George Lucas Educational Foundation
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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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Bob Lenz's picture
Bob Lenz
Executive Director, Buck Institute for Education, Novato, CA

At Envision Schools measure engagement on multiple measures - traditional measures like attendance, suspensions, and tardies. We also measure engagement by regular observations of students and teachers using a rubric for engagement and effective teaching practices. We track the percentage of students who are actively engaged and the use of effective teaching practices. In addition, we annually survey our students to measure their self reported level of engagement. Finally, we believe the quality of student work in public exhibition and portfolio defense is the most definitive measure of student engagement.

mmenne's picture
Director of Learning Program & Evaluation/EdVisions Schools

At EdVisions Schools we utilize The Hope Survey ( which measures autonomy , belongingness (peer personal, peer academic, teacher personal & teacher academic), engagement (emotional & behavioral), goal orientation (performance & task mastery), academic press & hope.
As educators we have plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest the level of student engagement, persistence, self-efficacy, etc., but I personally love having the data to assist in goal setting and professional development.
The foundation of the EdVisions Model is a full-time, multi-age advisory. This (combined with flexibility) provides ample opportunity for the development of healthy relationships, time to explore the relevance of the learning at hand and the chance to guide students as they dig deep to learn more about the topic they are interested in.
It's certainly no surprise that increasing engagement, increases hope and then increases academic achievement.

Lucinda Burk's picture

Engagement: the ingredients of engagement can be found in our observations of the students and what they are drawn to. This TedxBoulder talk is a story that speaks directly to this idea of paying attention to our students, letting them inform us of their interests and the learning that they are already engaged in. We are born to learn. We begin learning certainly from the moment we are born. We, as human-beings, are programmed to learn... we are "eoliths" a David Hawkins' idea that this young teacher refers to in her talk. We/children have everything we need in order to learn... "teachers" only need to pay attention and become partners in learning, not directors.
I invite you to watch this Ted talk:!

Theresa Shafer's picture
Theresa Shafer
Online Community Manager, New Tech Network

As we embarked on an epic adventure 5 years ago, re-inventing our high school to better prepare our students for a changing world, I saw our high school begin to look more like an elementary school, where teachers taught students, not subjects. School Culture (both staff and student) is at the heart of the New Tech Network model. Our local high school is forever changed for the better. Trust, Respect and Responsibility are the watch words. When you create this type of culture, student voice comes alive, relationships are developed and improved goals are set and boundaries are pushed. We consistently ask students during visitor panels "What qualities should a teacher have?" Without fail the top three are 1) You should like kids 2) Sense of Humor 3)Listen High school students are no different than 2nd graders. It is hard to learn if you don't feel safe and cared for.

Kevin Ward's picture

One of the great things about the Hope Study is that it helps you learn how not to be the teacher you thought you were supposed to be and trained to be. One of the first years I spent at my school (Avalon), I had a _negative_ autonomy score (the lowest among the staff by a mile), meaning that I was controlling all of the activities and hence all of the learning in the advisory. I got defensive at first -- isn't that what I'm supposed to do -- teach? Nope. The notion of teacher-directed learning, while useful in bits and pieces does not make up the whole, if your goal is the only goal worth having: helping students become independent, life-long learners who are connected to and care about the communities they share.

Paul Curtis's picture
Paul Curtis
Director of Curriculum, New Tech Network

As a general statement, I tend to favor outcome based assessment systems that focus on results and not the means by which one achieves it, but I think in the case of state testing systems we might have unintentionally focused schools and teachers on the wrong things. By focusing on standardized tests as our assessment of a quality education, we may have pushed teacher to think they need to teach to that test by "covering" more material and sacrificing engagement. If we have clear research about what are the conditions in which learning best takes place, we should focus teachers on those conditions that are precursors to success. By only measuring student achievement at the end of a course with no assessment of the learning environment or psychological state of the learners, we have set a goal without giving teachers the necessary formative feedback on those classroom elements most likely to produce success. Perhaps schools, districts or states should also require administration of the Hope survey as part of a feedback loop that encouraged teacher to engage their students. That could shift the focus away from "coverage" and toward creating the conditions necessary for student success.

Jude Garnier's picture
Jude Garnier
Director of Leadership Development for the New Tech Network

Yesterday I was revisitng Ron Ritchhart's book Intellectual Character--a rich resource for considering the notion of deeper learning. He makes the case for something we so often forget--devloping intellectual character in the adults serving students is critical to ensuring the development of intellectual character in students. (Ritchhart talks about teachers and I would add leaders to the mix). It is impossible for teachers to build (to use Ritchhart's words)a "disposition toward thinking" in their students if they do not have a "fully realized" one themselves. States Ritchhart: "If we take seriously the fact that to promote students' thinking dispositions teachers themselves must possess thinking dispositions, then we need to design encounters for teachers in which they can develop their thinking abilities, increase their inclination toward thinking, and become more aware of thinking oportunities in the curriculum."

So as I think about the research that Keven points to re: the "recipe for student engagement" I would posit that teachers and leaders need the same conditions for their own engagement and learning about how to better serve student learning. It is the "nested doll" phenomenon that we must attend to--we know what is needed for students to become engaged and deeper learners. The same holds true for the adults nurturing those learners. It is one of the reasons that we at New Tech focus so much on developing a strong professional learning culture at our schools--for both adults and students!

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