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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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What Do Your Rules Say About You?

Rules, rules, rules. Everyone knows the key to success in school is to follow the rules.

Unfortunately, this belief persists in many of today's classrooms and schools. Next time you are in a classroom, take a look at the posted rules. Maybe they're rules such as, "No talking while the teacher is talking. Stay in your desk during work time. Raise your hand if you need help." If so, I think these rules say a lot about the teacher, the work environment and the level of meaningful, engaging tasks. They imply that the teacher is the only one who holds the knowledge, that the teacher will give you great wisdom only if you will listen and only if the work you undertake will be solitary and designed to measure how well you listen.

(Photo credit: mick62)


Why is it that some classrooms need these types of rules and some do not? For the teachers that do not post such rules, what is the difference? How can they manage without them?

One answer to these questions is to take a look at the type of tasks the student is being asked to undertake, to analyze the planning and preparation the teacher has given to design tasks which result in high levels of student engagement.

Think of it this way. If a teacher designs tasks that engage the student in meaningful learning, will the student be wandering around the classroom off task, disrupting others, and doing any of the other million things teachers often complain about?

But just what goes into meaningful learning and task design that results in high levels of student engagement?

Q&A About Student Engagement

I would like to give credit to the amazing staff at Erin Woods School in Calgary, AB who worked together yesterday to answer this question. When analyzing student engagement and tasks that result in high levels of student engagement, we were able to effectively answer this question: "What are the attributes of tasks that result in meaningful learning and high(er) levels of student engagement?"

Tasks resulting in higher levels of student engagement consist of these attributes:

  • Meaningful or related to the student's life or interests
  • Working together with peers
  • Incorporates games
  • Created by the student (and therefore more authentic)
  • Resulting in a piece of work the student is proud of and wants to share
  • Challenging -- but not so challenging it is unattainable
  • Considers different learning styles
  • Allows for student choice
  • Can be extended by students

Tasks resulting in lower levels of student engagement consist of these attributes:

  • Easy and quick to complete (requires low levels of thinking)
  • Teacher designed (such as a worksheet)
  • Results in right or wrong answers
  • Considers none or all of the attributes of high engaging tasks.

When considering student engagement and the types of tasks they're asked to complete, I wonder whether students given tasks designed to be highly meaningful and engaging really need their teachers to post rules such as "stay in your desk during work time." Do these rules imply that you have just entered a classroom of low-engaging task design? In my opinion, teachers who strive to design meaningful tasks that engage students are more likely to post rules such as "Work hard and do your best" or "Respect yourself and others" on the walls of their classroom.

Comments (22)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Michael Griffin's picture
Michael Griffin
Music educator and professional development trainer based in Hampshire, UK.

Spot on. Deci et al (Rochester University) SDT has autonomy as an essential element for fostering intrinsic motivation. The opposite pole to this is control. Furthermore they reckon that controlling teachers do so becuase they feel controlled themselves, from above.
Michael Griffin
www.musiceducationworld.com

Jim's picture

... in fact those tasks are very "adult" in nature, which just goes to prove that "adult" learning has nothing to do with chronological age.

I've just emailed a link to this article to a dozen or more colleagues: we're all involved in a large adult (in the chronological sense) training project at a utility, where the client is implementing a million (seems like it anyway) new processes and associated systems.

Lori, if an adult approach like yours can work for chronological kids, surely it can work for chronological adults? Or will it?.... Problem is that so many chronological adults went through school and even undergrad years being taught at the pedagogic end of Knowles' continuum "From pedagogy to andragogy".

But we're taking heart from the fact that kids at your elementary school can be adult...

Regards

Jim

Stepanka's picture

could you imagine "the trainer's evaluation", if trainer sets up those rules? He won't be training again in that company. People expects fun/engagement/active interaction during ALL DAY in training paid by their company. Why do we not request that for our own children?

Lori Cullen's picture
Lori Cullen
Consultant - Teacher Recruitment at Calgary Board of Education
Blogger 2014

Wow, the comments brought forward here are truly thoughtful and insightful. I wish I could sit down with each one of you and have a conversation about the points you have brought forward. Writing blogposts is interesting when I write from on specific point of view or perspective and it leads to so many different ideas I never thought of initially. Many thanks for all of your amazing comments. They are truly appreciated.

Jane McEneaney - 96351's picture

Before the rules, our classroom has a philosophy: UBUNTU (which means "I am because we are.") The entire curriculum and our rehearsal process centers around this concept of community.

We have 2 big rules:
1. We respond with "Yes, and..." rather than using NO or BUT in order to affirm one another's thoughts before adding our own.
2. Make each other look good. This applies to the teacher and the student. It keeps mocking and judgment and self-serving behavior to a minimum.

And I always tell them that "What touches the heart, touches others" and I ask them to be heart-first with their words and songs and how they use them in rehearsal and on stage.

Does it always work? Of course not. But these ideas are always present and help to get us back on track in moments of stress, which are ever-present in the performing arts.

michael baer's picture
michael baer
HS science teacher from northeast Indiana

1. Don't forget WHO you are.... (i.e. you ARE important and I value you, but you certainly are not the only one in class who needs attention and assistance, etc)
2. Don't forget WHERE you are... (i.e. this is a shared facility that we each care for--this isn't your home and this furniture isn't yours personally, etc)
3. Don't forget WHY you are here today... (what adventure in learning can we discover together today?)

Lori Cullen's picture
Lori Cullen
Consultant - Teacher Recruitment at Calgary Board of Education
Blogger 2014

Your school wide expectations are brilliant and truly reflect deep core values you are instilling in your students. I also love Harry Wong and no matter how many years I teach I still use his book, especially at the beginning of the school year. It sounds like you have a classroom that would be a joy to learn in!

Lori Cullen's picture
Lori Cullen
Consultant - Teacher Recruitment at Calgary Board of Education
Blogger 2014

Hi Robin
Your school wide expectations are brilliant and truly reflect deep core values you are instilling in your students. I also love Harry Wong and no matter how many years I teach I still use his book, especially at the beginning of the school year. It sounds like you have a classroom that would be a joy to learn in!

Lori Cullen's picture
Lori Cullen
Consultant - Teacher Recruitment at Calgary Board of Education
Blogger 2014

Hi Robin
Your school wide expectations are brilliant and truly reflect deep core values you are instilling in your students. I also love Harry Wong and no matter how many years I teach I still use his book, especially at the beginning of the school year. It sounds like you have a classroom that would be a joy to learn in!

Sasha's picture

Lori, my school is a MIBLSI school (miblsi.cenmi.org/) and we have moved from writing rules (what you should NOT do) to writing (and directly teaching) positive behavior expectations. The three main school wide expectations are BE Respectful, Be Responsible, and Be Safe. Everything relates to these three behavior expectations. In each area of the school there are specific procedures to follow to ensure these expectations and we agree as a staff what needs to be taught and reinforced to maintain it. It is amazing to watch our culture change from "NO" to "YES" and from "blame and shame" when breaking rules to "celebration" for successes! I loved your blog article! I am copying it and doing a little mailbox PD when I get back to school next week and re-posting it on my blog at www.maestrasasha.com (wordpress). Thanks! Sasha

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