I was recently directed to an interesting article by Zachary Johnson titled “Bored Out of Their Minds” (click here to access the article). While there were several aspects to the article that I connected with, and lots of interesting data and statistics about students’ engagement, one passage in particular stood out to me.
“But the biggest shift we need,” Rose believes, is much more elemental. “We need to get away from thinking that the opposite of ‘bored’ is ‘entertained.’ It’s ‘engaged.’” It’s not about pumping cartoons and virtual reality games into the classroom, it’s about finding ways to make curriculum more resonant, personalized, and meaningful for every student. “Engagement is very meaningful at a neurological level, at a learning level, and a behavioral level. When kids are engaged, life is so much easier.”
Parts of this quote come from Todd Rose, author of The End of Average. I read the book last fall, and wrote a couple of posts on the ideas learned from the book here: Part 1; and here: Part 2. The idea of the book is that the “average person” just doesn’t exist – there is jaggedness to us all. The implications of this jagged profile for educators is that we have to remember that no matter what label a student may carry, they all have strengths and weaknesses. We can’t expect our students to fit into specific characteristics that we place on them.
What leads kids to disconnect as they grow older? One of the things that Johnson brings up is that as students grow older, they have less and less choice in what they do. I think back to my own educational career – in elementary school we were given great leeway to dig into the topics that interested us. I was free to choose what books I wanted to read (my sixth grade reading log would show lots of Stephen King novels), what topics I wanted to research for the science fair, and how I wanted to share my learning as we discussed European explorers visiting the “New World” – these are just a few of the choices I got to make.
By the time I got to high school free choice was mostly gone, most classes were lecture based. Many of my class syllabi were the exact same as the ones that were used for the students before me, and the students before them. I remember being checked out of my trigonometry class (sorry Mr. Petry), putting forth just enough effort to get through biology, and being bored out of my skull by the filmstrips that were shown on a daily basis in world geography (at least I could get extra credit by bringing in a box of Kleenex anytime we were running low).
So how do we help our students to stay connected to the learning that happens in our room? The HSE21 Best Practice Model helps us to get there. We can help provide the relevance for our students to see why it’s important to learn whatever it is that we’re doing in our classroom. We can give our students choices in how they express their learning. We can push our students to ask questions and wonder once they have seen the relevance in their learning – getting us to that inquiry driven study that we’re looking for.
As the summer approaches, take some time to reflect on the things that your students have done this year. What are the things that worked best? What are the things that fell flat? With those things that were best, what was it that got the kids excited about learning? And with those things that may not have been so great, how can you add more relevance and choice so that students may be better engaged? Remember, as Johnson says above, engagement isn’t about entertainment, it’s about finding ways to make the curriculum more meaningful for every student. I’d love to help you on that path! If you have an idea and want someone to brainstorm with, let me know. Two brains are always better than one!
What are some of your best engagement strategies? How have you been able to get your students highly engaged in learning in your classroom this year? Share with us in the comments below!