Engaging learners is vital

Sask Bulletin
June 24, 2021
By Joan Elliott, Librarian/Manager, Emma Stewart Resources Centre

Engagement is key to student learning and success. However, due to the significant and often traumatic disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, many students have become disconnected and disengaged from schooling and education despite the best efforts of staff.

The pandemic has also exacerbated the disengagement long experienced by students marginalized by the education system and by society. It is therefore more important than ever to focus on reconnecting and re-engaging with all students, whether you are teaching in person or remotely.

In their new book, Five Paths of Student Engagement: Blazing the Trail to Learning and Success, Dennis Shirley and Andy Hargreaves first explain the emotional, behavioural and cognitive psychological dimensions of student engagement and then state that five enemies of engagement are disenchantment, disconnection, disassociation, disempowerment and distraction. They argue that these barriers can be overcome through a five-path model of engagement which focuses on harnessing students’ intrinsic motivation; encouraging them to work on topics of importance to them and to the world; strengthening association to the school and community by fostering a sense of belonging; empowering them through student voice in curriculum, assessment, and ways of learning and encouraging mastery and accomplishment.

A book designed with elementary and preschool teachers in mind is Morning Meetings and Closing Circles: Classroom-Ready Activities That Increase Student Engagement and Create a Positive Learning Community by Monica Dunbar. Ideas for coming together, establishing expectations, keeping energized, and building trust and confidence will assist the class in getting to know each other at a deeper level and also promote academic, social and emotional engagement.

In their book The Quest for Learning: How to Maximize Student Engagement, Marie Alcock, Michael Fisher and Allison Zmuda present a questing framework to increase student engagement. In this approach, students undertake well-designed quests and inquiries that hook their interest. Students can pursue an answer to a worthy question, design or play games or network and collaborate with peers and experts in physical or online spaces in order to increase their expertise and build ownership for learning.

James Alan Sturtevant provides several creative suggestions in his book Hacking Engagement Again: 50 Teacher Tools That Will Make Students Love Your Class. He first identifies a specific problem and then describes a hack or strategy to address it. Ideas for spicing up lesson templates, using tech tools, building relationships, networking and harnessing student passions are included.

Personalized Deeper Learning: Blueprints for Teaching Complex Cognitive, Social-Emotional, and Digital Skills by James A. Bellanca, is a collection of personalized K-12 learning plans which is designed to foster engagement through developing self-directed learning skills that students need now and in adulthood.

Doug Lemov and his team in Teaching in the Online Classroom: Surviving and Thriving in the New Normal, point out that in the online classroom distraction is a mere click away. Their suggestions for building a culture of attention and engagement for online learners include setting up quick kickoffs to lessons, using clear directions and materials that have a balance of text and imagery, providing a variety of tasks to support pacing and avoiding screen fatigue by assigning offline reading and writing using physical materials.

In his book, Engaging Learners Through Zoom: Strategies for Virtual Teaching Across Disciplines, Jonathan Brennan provides over 150 active learning strategies for synchronous online learning. Ways to use polls, chats, breakout rooms, whiteboards and virtual backgrounds to build engagement are explained clearly.

To borrow these and other resources, please email stf@stf.sk.ca or call 1-800-667-7762.

Have a relaxing and rejuvenating break. We wish you the best that summer can bring.