I recently heard a story about three high school siblings who experienced a rarity in education -- all three students had the same teacher during the same semester. Different grade levels and different classes, but they all had the same teacher. For the sake of this story, we'll call him Mr. Smith.
One day, the three students' parents received a phone call from Mr. Smith letting them know that one of the students had fallen asleep during his class that day. Of course, this led to a conversation that evening between Mom, Dad, and the sleepy student. When the other two children, both well-behaved and high-achieving students, heard about what had happened, each of them shared their thoughts on the matter by saying, "I wish I could sleep in Mr. Smith's class."
So here's a question. How many of the three students would you say were engaged during Mr. Smith's class? For this question, we'll define engaged as being "into" the lessons being taught. How many students? Two? The ones not sleeping in class?
I contend that the answer is probably zero. None of the students.
Yes, the other two students weren't sleeping in Mr. Smith's class, but why not? Because they were engaged by his lessons? No. Both students indicated this wasn't the case, stating they wished they too could catch a few winks during Mr. Smith's class. No, more likely, the students weren't sleeping in class because they're "good" students who've been taught that sleeping in class is a no-no. Good students are supposed to pay attention in class, follow directions, and complete assignments on time. Because that's what good students do.
How often do we as educators mistake compliance for engagement? How often do we misinterpret quiet, on-task behavior as genuine engagement? Integrity has been defined as how one acts when no one is watching. Genuine student engagement is like integrity -- it will continue to be present even when the teacher isn't watching. Have you ever taught a lesson your students were so into that they lost track of time, forgetting they were supposed to go to recess or lunch? Think of those times when students asked to continue learning not because they had to but because they wanted to. That's the goal. That's genuine student engagement.
When I was teaching, I'm sure there were times when I mistook compliance for engagement. I had good classroom management. I ran a fun, structured classroom where students followed the rules and were on task. But does that mean all of my students were engaged, really "into" the learning, all of the time? Unfortunately, no. How often did I observe simple compliance from my students because I failed to truly engage them? How often did I observe counterfeit engagement?
Genuine student engagement occurs when a teacher is deliberate in his/her attempt to involve students in their learning, rather than simply treating them as passive vessels into which we pour knowledge. It occurs when students take ownership of their learning. It occurs when worksheets are replaced with meaningful tasks, when students are asked to create rather than complete. It occurs when students aren't asked to always sit through a lecture but are instead allowed to use technology to collaborate and connect with their peers, to learn together.
How will you genuinely engage your students today?
Consistent communication between teachers, students, and parents is essential in order to maximize learning. In the Age of Technology in which we now live, the traditional hard-copy classroom newsletter, by itself, doesn't cut it anymore. Like it or not, technology is a part of students' and parents' lives. A perfect example of this is found in the prevalence of cell phones. I work at the middle school level, and nearly every student has a cell phone. Students often forget their pencils, textbooks, and homework, but forget their cell phone? Never. I've long held the philosophy that educators must utilize technology like cell phones for educational purposes, because students and their parents are already using the technology. Don't fight it, leverage it. Well, here's a cool tool that will help teachers leverage cell phones - Remind101.
Remind101 is a free service that allows teachers to use text messaging to communicate with students and their parents. It is a simple yet powerful tool, and I can't think of an easier way to put digital reminders about important classroom information into the hands (literally) of students and parents.
Here's how it works...
Once a teacher signs up for a free account, he/she can create different "classes" (groups of students/parents). Teachers at the middle and high school school level can create a different class for each period of the day, as well as a separate class for parents. This enables the teacher to send class-specific messages to students (e.g. "Don't forget -- your project is due Friday) or messages to parents (e.g. "Parent conferences are October 17-19"). Since cell phones are not as common at the lower grades, elementary teachers may choose to set up a class solely for parents. Teachers can currently create up to 10 classes.
Once classes are set up, students and parents can "sign up" to receive notifications by sending a text message with the teacher's class code (e.g. text @code to 555-555-5555). Sign-up can also be done through email. If you're concerned about students seeing your personal cell phone number, don't worry. Teachers are assigned a unique Remind101 phone number that students/parents use when they sign up -- they will never see your number, and you'll never see theirs. Pretty slick!
Once students/parents are signed up, the teacher simply has to go to www.remind101.com, sign in, choose a class, and type in the desired message. Messages can even be scheduled to be sent at a later day or time. Can't get to your computer to send a message? No problem. If you have an iPhone or iPad, you can download and use the free Remind101 app. For more information, here's the service's FAQ page.
Students and their parents are already using cell phones to text. Let's make some of those texts educational.
If you haven't seen this commercial from Kaplan University, please take 60 seconds and watch it.
Despite being a couple years old, I think this ad does a great job of illustrating where education is headed. Actually, I believe it’s already there. One line from the commercial states, “It’s time to use technology to rewrite the rules of education.” As we see in the commercial, learning should no longer be confined to the four walls of a classroom, between the hours of 8:30 am and 3:00 pm, Monday through Friday. The reality is that learning can (and should) take place at 6:30 pm at the kitchen table, in bed on a Saturday morning, or in a subway station on a Sunday afternoon. Let’s face it, students don’t always “get it” the first time a concept is taught. Students benefit from reteaching and/or review sessions. But what happens when the bell rings and a student needs to see or hear it again? Should he/she be told, “Sorry, you’ll have to wait until tomorrow to learn.” What about those students who don’t want to wait until tomorrow but are excited to learn now? What’s the solution? If only students could take the teaching, not just the textbook, home with them. Oh, wait. They can!
Mobile technology continues to find its way into the hands of students. I’m an administrator at the middle school level, and it seems like every student has a cell phone, most capable of playing audio and video files. What if teachers leveraged that technology instead of fighting it? Now, I’m not saying students should have free reign of their cell phones during the school day – that’s a discussion for another day. But what if teachers delivered content to their students that could be accessed on their cell phones, iPods, and iPads after hours? What if the reteaching and review sessions previously mentioned could be put in a format kids embrace, namely audio or video on their mobile devices? Fortunately, the technology tools available to teachers make this not only possible, but actually pretty easy.
While in the classroom, I provided my 5th grade students with audio review sessions called StudyCasts (you can listen to them here). I got the idea from former Missouri Teacher of the Year Eric Langhorstwho graciously shares his ideas with other educators. Before each Social Studies and Science test, I recorded myself going over the material that would be covered on the test. What I love so much about StudyCasts is that in addition to going over the notes students took in class, I was also able to review examples I gave or stories I told during class that weren’t necessarily in the notes. I didn’t do any editing of these recordings. If I coughed during a recording, I said, “Excuse me” and kept going. They weren’t meant to be polished works of art, they were meant to help my students study. StudyCasts weren’t intended to replace traditional studying, but rather to provide an additional study aid. I posted the broadcasts on my classroom website and in iTunes, making them easily to download to iPods or iPads. For students without Internet access, I would burn the broadcasts onto CDs for them. I would also burn a few extra CDs and raffle them off to all students. Their reaction? You would have thought I was giving away gold. Seriously, I worked my students into a frenzy by doing what? Giving away my teaching. I just packaged it in a way my kids thought was cool.
There are several applications out there you can use to easily create audio broadcasts like StudyCasts. Here are a few free resources I have used:
Here are some video-creation resources I’ve used:
“I like the StudyCasts because I can listen to them on my computer while I’m doing my homework. I listened to the Puritan StudyCast five times and I got a good grade.”
If we build it, they will come.
Brent has worked in the field of education as a teacher and administrator for 25 years. He is currently Principal of Alta Murrieta Elementary School in Murrieta, California. Read more about Brent here.
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