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Simple Truth: Engagement isn't Something You Do TO Students.

No single thought has roiled its way through my mind or my network more than the notion that engaging and empowering students are NOT the same thing.

(See here, here and here.)

I'm at the point where the suggestion that it's a teacher's responsibility to "engage their students" actually rankles me a bit.  It's not that I think teachers can't play a role in creating engaging learning experiences for students or that I think teachers who are passionate about engaging their students are inherently evil in any way.

It's just that all too often, "I need to engage my students" becomes code for "I have to find a way to make the boring crap I'm required to teach interesting" or "How can I sucker my kids into liking the lesson that I'm planning on teaching?"

(download slide on Flickr here)

 

I'm settling on the notion that engagement isn't something that you do TO students.  Instead, it's something that we should all be working to do FOR our students.  "I need to engage my students" needs to be reframed as "I need to help my students to find reasons to be excited about learning."

To put it another way, kids don't depend on us to "engage them."  Instead, they depend on us to help them discover the content and questions that are inherently engaging.

Does any of this make sense?

#wordsmatter

#agencydoestoo

___________________

Related Radical Reads:

Should We Be Engaging or Empowering Learners?

Turning the Vegetables You Want to Serve into the Vegetables Kids Want to Eat

Doing Work that Matters

13 Comments

Bill Ivey commented on February 12, 2014 at 11:51am:

This.

"kids don't depend on us to "engage them."  Instead, they depend on us to help them discover the content and questions that are inherently engaging." Exactly so. Awesome.

Bill Ferriter Bill Ferriter commented on February 14, 2014 at 7:32am:

It's funny how such a simple

It's funny how such a simple change in phrasing can mean so much, isn't it Bill?

I'm convinced that our words are a reflection of who we are as thinkers, so I'm trying to make sure that my words accurately express what I believe about student engagement.  I figure they serve as a tangible reminder of what I'm trying to create in my classroom.

Rock right on,

Bill

Bill Ferriter Bill Ferriter commented on February 14, 2014 at 7:33am:

It's funny how such a simple

It's funny how such a simple change in phrasing can mean so much, isn't it Bill?

I'm convinced that our words are a reflection of who we are as thinkers, so I'm trying to make sure that my words accurately express what I believe about student engagement.  I figure they serve as a tangible reminder of what I'm trying to create in my classroom.

Rock right on,

Bill

Alison commented on February 12, 2014 at 6:05pm:

True for teachers as well...

I completely agree. This holds true for adult learning as well. I have been to far too many district led "trainings" structured around delivering content decided on by the presenter. Instead, real professional learning needs to be driven, at least in part, by the learner. It has to be a two way, reciprocal exchange. As a teacher or presenter, I have to walk into the room with expertise AND a willingness and flexibility to both teach and learn from my students or workshop participants. If I don't, I can guarantee I'm missing out on gaining valuable information that will help inform my ability to teach. I also miss out on the opportunity to learn from others.

Sandy Merz commented on February 12, 2014 at 6:27pm:

Engagement v. Empower or Engagement v. Compliance

I don't ask if I'm creating engaging lessons or empowering my students. Nor do I ask if I'm doing things to them or for them.  Either way they are passive agents being acted on or for.

Instead I ask, "Do students engage with this?" (And what about when the answer is, No?)

Here's an example, we use a bridge design simulation program in my class. In all other years I've written out step by step instructions for how use all the features.  This year my instructions have been, "Press buttons and see what happens." Then I give them challenges, "Beat Merz's Best," for example.

Sample quote from compliant student - "How many times do we have to try?"

Sample quote from engaged student - "Can I have another day, I'm this close?" or my favorite - "I downloaded the program at home last night."

Bill Ferriter Bill Ferriter commented on February 14, 2014 at 7:35am:

Sandy wrote:

Sandy wrote:

 

Either way they are passive agents being acted on or for.

 

_____________________

This is exactly what I'm trying to avoid -- and exactly the point I'm trying to articulate in the engage v. empower debate. 

When students are passive agents in our classrooms, we're the ones who are failing.

Bill

Brianna Crowley commented on February 14, 2014 at 2:53pm:

I'm Engaged...And Want to Read More!

Sandy, I am dying to know about that transition for you as a teacher. What caused you to stop writing out the instructions and instead challenge them to problem-solve by "pressing buttons?" Also, did you have to differentiate that for certain students with low perseverence (aka "grit") or and particular SDIs (on IEPs)? Also, what do you do with the compliant kid?

I think you might need to write your own blog post about this ;)

Precious Crabtree commented on February 13, 2014 at 9:43am:

hmmm...

Engaging and empowering are words that are tossed around a lot to describe teachers and instructional strategies. At some level, I see your point- we should never be trying to trick students into learning boring facts.  Rather we should be engaging them in such a way that they take ownership of their learning and form their own ideas about facts that are meaningful!  I do engage students in conversations... I want them to recall life experiences to make connections and think ahead to how they can shape the future. As a facilitator of learning, I do have a responsibility to be an engaging leader in the classroom but my goal is to empower students giving them the tools they need to be successful today and tomorrow. Is that notion wrong?

Bill Ferriter Bill Ferriter commented on February 14, 2014 at 7:40am:

Precious wrote:

Precious wrote:

As a facilitator of learning, I do have a responsibility to be an engaging leader in the classroom but my goal is to empower students giving them the tools they need to be successful today and tomorrow. Is that notion wrong?

------------------------------------

Nope.  You've shown in this comment that you recognize that "engaging" doesn't mean "forcing kids to like what we are doing."

The question becomes how many of the teachers in your school see the difference!

Any of this make sense?

Bill

 

Precious Crabtree commented on February 14, 2014 at 3:06pm:

Double-edged Sword

Yes, it makes a lot of sense!  I believe that in my school, most teachers DO know the difference, but the loaded question becomes, "How many are willing to go against the pressure to teach to the test and do what they know what is best for student learning?"  For many years, our school system has focused on assessments guiding instructional practices.  Our students take tests to prepare for tests and to provide data for county leadership.  The students are tested so much that there is little time left to actually teach.  Our curriculum is wide but is not very deep. This has been demoralizing to the staff in my county as they struggle daily to meet the demands of the county instead of the needs of students.  Fortunately, we have a new superintendent who believes this crazy obsession has to stop and we need to get back to providing students with learning experiences that are meaningful and allow teachers to have more control over the learning environment.  My colleagues long to love teaching and utilize their passion to create powerful lessons once again. 

Kris Giere commented on February 13, 2014 at 4:36pm:

Engage!

I work with a senior administrator who adamantly believes that engagement is a flip of a switch concept.  That we as educators can simply use our best Picard impression and Engage our students.  You are spot on that we can foster an engaging environment, we can empower our students in a way that increases their engagement with the material, and we can authentically engage the subject matter ourselves in a way that becomes contagious to our students.  But we don't thrust engagement upon students.

Engagement happens organically through authentic community building the classroom that we just so happen to theme based on our respective disciplines.  Focus sincerely on the students.  They'll figure out you care, and they'll engage when the time comes.

Bill Ferriter Bill Ferriter commented on February 14, 2014 at 7:44am:

Kris wrote:

Kris wrote:

Engagement happens organically through authentic community building the classroom that we just so happen to theme based on our respective disciplines.  Focus sincerely on the students.  They'll figure out you care, and they'll engage when the time comes.

---------------------------

This is an amazing comment, Chris.  Really well said.

#youwin

Bill

Dawn DuPriest commented on February 14, 2014 at 12:10pm:

Engagement

My department did a book study on this purple book a couple of years ago, and it's really changed how I think of classroom engagement.

If I notice students are not genuinely engaged in a task I've given them, I realize now there are a number of factors that are affecting their engagement and my job is to problem-solve and do better with it next time.

The task may be developmentally inappropriate.

The task may have too much scaffolding and therefore be too procedural.

The task may have too little scaffolding and students can't organize their thinking around it.

The task may not have the right level of rigor - too little cognitive demand, or too much.  May be related to scaffolding but could be related to the task content.

Classroom management factors may be affecting learning. Do students know and buy in to the expectations & routines?

Students may need a shorter feedback cycle and a clearer understanding of success.

I think about all of these when excitement over a task is waning and try to adjust! Having a critical friend come in to class to observe and give feedback can be really helpful.  Our math coach is great about stepping up for this kind of help.

 

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