Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Why is Teaching for Active Engagement in Learning Important?

Dr. Wendy Ghiora – Posting #10

Let’s begin with a reminder of what we mean by student engagement in learning.
Real student engagement involves authentic opportunities, which put academic concepts into action and skills into practice. A student “engaged” in the learning would be one who is energized by the learning and actively participating in it. The student’s joy of learning leads to a lifelong passion for solving problems, understanding, and taking the next step in their thinking. So what? Why should this be so important to me as a teacher?

Most teachers really care about helping their students become successful, productive citizens of this great nation. If students lose interest and become dropouts, their chances of success are pretty nil. According to the research, a lack of student engagement is a predictor for dropping out of school even after controlling for student background and academic achievement (Rumberger 2004). High motivation and engagement in learning have consistently been linked to reduced dropout rates and increased levels of student success (
Blank, 1997; Dev, 1997; Kushman, 2000; Woods, 1995).

It is evident that keeping students interested in school and motivating them to succeed are continuing challenges year after year even for the most seasoned teachers. In fact, numerous studies have shown that student engagement in school drops considerably as students get older (Anderman & Midgley, 1998). By the time students reach middle school, lack of interest in schoolwork becomes increasingly apparent in more and more students, and by high school, as dropout rates attest, far too many students are not sufficiently motivated to succeed or even to remain in school (Lumsden, 1994).

What about students that choose to remain in school? Is it really necessary to change the way we conduct our business in the classroom in order to prepare students to meet the challenges of business in the “real world?” As educators, we should all strive for a kind of classroom discourse that promotes active engagement with ideas that can lead students to make knowledge their own. Mere regurgitation of facts and figures, without a deep rooting in the reasoning behind such information, is not sufficient for in-depth understanding. Not only teachers, but also current businesses and industries require students learn how to pose questions, construct their own interpretations and ideas, and clarify and elaborate upon the ideas of others. Such skills give students the ability to acquire a level of understanding that provides them with the flexibility to respond to new situations and serves as the foundation for a lifetime of further learning and success in whatever future endeavor the student chooses. Educational reformers believe that teaching for active engagement in learning provides students with many of these skills and dispositions that prepare them to competently meet the challenges and changes occurring in the work place.

Research has shown that teachers can influence student motivation; that certain practices do work to increase time spent on task; and that there are ways to make assigned work more engaging and more effective for students at all levels. (
Anderman & Midgley, 1998; Dev, 1997; Skinner & Belmont, 1991). The most evident example of this is the simple truth that students will rise to meet our expectations. "To a very large degree, students expect to learn if their teachers expect them to learn, " notes Stipek (as cited in Lumsden, 1994, p. 2).

How are we doing at keeping students engaged in the learning? According to recent student surveys, fifty percent of students reported being bored in at least one high school class every day. Seventy-five percent of students stated they were bored because the material was not interesting (Yazzie-Mintz 2006). In another recent student survey, the perception that school is boring was cited as one of the reasons kids drop out of school (Bridgeland, Dilulio, Morison 2006).

The good news is, there is something we can do about it. One of the many exciting aspects of teaching is the empowerment we have to become active designers of the lesson and facilitators of learning. The teacher serves as a coach or guide for student learning. As a facilitator, the teacher challenges, questions, and stimulates the students in their thinking, problem solving and self-directed study. Here are just a few positive results of fostering student engagement in our classrooms.

Observed Outcomes
1-Students are more confident in themselves and in their learning, because they are allowed to take risks.
2-Students are not bored with everyday learning because of the emphasis on creativity, relevancy, and a hands-on approach.
3-Students retain more information on a long-term basis.
4-Students have fun while learning, enjoy school, and are successful.
5-Parents are happy when their children look forward to each day with excitement.
6-Students learn at high levels and have a profound grasp of what they learn.
7-Students can transfer what they learn to new contexts.

The link between engagement and achievement may seem obvious, however, this issue frequently slips through the cracks in discussions about school reform and improvement. As schools focus on helping all students achieve high standards, reaching out to disengaged and discouraged learners becomes increasingly important. Clearly, students who are not motivated to engage in learning are unlikely to succeed.

Educators can and do affect the student’s level of engagement in learning. Simply recognizing this power is a critical step in motivating students. By further recognizing how a healthy self-esteem is the foundation for success, which in turn fosters motivation and engagement in school, teachers can see the connections between their practice and student outcomes.

“You can teach a student a lesson for a day; but if you can teach him to learn by creating curiosity, he will continue the learning process as long as he lives.” ~Clay P. Bedford

Look for specific strategies to foster student engagement in my posting this weekend.

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