The first post in this series suggests that teachers must practice caution when designing engaging lessons. Disempowerment and distraction are just two potential problems that may result from teachers trying to own the responsibility of student engagement. Another problem is distorting what engagement looks like. Addressing this last problem is the focus of this post.
I begin nearly all of my college courses with a workshop that asks, "How do we stay engaged?" The activity is based on the rubric shown on the right. My wife developed this rubric with her first-graders to help them to monitor their engagement during independent reading time. The class brainstormed the ideas of what different levels of reading engagement might look like and Kathy wrote them down. If during independent reading time a child is not engaged with their reading, then all Kathy has to do is ask the child where he is on the rubric and what he needs to do to re-engage. In most instances, this works extremely well. I figured that if first-graders could do this, then so could college students.
The phases of the workshop look like this:
- Schema Activation Turn and Talk: What engagement does and does not look like.
- Focus Setting Expectations
- History of Rubrics (providing direction)
- Kathy's example
- Activity Group Work: Creating Engagement Rubric Rough Draft
- Reflection Gallery Walk
- Use sticky notes to identify "likes"
- Develop a personal engagement rubric
Sometimes these rubrics confuse engagement with compliance. This is related to their distorted thinking about what it means to be engaged. An example that comes up often is texting in class. Student often want to put "texting" in the frowny face category because it means that the person "isn't doing what they should be doing." I understand their rationale and accept that typically it is an example of being unengaged, but I warn them that they need to be careful judging based solely on appearances. What if the person is texting to someone about the awesome activity that we just did? Maybe it fits perfectly with an upcoming project they are doing and the person was so excited they could not wait to share it. I explain that I do this all the time using Twitter at conferences - my tweets become my notes that I am willing to share with anyone who wants them.
The idea that communicating our excitement about something we are learning represents a high level of engagement is reflected in the work of Morgan and Saxton (beginning on page 27). I was first introduced to their Taxonomy of Personal Engagement through Jeff Wilhelm's 2007 book, Engaging Readers & Writers with Inquiry. He modified the Taxonomy in order to develop the Engagement Continuum shown below.
For students who have a hard time separating compliance and engagement, this provides a template for thinking about what pure engagement might look like. I will describe ways I use this continuum to support students taking responsibility for their own engagement in the next post.
But what does engagement look like to us as teachers? Can we distinguish between compliance and engagement? I must admit that it has been a bit of a struggle for me as I try to put theory into practice. My colleague, John Golden, suggested that we (including you, dear reader) might collaborate to design an engagement rubric from the perspective of teachers. Consequently, I put together this google document (here) that we can work on together. I hope that you are engaged enough with this topic that you are willing to share your ideas. Thank you in advance for your participation.