By SHERRISH HOLLOMAN
According to the glossary of education reform, student engagement “refers to the degree of attention, curiosity, interest, optimism, and passion that students show when they are learning or being taught, which extends to the level of motivation they have to learn and progress in their education.” Evidence of learning and indicators of engagement can be commonly observed and relatively easily measured in traditional classroom settings — teachers can monitor students’ behavior as they raise their hands, participate in whole group discussions, or support their fellow classmates in small, cooperative learning groups.
During this time of remote learning, educators around the world are facing a student engagement challenge, as classrooms have transitioned to virtual learning spaces. Instead of in-person teaching and facilitation, computers, tablets, and phones have become the primary tools students use to engage. These changes have also highlighted issues around equity, as every home learning environment doesn’t offer students the same level of access to technology.
And yet, teaching and learning can and will continue — educators around the world have already been reimagining the ways in which they can engage their students. Without the limitations of a 45-minute classroom session, the challenge of hearing 25-30 voices during a short period of time, and the barriers of in-person, adolescent dynamics that make some students less inclined to speak up in front of their peers, new opportunities for engagement have space to emerge.
Zoom can be an excellent tool for engaging students. Teachers can create breakout rooms for small group discussions and pop in and out as a way to monitor conversations in the groups. Consider using student-generated questions or protocols as a way to invite discussion — in advance, students can submit topic-related questions via email, which is a powerful way to garner buy-in and interest. Zoom's chat option is another useful feature that allows students to create a thread of dialogue in the midst of their discussion, and may encourage participation from students who are hesitant to speak up. The chat can also be saved and archived for future discussions.
Google Docs can be a great way to generate conversation and dialogue. Students can be placed in small groups to respond freely to each other using the comment feature, or students can be tasked with responding to two or three other classmates. These comments can become a print-rich discussion that isn’t time bound, and they can allow for metacognition as students track threads of conversation and in turn, think about their thinking.
As a no-tech option, which doesn’t require on-demand access, students can use phone calls or WhatsApp voice notes as a way to have discussions. Consider having students use the technology of three-way phone calls as a way to both check in on one another as well as take part in an academic conversation. Roles can be assigned in each triad, allowing each student to be a facilitator, recorder, or reporter, who will be responsible for sharing conversation highlights with their teacher. If all students aren’t able to find a common time to talk on the phone, consider offering an old-fashioned game of telephone — student A can call student B to discuss the topic; student B then calls student C to share their previous conversation and so on. The last student in the chain of telephone would then be responsible for communicating the highlights of the discussion with the teacher. This process can be repeated many times, with roles alternating within each group.
Engaging the whole child
It’s no surprise that many students are experiencing challenges beyond access to technology during this time. They may have family members who are dealing with illness and unemployment, or who are risking their lives as essential workers each day. If we reflect on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we can remember that students will likely have trouble actively engaging with their education if their more basic needs of safety and security have not been met. It's important to recognize and acknowledge the social and emotional challenges presented by the pandemic. Consider engaging your students by making periodic calls to check in with them and offer support and encouragement. This one-on-one support, however brief, can help connect or reconnect students to the classroom community.
What if it’s not possible to speak to your students individually, on a regular basis? Educators can find opportunities to engage the whole child by incorporating family members into the learning experience. One way to achieve this is by using the Questioning Formulation Technique (QFT), a popular technique that helps students develop their ability to ask questions. Using resources such as photos, cartoons, letters, maps, and articles, students can work alongside a family member or caregiver to create questions around various sources of text that exist in their environment, and then analyze and share the thinking behind them. Alternatively, students can create a short video sharing highlights from their process.
TAGS: REMOTE LEARNING, SHERRISH HOLLOMAN, STUDENT ENGAGEMENT
By DR. ROBERTA LENGER KANG
In New York City, one of the most challenging areas for teacher evaluation is Danielson 3b: Questioning and Discussion. This domain evaluates a teacher’s ability to facilitate instruction in such a way that allows students to ask and answer higher-order questions, and initiate and maintain peer-to-peer discussions. It also expects that virtually all students are engaged in the discussion.
The use of the word engage is particularly interesting. Most often, we interpret engagement to mean participation and when we think of participation, we most often interpret this to mean talking. As a result, we spend a lot of time focused on how we can encourage every student to speak during a class discussion — and that’s a good thing. But is speaking the only way that students can engage?
While talking is an essential component of the discussion process, so is listening. If everyone is racing to speak, are students actually listening to each other, or are they quietly composing their comments in their mind and waiting for their turn? If their primary focus is on when they can speak, are they truly engaged? Are they learning anything from the dialogue?
Let’s broaden the definition of engagement to include both speaking and listening. Notice how our questions shift: how can we recognize active listening? How can we encourage active listening? How can we communicate our expectations around active listening to our students and the administrators who are completing the evaluations?
By BRIAN VEPREK
In a diverse learning environment, where all students are, to some degree, ENL and many of them are SIFE, designing instruction that not only meets all students where they are in their journeys through school but also invites them to work towards mastery of college- and career-ready skills can be quite daunting.
Claremont International High School in the Bronx serves students who are recent immigrants to the United States from countries ranging from the Dominican Republic to Gambia to Yemen. For Claremont, the pedagogical approach that best addresses this challenge is project-based learning (PBL), and the faculty there invest a great deal of energy in designing projects that are authentic.
John Larmer of the Buck Institute of Education, a clearinghouse for teacher professional learning about PBL, sets out a four-point framework for assessing the authenticity of a project, which he claims can be measured along a “sliding scale.” Let’s use Larmer’s four claims as a lens through which we can examine and evaluate a project planned by the 12th-grade Government teacher at Claremont, who has the responsibility and privilege of guiding a cohort of new- and soon-to-be Americans through their first deep exploration of the U.S. Constitution and the political process that has sprung up around it.
1. “It focuses on a problem, issue, or topic that is relevant to students’ lives [or] is actually being faced by adults in the world students will soon enter.” Claremont's Government project asks students to choose a controversial topic that is actively being debated in the American political discourse, independently research the history of the issue and its current state of play, and construct an understanding of the complexities of the problem. Students often select topics such as gun control, reproductive rights, and income inequality. By offering students an opportunity to exercise their agency in selecting their research questions, the teacher works toward ensuring the relevance of the inquiry to his students, and by grounding the work in contemporary issues, he points students toward developing “real-world” knowledge.
2. “It sets up a scenario or simulation that is realistic, even if it is fictitious.” This project asks students to imagine themselves as participants in the legislative and judicial processes, not as elected or appointed officials, but as activist citizens or residents of the United States. This orientation requires students to play roles that are immediately accessible them, not only after they graduate but also in that very moment as high school seniors.
3. “It meets a real need in the world beyond the class, or the products students create are used by real people.” Because the debates into which this project invites students are unsettled in the ongoing political discourse, the work students produce constitute contributions to these national conversations about the direction of the country. All of the students will “go public” with their learning (an essential feature of PBL) in the form of oral defenses of their written work, but they may also elect to actually publish the documents they write or send them to government officials. Thus, students are positioned to engage with democratic processes, not just study them.
4. “It involves tools, tasks, or processes used by adults in real settings, and by professionals in the workplace.” Students’ final products generally fall into one of two genres of writing used by professionals working in government. Those students who choose to engage with a debate that is active in the legislative process write white papers, research-driven reports that recommend policy. Those who enter conversations around active court cases write amicus curiae briefs, documents that seek to influence the decisions of a court. Far from the standard school-centric argumentative essay, white papers and amicus curiae briefs are examples of real-world writing and authentic tools used by professionals.
The 12th-grade Government project at Claremont is probably best described as “somewhat authentic” according to John Larmer’s framework. The work that students are doing, both in the roles they play and the products they create, “simulates what happens in the world outside the school.” However, it would not take too much effort for the project to become “fully authentic” if students “take action to improve their community” by publishing or submitting their white papers and amicus curiae briefs to the appropriate government authorities. Either way, the authentic project designed by this teacher offers students the opportunity for authentic learning.