosity, if you are interested in more information. What do you do in your classroom to increase learner engagement?