Ways of en­gag­ing students to work

The Covington News - - Education - GARY MATHEWS

What kind of work in school truly en­gages students, work that en­ables them to learn what they need in or­der to suc­ceed in the world? One set of an­swers comes from my past as­so­ciate Phil Sch­lechty, au­thor of “Work­ing on the Work.” In list form, these qual­i­ties are as fol­lows:

Per­sonal Re­sponse: Work that en­gages students al­most al­ways fo­cuses on a prod­uct or per­for­mance of sig­nif­i­cance to them. When students ex­plain their an­swers (or the logic and rea­son­ing be­hind those an­swers), they are in­vested in their per­sonal re­sponse. It is mak­ing con­nec­tions, com­par­isons, analo­gies, pre­dic­tions, and of­fer­ing opin­ions. It is “I think… be­cause…” It is not re­call of an­swers or just the one “right” an­swer.

Clear/Mod­eled Ex­pec­ta­tions — Students Know What Suc­cess Looks Like: Students pre­fer know­ing ex­actly what is expected of them, and how those ex­pec­ta­tions re­late to some­thing they care about. It is the teacher pro­vid­ing a clear learn­ing ob­jec­tive and why it is im­por­tant. It is “mod­el­ing” of a strat­egy to ac­com­plish the ob­jec­tive. It is visual ex­em­plars, clear for­mats and pro­ce­dures that per­sist throughout the learn­ing.

Emo­tional/In­tel­lec­tual Safety — Free­dom to Take Risks: Students are more en­gaged when they try tasks with­out fear of em­bar­rass­ment, pu­n­ish­ment or im­pli­ca­tions that they are in­ad­e­quate. Per­sonal re­sponse ac­tiv­i­ties that students must sup­port with logic, rea­son­ing or ex­pla­na­tion re­quire more in­tel­lec­tual safety than an­swer­ing a ques­tion that has only one right an­swer. It is a teacher who pro­vides a “safe” en­vi­ron­ment for mis­take-mak­ing. It is not an­swer­ing “yes/ no” ques­tions, an­swers with­out ex­pla­na­tion, or students be­ing “cor­rect” or “in­cor­rect.”

Learn­ing with Oth­ers - ing Has A So­cial Com­po­nent: Students are more likely to be en­gaged by work that per­mits, en­cour­ages, and sup­ports op­por­tu­ni­ties for them to work in­ter­de­pen­dently with oth­ers. It is small-group dis­cus­sion, qual­ity cir­cles, “think/pair/share,” peer re­vi­sion or re­view. It is not tak­ing turns talk­ing or group grades in iso­la­tion. It is “When my class­mate talked about sym­bol­ism, I thought…”

Stu­dent Work Is Shared: Students are more highly mo­ti­vated when their par­ents, teach­ers, fel­low students and sig­nif­i­cant oth­ers make it known that they think the stu­dent’s work is im­por­tant. Port­fo­lio as­sign­ments — which col­lect stu­dent work for scru­tiny by peo­ple other than the teacher — can play a sig­nif­i­cant role in mak­ing stu­dent work more “vis­i­ble.” It is stu­dent work as ex­em­plars, pro­fi­cient work posted, con­nec­tions to au­di­ence and pur­pose. It is not be­ing in­ap­pro­pri­ately “sin­gled out.”

Choice — Students Have Mean­ing­ful Op­tions: When students have some de­gree of con­trol over what they are do­ing, they are more likely to feel com­mit­ted to do­ing it. This doesn’t mean students should dic­tate school cur­ricu­lum. How­ever, schools must dis­tin­guish be­tween giv­ing students choices in what they do and let­ting them choose what they will learn. It is se­lect­ing tasks from a list, tiered as­sign­ments, “I chose to present my thoughts in graphic form…” It is not opt­ing out of stan­dards, avoid­ing an as­sign­ment, or an over­whelm­ing num­ber of choices.

— Learn­ing Ex­pe­ri­ences are Un­usual or Un­ex­pected: Students are more likely to en­gage in the work asked of them if they are con­tin­u­ously ex­posed to new and dif­fer­ent ways of do­ing things. Teach­ers who have “many tools in their tool­box”— es­pe­cially tech­nol­ogy-ori­ented for this dig­i­tal gen­er­a­tion — are more likely to gain stu­dent com­mit­ment. It is about a va­ri­ety of prod­ucts and pro­cesses, games, sim­u­la­tions and role-play, com­pe­ti­tions, and di­verse per­spec­tives. It is not chaos or a lack of pro­ce­dure or pro­to­cols.

Au­then­tic­ity — Con­nec­tions to Ex­pe­ri­ence or Prior Learn­ing: This term is bandied about quite of­ten by ed­u­ca­tors, so much that the power of the con­cept is some­times lost. Clearly, how­ever, when students are given tasks that are mean­ing­less, con­trived and in­con­se­quen­tial, they are less likely to take them se­ri­ously and be en­gaged by them. It is rel­e­vance to age group, real-life ac­tiv­i­ties, in­quiry or dis­cov­ery learn­ing, hands-on ma­nip­u­la­tives, cur­rent events/ is­sues, use of class­room or home tech­nol­ogy. It is not vo­cab­u­lary in iso­la­tion, con­trived ac­tiv­i­ties, prac­tice with­out con­text, or rep­e­ti­tion of low-level work.

Phil Sch­lechty has spent a life­time study­ing the qual­i­ties of en­gag­ing stu­dent work in schools and the pos­i­tive learn­ing out­comes that are de­rived from it. For all oth­ers, per­haps just a few min­utes of re­view would be a great way to start the school year, es­pe­cially in light of the new and more rig­or­ous Com­mon Core State Stan­dards.

Gary Mathews is Su­per­in­ten­dent of the New­ton County School Sys­tem.

Ti­mari Fears, a 2012 New­ton County High School grad­u­ate, spent five weeks this sum­mer work­ing at the city of Por­terdale. This op­por­tu­nity was made pos­si­ble by the Work­force In­vest­ment Act In-School Youth Pro­gram. Fears worked as an as­sis­tant to the city and court clerk of the city of Por­terdale. Fears de­vel­oped new skills, in­clud­ing ef­fec­tive in­ter­ac­tion with the pub­lic and co-work­ers, pre­sent­ing her­self pro­fes­sion­ally in a gov­ern­ment of­fice, and valu­able or­ga­ni­za­tional skills.

The WIA pro­gram, ad­min­is­tered by the North­east Ge­or­gia Re­gional

The New­ton County School Sys­tem has re­ceived na­tional recog­ni­tion for pub­li­ca­tions pro­duced dur­ing the 2011-2012 school year. The Na­tional School Pub­lic Re­la­tions As­so­ci­a­tion awarded the dis­trict seven awards, in­clud­ing one Award of Ex­cel­lence for the sys­tem’s New­ton Col­lege and Ca­reer Academy Re­cruit­ment Pub­lic Ser­vice An­nounce­ment. All of the awards were for pub­li­ca­tions and other mar­ket­ing ma­te­ri­als for the new, New­ton Col­lege and Ca­reer Academy and the Fed­eral Pro­grams Depart­ment’s Ti­tle I In­for­ma­tion Cam­paign.

Items sub­mit­ted for con­sid­er­a­tion in­cluded the NCCA Re­cruit­ment PSA, NCCA Logo, NCCA Path­ways Over­view, Ti­tle I Tar­geted As­sis­tance PSA, Ti­tle I School Wide Pro­gram PSA, Ti­tle I Brochure and the Ti­tle I Sup­ple­men­tal Ed­u­ca­tion Ser­vices PSA. The school dis­trict’s NCCA Pub­lic Ser­vice An­nounce­ment was one of only 13 en­tries to win the pres­ti­gious Award of Ex­cel­lence in the au­dio/visual por­tion of the na­tional com­pe­ti­tion. There were 98 videos sub­mit­ted. The dis­trict’s Ti­tle I Sup­ple­men­tal Ed­u­ca­tion Ser­vices PSA was one of only 31 video en­tries in the na­tion to re­ceive the award of merit. The dis­trict’s re­main­ing en­tries — the NCCA Logo, Path­ways Over­view, Ti­tle I School Wide Pro­gram PSA and Ti­tle I Brochure each re­ceived Awards of Honor­able Men­tion.

School Pub­lic Re­la­tions De­part­ments throughout the na­tion were el­i­gi­ble to par­tic­i­pate in the Na­tional School Pub­lic Re­la­tions As­so­ci­a­tion’s Awards recog­ni­tion pro­gram and this year 701 en­tries were sub­mit­ted. Pub­li­ca­tions are judged on de­sign, skill and meet­ing the over­all PR goals/ob­jec­tives.

“Our goal is to keep our stake­hold­ers con­tin­u­ally in­formed of im­por­tant in­for­ma­tion re­gard­ing our school dis­trict,” said Sherri Davis-Viniard, di­rec­tor of pub­lic re­la­tions for New­ton County Schools. “Mr. Woodard knew ex­actly

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