How Many Students Are Actively Engaged?
“How many students, in each class, regardless the subject area, are actively engaged in their lessons? Lately, I seem to be re-sharing the same message with many school leaders as well as education marketplace colleagues. It really begins by asking a simple question, which can be answered just as simply.
That active engagement can be elusive, to the best teachers—even those, who would be at home and cheered on a Broadway stage. Active involvement, while still reliant upon good teaching, doesn’t require quite the same super human feats, but today, it does require letting students have equal starring roles. Unfortunately, most educators haven’t changed the way they teach sufficiently enough to take advantage of the possibilities for the right feedback opportunities, especially in the form of solutions offered today. There are a few reasons for this.
First of all, and this may seem extremely simple, educators, who are observed and evaluated by administrators may not really get the immediate and straightforward feedback they need in order to understand what their lessons are missing. And it is ironic that this same sort of immediate feedback returns during lessons may be exactly what students of these educators could be lacking as well, and need as well.
Educators Need to Ask
If educators aren’t asked, after a formal, or an informal, observation how many of their students are actively engaged in their lessons, they may not see what’s missing—or even know that anything might be needed beyond what they are already doing. But asking about individual, as well as whole classroom engagement actually should be questions that are so familiar that they are to be expected, like the essential questions given students before a lesson—giving the lesson direction. Asking how many students have participated, and to what extend, should be a mandatory summing up by an educator, and expected to be answered after each lesson.
What usually happens, and it is the best thing of all—is that educators begin to add that question to their teaching self-reflection—asking and answering the question—in the normal and routine course of teaching events. It is a common attribute amongst teachers to be the best they can be at what they do. Things that make student learning better are natural additions to the teaching process.
Remember, though, that not asking the student engagement question, or knowing the answer, is similar to standing too close to a classroom whiteboard, or digital display, where the errors aren’t very obvious. It is easy to miss what you haven’t asked, or can’t see, even when it is right in front of you—and it is difficult to change what you can’t see. Leadership’s role should be to show that, and share that, but to be fair, sometimes school leaders need to be shown, or reminded as well. After the showing, the plan for solution is very easily seen, and it doesn’t take long to add some changes that can make a difference. The results or those changes, in most cases, can be documented immediately by a marked, and observable increase in student participation.
Feedback in the Classroom
While feedback in the classroom from students and educators may be expected, it can be accomplished much better, today, with the use of technology, where every student has the capability, through digital devices, to chime in throughout a lesson—from start to finish—rather than once or twice—or not at all. Through an app or two, a bit of software, and possibly an online solution—network or cloud based—this teaching and learning style, which enhances knowledge about how students learn, and if they are learning, makes sense, and can be done. Not only can it be done, it should be done. To do less, today, is no better than raising hands, and students and teachers won’t get much out of that.
It can be argued that hands are free and digital solutions are not, but it isn’t really a worthy statement, today. Certainly it will cost something in dollars and cents to get the right technology tools and solutions in place to transform to an active classroom, but the cost is far greater not to do it. Check this by polling students. Ask if they feel if their voices are heard during class and daily lessons. Discover what students are really thinking. Students, who don’t have a role in lessons, other than listening to them as lectures, find it easy to tune out, step back, and get disillusioned. Some of those students will step away completely, too. While, at a certain age, it may sound cool for students to say they hate school, it doesn’t have to be really that way in class anymore. The bottom line pay-off will be more evident as many more students cross the graduation stage, enter higher education, and land careers that are fulfilling as well as challenging. And years later, when students become adults with their own children, it would be nice to hear them say that school was work, it was fun, and was a memorable experience—in a good way.
Ken Royal is a former educator with 34 years of classroom/school and instructional technology teaching experience. He has written at many of the major education publications, including District Administration, TechLearning, and Scholastic Administrator. Presently, Ken is a blogger on all things education and education technology. Teaching accomplishments include: 4-time district teacher of the year, Connecticut Middle School Teacher of the Year, as well as Bill and Melinda Gates award for Technology School of Excellence. He is a Promethean storyteller. Follow @KenRoyal on Twitter.