I was browsing on Twitter recently, when I came across a tweet with an infographic attached which sparked my interest because it succinctly captured my thinking about the classroom, and more particularly, it shows where the zone for student engagement lies. The picture is posted with an excellent article here from Student Engagement Trust.
In 32 years of teaching, one of my most challenging questions for inquiry has been the issue of student engagement. I seem to be able to help the great majority of my students enter into the space for learning with me, but the ones who “opt out,” as it were, are the ones I am especially keen to understand. To be sure, there are many mitigating factors with which students contend and which I am not able to overcome - poverty, family tensions, the death of a loved one… Nevertheless, my goal is that every student succeed and pass the classes I teach, so I am puzzled when I am not able to reach every student.
When a student fails, I cannot help but feel as though I too, have failed. There is another factor I don’t think is captured in this model - the issue of outside factors on each of the three primary colored spheres. Let’s consider these:
Blue = Content Outside forces make decisions about what must be taught, what students must know and be able to do… we call them standards, frameworks, the Common Core. The rigor of the Common Core is of special concern. I am on board with Common Core, but I am concerned about how I will make the content accessible and meaningful. I am certainly working on this, and so are you, I am sure. How do we help students engage with the rigorous content they are expected to show that they have mastered in order to be successful?
Red = Teacher I am confident that I have mastered my content as demonstrated by the fact that I am a National Board Certified Teacher, holding a Master’s Degree from a prestigious institution, and thirty-two years of experience in the classroom. I am intentional about cultivating good relationships with students, and for the most part, even with the students who “opt out.” I have mostly very positive and professional connections with students. I have acquired other qualifications, but despite my life-long pursuit of learning, certifications, professional development opportunities, and now digital badges as well, I have yet to find the proverbial “Graal” to ensure all students engage and succeed. I wonder what more I can reasonably do? How do I reach them, each and every one?
Yellow = Student Most of my students, and yours as well, manage to master the rigorous content that we ask them to learn. And yet, some still do not. Is relevance truly the issue for these? I believe relevance is very important, and I also think most teachers try very hard to help students understand how what they are learning is relevant, if only that they need to pass a course to graduate, to enter college or to pursue career paths which interest them. And yet, those explanations remain elusive to the ones who “opt out.” I am sure many of us have pondered these questions as we have worked overtime to reach out to the students addressed in this article.
What do you think? What have you tried? What more might we do? Best wishes to all of us as we seek to meet the needs of all students. Don
This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we've preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer's own.