Rigor is creating an environment in which each student is expected to learn at high levels,
each student is supported so he or she can learn at high levels,
and each student demonstrates learning at high levels (Blackburn, 2008).

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Rigor and Student Engagement

In my last blog, I touched upon the relationship between rigor, motivation, and engagement, and the critical nature of that relationship for supporting students to learn at high levels. In this entry, I’d like to shift the focus to engagement.

What do you consider to be student engagement? Perhaps, in order to paint a clear picture of what student engagement is, we should first consider what it is NOT, thereby ruling out learning strategies that often are mistakenly labeled as engaging. What better way to reflect on student engagement than by placing ourselves back in the role of student? Personally, and I’m betting that you agree, having someone talk at me, or explain things to me does not engage me as an active learner. I do not feel in control of my own learning when I am merely a passive recipient of information. Nor do I feel in control of (or, for that matter, interested in) my own learning when I am given questions to answer, or every single time I am given the opportunity to work in a small group. So often the questions do not challenge my thinking, and equally often the objectives for small group work do not place high expectations on each individual. Rather than facilitating highly interactive and productive dialogue between group members, what frequently results from group work activities is that a few group members take on all of the responsibilities, while the rest are just along for the ride, so to speak.

Seemingly then, student engagement is determined by the nature of the lesson or activity. Does the lesson or activity involve all students such that they are actively participating in the learning process? When I am engaged in learning, I do not require prodding from anyone to take notes on what is being discussed or read; rather, I am thinking about big ideas, making connections, and writing down important points and/or questions I may have. Furthermore, I partake in a mutual exchange of information and ideas between the person instructing and myself. The foundation of instructional engagement is involvement by both the teacher and the student.

Now, reflect on a lesson you have taught. What was the level of engagement? What, if anything, could you have done to increase student engagement?

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