If you know me, you know that I’m a hopeful romantic, I love lovey-dovey stuff and romantic comedies and against-all-odds love stories. (Note to reader: For the men or non-romantics reading this, you can open your eyes now…)
One of my most favorite movies is Father of the Bride – not because of its deep, romantic ties or the fact that it was filmed in my hometown (true!), but because it shows the great parts of getting ready to get married and also the not-so-great parts of it, too.
In the final analysis, the couple gets married and because they have made a good choice in who they’d marry and also worked through a lot of their family, job, money issues throughout their engagement, I think they probably had a good life together. (And they seemed to be doing well when I last checked in with them in Father of the Bride II!)
When I think of that engagement time, I think of how important it is to work out the kinks and really get down to the nitty-gritty of what you want your life together to be – in fact, I read once that engagement is all about figuring out if you’re ready to marry each other and to make a formal commitment to finding out IF marriage is the next step.
These days, within 2.333 hours of announcing engagement, we’ve practically booked the venue, briefed the wedding party, chosen the favors, forwarded the honeymoon itinerary and chosen the monogram for the first born!
My thought is HOLD UP A MINUTE!
The REAL story of engagement is often this: woman tells man where he has to show up, what he has to wear and briefs him regularly on that weird aunt’s name so that he doesn’t forget it. The woman is fawned over by her friends and other ladies while the man basically gets a boot camp-style briefing of the activities for the week. He is merely a FIGURE in the whole scheme. He is an observer and occasional interloper!
I’ve often heard of guys rolling their eyes over all of the wedding fussiness -they’re simply trying to ENDURE it and get to the happily ever after part.
Now, I’m not trying to act like ALL guys are like this or ALL gals are like this but do you admit it is more common than not?
What I think we ought to explore is the connection between these wedding shenanigans and our teaching. Huh?
Hear me out…
We have gotten a little glad-handy with our use of engagement techniques (much like brides with their 57 pre-wedding activities) – we have fallen for the idea that if we are using an engagement technique that kids must be engaged – or at least more engaged than if we didn’t use the technique.
We do not have a shortage of engagement ideas, technique, tricks-of-the-trade or training opportunities, so why is it that kids are still ENDURING instruction and not ENGAGING IN IT?
Really good kids are sitting in classrooms much too often just listening to the teacher do the work – or watching other kids do the work. It has to be terribly boring. I can tell you for sure, it’s boring to watch!
Kids are acting like they’re the bystanding groom to the teacher’s bride antics – engagement techniques are sometimes used and sometimes not, but the engagement level is still low all around.
I don’t have to point out that students are not going to master content, receive high levels of direct teaching and academic-based feedback in these classrooms, do I?
So, how do we turn standing-by, enduring kind of classrooms or lessons into full blown engaged ones? I have a couple of ideas…they aren’t fancy, but they will work if you work ‘em:
Enduring to Engaging Idea #1: Make sure that the content that you want to have students engage in is worthy of engagement
Not everything is worth teaching – some things are worth just telling kids. What’s the difference?
When I’m teaching something new, I go through the whole teach/model/practice/feedback/apply format. It’s during the practice/feedback/apply part that I should be planning for high-levels of active engagement from students. However, I have seen many times that teachers are having students use techniques like “think pair share” or “partner teams” for times when the content is minor or inconsequential to the mastery of the subject area.
When something is inconsequential or just minor to the big content picture, we can just say, “Ladies and gents, this means ______” or “What that refers to is like when__________” and move on.
The techniques that we use to increase engagement should be used to enhance and improve the mastery of super important, really high impact skills! I so often hear “I would love to do more engagement activities, but they’re so time consuming!” – well, they ARE time consuming especially when you’re using them for inconsequential information.
Enduring to Engaging Idea #2: Make sure that you’re obsessed with checking-in with students during high-engagement times
There are two really big points of engagement: to give kids lots of practice on important skills in order to build mastery and to give kids lots of opportunity to show what they know, what they don’t know and what they kind of know so that the teacher can provide lots of direction, correction and re-direction. Without engagement, we have no idea what’s going on in the kids’ heads!
What is common (and I’m guilty of these sometimes, too) is that while students are think/pair/sharing, teachers are getting set up for the next part of the lesson, are getting stuck at one group re-doing the lesson, are proctoring learning rather than engaging with kids in it and generally missing all of the good thinking and talking and interaction around the important content!
When students are talking with one another, it’s the PERFECT TIME to get in there and hear what they’re saying and commenting, redirecting, making a note to clear something up with the whole class, asking them to extend responses, redirect their conversation or work or generally set them straight on something they have mis-learned!
Engagement is not about the kids and kids alone. It’s around the TEACHER engaging with the KIDS and the CONTENT.
So what is the take-away from this, in my book? That we refine our definition of engagement from that of “using engagement techniques during teaching” to “setting up meaningful opportunities for students to work with, talk about, write about, think about the most important information that they’re required to learn”.
You’ve got everything you need to do this now…where will you start?
Come on over to www.facebook.com/jacksonconsulting to talk – I’m waiting just for YOU!