Fall 2010

Teachers of the Future

Engaging Students for Sustained Learning

Engaging Students for Sustained Learning

Students in the 21st century are continuously bombarded with the requirements of curriculum content, standards, and technological expectations that extend beyond what most of us were prepared to teach. Never before have there been so many questions about what is essential to learn, within such a short amount of time to teach it. Some students embrace the challenges presented to them, while others seem to lack a connection to the learning and become disengaged. Teachers are challenged to transform classroom experiences to enable ALL students to learn.

Students in the 21st century are continuously bombarded with the requirements of curriculum content, standards, and technological expectations that extend beyond what most of us were prepared to teach. Never before have there been so many questions about what is essential to learn, within such a short amount of time to teach it. Some students embrace the challenges presented to them, while others seem to lack a connection to the learning and become disengaged. Teachers are challenged to transform classroom experiences to enable ALL students to learn.

We know that today’s learners want to make sense of their world, to find meaning in conjunction with their efforts. Instruction must, therefore, be contextually relevant to each student. Learners become engaged through one or more of the following four venues: Applied (relevant) Learning; Student Choice; Student-to-Student Interaction; and Ongoing, Embedded Assessment.

Applied Learning

2007 Middle School Student quote: “I think students feel like they don’t use much of their education in their current lives, because they don’t do work that involves real-life situations very much, and they don’t really know why they’re learning what teachers are teaching.”

The learning experience must connect with meaningful opportunities for each student. Curriculum content needs to have personal relevance for learners. So, how do we ensure that our curriculum requirements match each student’s needs? Garner Poldrak et. al. state, “When information is embedded with personal relevance from prior experience, interests, goals or real-world connections, the new data go beyond rote memory into long term memory.”(in Willis, ASCD, 2007).

Student Choice

2007 High School Student Quote: “I know that when I get to college I will finally be learning what I want to know, instead of what some teacher thinks I need to know.”

Every student, regardless of ability, must have an opportunity for choice in aspects of their learning and its application, as well as in the manner in which they are assessed.

Barbara Given points out that, “The simple act of decision making powerfully enables students to take charge of their learning. …After developing preliminary knowledge about the topic they study …in multiple ways. …choices about what materials are used… empower students to make decisions about how they learn.” (Given, ASCD, 2002)

Student-to-Student Interaction

Learning is a social affair. We have known for some time that students teach each other and learn from each other, in a variety of contexts. Marzano, Pickering and Pollock’s work places such cooperative ventures between learners as one of the top ways educational research supports noted increases in achievement outcomes (Marzano et. al. ASCD, 2001).

Assessment

2007 High School Student quote: “I think kids want to do well in school because that is what is expected by parents, teachers and others. They don’t always give good effort, however, because these… years don’t count toward… things in the future.”

While some assessment is federally and/or state driven, the assessments done in our classrooms on a regular basis should drive instructional decisions as we embrace challenges and honor successes. Assessments must become real-time feedback that informs students regarding performance on targeted learning outcomes.

Summary

It is quite clear that unless today’s student is mentally engaged in their learning, sustained outcomes are less likely. Both research and practice substantiate the need to invite learners into the equation through applied learning, choice, interaction and formative feedback venues.

References

Millen, E. et. al (2010). Engaging Today’s Students: What All Educators Need to Know and Be Able to Do, GPPublications, greenleaflearning.com.

Willis, Judy (2006). Brain-Friendly Strategies for the Inclusion Classroom, ASCD.

Donegan, Billie et. al (2005). Coaching Reluctant Learners, GPPublications, greenleaflearning.com.

Given, Barbara (2002). Teaching to the Brain’s Natural Learning Systems, ASCD.

Greenleaf, Robert K (2008). Formative Assessment Micro-Feedback Loops, GPPublications, greenleaflearning.com.

Marzano, R. et. al (2001). Classroom Instruction that Works, ASCD.

Stiggins, Rick (May 2007). Assessment through the Student’s Eyes, Educating the Whole Child, Educational Leadership, Vol. 64, No. 8.

Dr. Robert K. Greenleaf has taught at all grade levels, K-16, served as a professional development specialist at Brown University, and has 20 years of experience in public education, ranging from superintendent, elementary school principal, teacher, and special education assistant. He is President of Greenleaf Learning in Newfield, ME, which specializes in educational strategies for understanding behaviors, building esteem and achievement, and brain-based learning for long-term memory and recall. Dr. Greenleaf is the author of seven instructional books, as well as many articles. He holds a Doctorate in Education from Vanderbilt University, a Masters in Educational Administration, and a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology. 

Sharyn L. Orvis has over 20 years experience in urban and rural education PK-Grade 12. Certified as an English teacher, Reading Specialist and Principal, Sharyn has provided leadership in the school/district improvement process serving as Curriculum Coordinator, Director of Instructional Improvement, and Federal Grants Manager. As the principal of a Title I School in Need of Improvement, she worked closely with staff and families to make a profound difference in school culture and student achievement, resulting in substantial progress within two years. 

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