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Engaging Students

Friday, March 21, 2014 -- Winnie O'Leary

Thou art a scholar

Hamlet: I - 1

In other words: You're a smart guy

(Translation by Shakespeare.com)

The language of Shakespeare is beautiful, but for the struggling reader, or the disenfranchised student, he can be a challenging assignment. (No Fear Shakespeare:)  For most high school students, motivation is the key to learning successfully.   Tying into high-interest projects and materials increases the modality of instruction and assessment as well as allows students to be engaged in various applications and interactions.  Think of the powerful conversations and depth of understanding a student would gain after creating their own digital short of Hamlet? Students engagement celebrates with learning.  Create an opportunity to fall in love with Shakespeare, a battle for most high school students.  All this being said, finding the right tools for engagement can be overwhelming for a teacher with a gazillion other plates in the air.

Technology gives instructors the flexibility to create approaches that address a variety of learning needs, as well as tying into the students’ interest, bridging gaps in understanding and building on experience.  Successful teachers can meet the student where their strengths are and using technology increases the range of abilities.    Exploring resources for alternate evaluation and presentation are seemingly limitless with the use of the internet.  An example of free teacher resources for facilitating projects and classroom demonstrations can be found here.

Engaged students start by making connections between past and present experiences.  Using technology can set the point of departure for upcoming activities. Through discussions, technology, videos and online research a teacher can to uncover students’ prior understanding.  Building on this technology baseline permits instructors to address a variety of academic gaps and construct from students’ previous knowledge base.  Connecting this previous knowledge along with allowing students to present in unique ways can increase engagement.

As students get involved in the topics, they can build their own understanding.   Working in teams and exploring concepts together, students shape a set of common experiences which prompts sharing and communicating.  In this environment, the teacher becomes a facilitator of instruction rather than the primary delivery method.  Students’ questions and areas of interest become the principal motivator.  Students test their own predictions and draw their own conclusions, which concentrates on the higher level thinking categories in Bloom's Taxonomy targeting questioning skills, data analysis and critical thinking. To see a list of apps that target specific depth of knowledge, click here.

Depending on the learner grouping and learning approach, instructors can choose to take advantage of peer-to-peer interaction through discussions both online and in the classroom.  Similarly, if students have prior knowledge of the concepts taught in certain lessons, instructors can decide to differentiate instruction.

Once students have successfully built understanding, they can then articulate their own thoughts.  Upon students proving understanding of content vocabulary, teachers have the opportunity to redirect misconceptions.   This moves the student out of the traditional means of assessing understanding and into the application of comprehension.   Teachers now would be facilitating student curiosity, common language, unique presentation of thought and motivation.

At this point, the classroom can expand on the conversations and make connections to other related concepts and real-world understanding.   Students build on what they have learned, researched, and discussed move unto new and unfamiliar concepts.

Assessment can occur all along the range of the instruction. Instructors can use rubrics, observations, student interviews, portfolios, and technology to support these evaluations.  Student-designed rubrics add an additional motivating factor to the evaluation process.

Evaluations can move from the traditional classroom paper-and-pencil assessments to a real-world application of thought.  Both teachers and students can create an understanding of exactly what learning has taken place and why it is important. Imagine a student presenting a movie adaptation of a Shakespeare play with his own subtitled translation.  Now imagine what happens next in your classroom.  And let me know, I would love to hear from you!  Please feel free to share in the comments section below.