As this term comes to an end and soon, after winter break, a new one will begin it’s time to start thinking about our teaching effectiveness. Around break time students lose focus and as we know the seeming attention from students is not necessarily indicative of engagement.
First, let’s reverse the roles for a minute and consider teacher engagement. One study found that only 31% of K-12 teachers are engaged, 56% are not engaged and 13% are actively disengaged. These findings are not exactly a surprise as they are nearly identical to the US workforce as a whole. Still, other professions are not comparable to the education industry, and while other’s may be able to effectively do their jobs with little engagement- teaching is not necessarily one of those professions.
But hey, with a new year ahead and a break from teaching we are left refreshed and more motivated. So, we try all these ways to “engage” students, but how do we know what is actually working?
Well, we can measure engagement levels through the following areas:
- Critical thinking
- Creative thinking
Level I. Participation
An engaged student doesn’t simply stare at you (after all that glazed over look is not exactly likely to be due to being enthralled by your lesson). Engaged students, do however, participate. They get involved. Keep in mind many students are nervous and hesitant to verbalize their thoughts and to speak in front of their class. Try to encourage speaking and involvement by creating a fostering, judgement-free environment where students free safe to share their thoughts. It may even help to break a class down into small groups to help those who are shy speak amongst their peers.
Level II. Critical Thinking
Participation leads to critical thinking. Since no one wants to look stupid, students start thinking more about their answers and work harder to formulate their thoughts. Many students who raise their hand to participate have calculated what they are going to say. On the flipside, because of this they may be sitting there eagerly waiting for you to call on them before they forget what they were going to say (or at least forget what they were going to say in the formulated version of their thoughts). For these students, they may stop listening to what you’re teaching since they’re sitting there trying to remember what they have to say. Because of this, it is a good idea to either limit questions to a period of time when you are able to answer or if you’re going to be open to questions throughout a lesson be sure to be fairly quick about calling upon students. Alternatively, a way to encourage students to ask questions during a lesson but without interrupting/pausing a lesson for questions is to tell students to write down questions as they have them and then those questions can be addressed at the end of class.
Level III. Creative Thinking
Critical thinking turns into creative thinking and creative thinking is one of the highest levels of engagement. Creative thinking goes a step beyond the lesson and opens up an application for it. For example, at Enterprise City when students come to the city and run it themselves for a day students begin the day by taking to their designated roles/careers. As with any career, students have certain duties and functions which they perform (level I: participation). Then students start using critical thinking to perform their jobs well (otherwise their business/company may fail to meet its goals). Next, students begin to realize that they not only need to ensure their own company does well, but they also want their city as a whole to do well. Through this they seek ways to improve upon their businesses and their city. This is where level III engagement: creative thinking comes into play. For example, without being prompted to do so, students seek ways to improve their business’s success. They may come up with new ideas to increase sales- or even come up with strategies to decrease costs (ie recently a 6th grade student asked if half of the lights in his business could be turned off to help save on the utilities bill).
It may be difficult at times to measure these three areas, however when you’re looking for them they do become apparent. To help kick start the engaged learning be sure that you are engaged as an educator, consider your student’s perspective and try to make lessons relevant [and fun] as much as possible. It’s not an easy task, but it is possible. Programs such as Enterprise City help teachers facilitate engaged learning, so take advantage of such programs.
Happy teaching and Happy Friday!