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Dispelling the Myths: The Truth about Student Engagement
September 4, 2014 | Comments
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by Cathy Gassenheimer
Student engagement has become an education buzzword. As important as student buy-in to the learning process is, how many teachers really grasp what engagement looks like and, most important, how we can best craft a classroom culture where engagement is the norm, not the exception.
Jennifer Fredricks, in her book Eight Myths of Student Disengagement: Creating Classrooms of Deep Learning, paints of picture of authentic student engagement by tackling many of the misconceptions that, for some educators, make student engagement elusive.

Fredericks, a professor of human development at Connecticut College, is currently working on a three year grant on student engagement in math and science classrooms, funded by the National Science Foundation.
Engagement through the eyes of six students
Throughout the book, the author tells the story of student engagement through the eyes of six different students. While these students are all created in her mind, they are based on Fredricks' experience and research.
► Fiona and Franco are fully engaged. Both generally look forward to school, enjoy their teachers and the work assigned. Fiona “pays attention, enjoys challenging tasks, and tries hard to do her best work.” Franco “enjoys opportunities to be intellectually challenged … he works hard, listens attentively, and actively participates in class.” (p. 12)
► Beatrice and Benjamin are behaviorally engaged only. They play the game of school, being attentive and prepared. Even though Beatrice knows that doing well in school is “good for her future,” she “rarely reads anything that is not required and takes the safe route in all of her assignments.” Benjamin “does his work, but he does not like going to school and is not interested in or excited by learning.” (pp. 12-13)
► Rachel and Ryan are at risk. Both find school challenging and boring. Rachel is often inattentive and rarely participates in class discussion. On top of that, she doesn’t like her teachers. Ryan can be a behavior problem and often gets into trouble. “He finds school an alienating and unsupportive context.” (p. 13)
By breathing life into these students, Fredricks personalizes student engagement and challenges the reader to confront some of what she identifies as common myths of student disengagement.

Three kinds of engagement
Contending that student engagement is “multi-dimensional,” she offers a table that describes student engagement organized in three general categories: behavioral engagement, emotional engagement, and cognitive engagement (p.15). [You can see the complete table and read the first chapter of the book in this free PDF download.]
The book also features contributions from three collaborators. From time to time, these practicing educators comment on their successes in engaging students through short, pithy case studies.
Fredricks organizes around the 8 myths, which are:
  1. It's easy to tell who is engaged
  2. Some students just don’t care
  3. What happens outside of school competes with academics
  4. Hands-on is minds-on
  5. Focus on content: don’t make it personal
  6. Socializing with peers detracts from student engagement
  7. There’s only so much a teacher can do
  8. Student engagement is a student choice
Provocative? Yes. Hopeful? Yes. Do-able? With persistence and practice, Fredricks suggests that engaging most students regularly is possible.
Student choice and support
Happily for our work, Fredricks makes connections to the important issues of giving students “choice” and “voice.” She suggests four types of choices that can be offered to students (p. 89):
Strategies for Increasing Choice in the Classroom
  1. Choice over what to study. Students can help to generate a list of readings or topic areas to investigate in the class. Offer students choices about what to read and to write about for assignments.
  1. Choice over how to complete tasks. Students can choose among several different assignments. For more complex assignments, students can choose how to approach the problem, what steps to follow, and what resources to use.
  1. Choice about when to complete assignments. Students are given options about when to complete assignments. For example, during the course of a lesson, teachers can give students a choice of completing three out of five assignments.
  1. Choice over rules and consequences for misbehavior. Students can help generate class rules and the consequences for not following the rules.
Encouraging teachers to spur “authentic engagement,” Fredricks  suggests five important standards (p. 99):
  1. Higher-order thinking
  2. Depth of knowledge
  3. Connections to the world
  4. Substantive conversation
  5. Social support for student achievement
Fredricks also reminds readers that an authentic task “requires that students develop some artifact that is shared with one’s peers in a public venue.” (p. 99)

A valuable addition to your learning library
Eight Myths of Student Disengagement is full of charts, research, and practical information/advice about how to better engage all students (see the complete table of contents, preface and introduction here.) Interspersed in the text are reflection questions and short case studies penned by the contributing teachers.
In short, Eight Myths is an excellent read and a good potential book study. It might prove to be just the right guidebook for a school's journey toward a more engaging and joyous learning environment. [permalink for this post]
Reflecting on "Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling"
August 27, 2014 | Comments
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by Cathy Gassenheimer   We live in a world that believes our role as professionals is to fix and tell rather than listen and inquire. This is one of the key premises in the book Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling, by Edgar Schein.   Schein, a lifelong student of interpersonal dynamics and a professor of management emeritus at the MIT Sloan School of Management, begins the book by defining what he means by humble inquiry:  Humble inquiry is the fine art of drawing someon... [continue reading]
How We Went About Revisiting Our 1-Page Instructional Target
August 21, 2014 | Comments
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Many schools who participate in the Instructional Partners Network develop a one-page instructional target through a powerful collaborative process proposed by Jim Knight. In this recent post in the IPN virtual community (at Ning), Courtney Horton highlighted the steps she and her colleagues took to revisit and revise their target three years after it was first created. We thought we'd share her report, and wonderful pictures, here! Cathy Gassenheimer   by Courtney HortonInstructional PartnerLi... [continue reading]
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August 13, 2014 | Comments
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by Cathy Gassenheimer   As your students and you begin a new school year, heres a question for you to ponder: Whats worth learning?   Alabamas College and Career-Ready Standards provide a road map to help you answer that question. The standards challenge teachers and students alike to focus on deeper learning. But, with so many topics, areas, concepts, themes, where should you focus? What are the most important things for children to learn?  This question whats worth learning? lies at the hear... [continue reading]
A Successful Summer Program Boosts Achievement & Builds Student Confidence
August 8, 2014 | Comments
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Educators often ask, "How do you prevent summer learning loss for yourself as well as for students?" ABPC consultant and Tarrant educator Beth Sanders joined a team of teachers in "The Brain Forest" this summer to discover not only how to avoid a learning slide but also how to accelerate academic and social-emotional learning through engaging projects and student voice & choice. And as Beth relates here, the teachers did lots of learning too.  by Beth Sanders Regardless of when the opportuni... [continue reading]
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