Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Hollywood or Classroom

Perhaps our understanding of "student engagement" could lead to unintended consequences.  I know what engagement means and pride myself on my ability engage and relate to my students. I do have my limits and know I am not always successful.  Many factors affect this, ranging from the fact I teach Ancient World History to what is going outside the classroom in the student's life.  But I've heard and it bears repeating that the expectation, solely on the teacher to find a way to engage 100% of the students 100% of the time might be just a tad unrealistic.

The comparison of a classroom to Hollywood might take a while to explain so bear with me, I will try to be engaging.  Almost every television network today devotes at least some of its programming to the lives of the Hollywood stars. The minutia of their lives playing out before our eyes and most notably when they run amuck with the law.  Fear not because one thing I have learned is that personal responsibility is not stressed in the world of stardom.  Responsibility for ones own actions and behaviors seems an alien concept to the people we see on the TV.  Which brings me to my point.  When a child is not engaged that appears now to be the responsibility of the teacher and no longer the child.

Obviously teachers play a huge role and should strive to engage kids. When I was in school and said "my teacher is boring" or "I don't like math" that didn't excuse me when I did poorly or didn't learn.  But it seems to be moving in that direction.  How did this shift occur? Setting my curriculum and any specific academic skills aside there is a lot I'm trying to teach to my students that is part of the "unwritten curriculum".  Things like a good work ethic, manners, self advocacy, how to work with others, critical thinking, how to respond to failure or a challenge.  Perhaps most important would be responsibility.  Good teachers do what I think we are talking about and make every effort to engage their students in learning.  They need to understand the importance of differentiating based on the student's needs and characteristics.  Cognitively speaking this is a different equation for elementary and secondary students (who are the ones that I teach).

You can easily locate strategies to engage students but doing so effectively is really what separates the science of teaching from the art that we practice as professionals.  To me it means keeping them interested and involved.  Making them want to learn.  But they are kids after all.  Here's a revolutionary thought: on occasion they should remain interested and involved because they will need to in order to succeed.  Learning to combat boredom and keep your head up and pay attention is a skill.  Maybe worthy among those I mentioned above that I work hard to impart.  Making this happen is not so simple as catchy expressions, funny PowerPoint clipart or asking challenging questions.  Sometimes I can accomplish this with humor, energy, student involvement in learning and sometimes I fail.  There is no silver bullet.  My approach is to build a level of rapport where they will realize they should want to do well and I have a role in that.

Be it the push to not give zeros, even if the student does nothing(see the power of zero) or looking at teachers when kids are not engaged, not teaching kids about their responsibility for their education could potentially have a huge impact on them later in life.  We need these kids to grow into responsible citizens or their behavior in our communities will resemble the behavior in Hollywood.  Parents, teachers, everyone needs to work together to engender them with a sense of responsibility.  We need to continue to emphasize the the role the child plays in their own academic success.  Yes we need to engage but to point the finger solely at the teacher, what is the lesson there?  Having responsibility will take them a long way in life, maybe not all the way to Hollywood, but that isn't always a bad thing.

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