George Lucas Educational Foundation
Student Engagement

Deeper Learning Blog Carnival: Of Monsters and Math

Student engagement is not as elusive as it sounds with the right combination of ingredients

October 31, 2011

What do teachers that produce high quality student work that exemplifies deeper learning -- i.e., the mastery of core academic content AND critical thinking, collaboration, communication and self-directed learning skills -- know and do? Today we launch a week long Virtual Deeper Learning Community of Practice where we hope to engage the Edutopia and larger education community in an online dialogue about this question of teacher practice for deeper learning.

Our virtual meeting will be mirrored by an actual group of educators gathering in the San Francisco Bay Area on November 3 and 4. With the generous support of the Hewlett Foundation, educators from Deeper Learning School Networks from throughout the United States (representing close to 200 schools nationwide) will come together to explore what teacher practices produce high quality deep student work. We will use student work as the lens to answer how we support teacher practice that promotes deeper learning. In order to broaden the conversation beyond the participants at the meeting, we are expanding the conversation to our larger virtual community of practice -- you!

Every day this week, educators from our Deeper Learning Community of Practice will post blogs that will hopefully provoke a lively dialogue about teacher practice and deeper learning. We'll engage in conversation about exemplary practices, policy, professional development and coaching teachers towards deeper learning. In addition, we'll wrap up our virtual convening with a recap of the in-person meeting from esteemed education writer Kathleen Cushman.

This online event will only be successful with active participation from you. Please react, question, oppose, comment, tweet and share on our posts.

We begin with a post from Keven Kroehler from EdVisions Schools.

Of Monsters and Math

Keven Kroehler is the Director of Operations at EdVisions Schools in Henderson, MN. In this post, he explores student engagement and the lessons from the Pixar film, Monsters Inc. (Just in time for Halloween!)

Think about it. Engaged students might learn more than unengaged students. Yep, that makes sense. So the solution to our education woes may be as simple as engaging our students. But how easy is it to engage students? Teachers plan song and dance presentations, teachers try to apply topics to real life, Madeline Hunter recommends an amazing opening set, and some teachers bribe the students. Engagement seems a bit elusive. Well, it turns out that engagement is really not that elusive! Students engage all the time! Sometimes they even engage in school.

Over the past number years Dr. Mark Van Ryzin and Dr. Ron Newell have done research around the idea of engagement. The results of that research give us some interesting insight into how we might increase student engagement. Research shows that engagement is a product of other variables. It's not an element -- it's a molecule. It's not the flour or chocolate chips in cookies -- it's the cookie. If you want to make more engagement you need to add more of the base ingredients. You can't just focus on engagement and get more engagement; you need to focus on the ingredients of engagement to increase engagement.

The research proven recipe for increasing student engagement includes things like:

1.Autonomy: Letting student have choice, voice, and the ability to follow personal interests.

2.Belongingness: Students connecting in meaningful, mutually supportive ways with peers and adults.

3.Goal orientation: Giving students opportunities to learn for the sake of learning and not learning to get a grade, not learning to be ranked better than someone else, not learning to just complete a task for the teacher.

4.Academic press: Pushing students to do their best work, pushing them to truly understand, pushing them to master a goal.

Notice that this recipe for increasing engagement does not include extra seat time, detention, more tests, common core of curriculum, or even another homework assignment.

Thirty years of research shows that engagement goes down the longer students remain in schools. Not good news for those of you at the high school level. I would guess that adding extra math and reading classes would only accelerate the disengagement. One anomaly to the engagement dilemma in schools has been a network of full-time advisory schools! The longer students remain in these schools the more engaged they become, and this increased engagement has been correlated to increased academic scores! Research shows that spending time focusing on kids first, content second leads to significant increases in academics.

Consider the movie Monsters Inc. At the beginning of the movie the monsters worked hard to "scare" the energy out of the sleeping kids. By the end of the movie they gathered much more energy by encouraging the kids to release the energy willingly. Students have plenty of energy for learning, maybe we could get more content out of them by focusing on engagement.

How does your school do with engagement? Do you even measure engagement?

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