I am teaching a book study for my district using Ellin Keene’s book Engaging Children: Igniting a Drive for Deeper Learning K-8.
One of the class activities was to participate in a Twitter chat. My district holds weekly Twitter chats over the school year. I wanted my class to chat about what they had been learning about engagement from Ellin’s book and how their thinking had changed about engagement or had not. A theme of assessment had already been chosen for the twitter chat of the month in question, but I was able to come up with some questions relating engagement and assessment together.
I want to thank @EllinKeene for jumping in on a few questions.
As I reflect back on the chat and what I have learned from the book myself and my peers taking the class, I have come to a several conclusions. First engagement is something you have to be talking about from the beginning of the year. Secondly, I think you have to ask students to draw on their personal experiences outside of school when first talking about engagement. Once you have established what engagement is and feels like together you can ask students to notice and think about activities they have been engaged in at school.
Then you can discuss times when you have been engaged and lost that engagement, or times when you do not feel the desire to engage in an activity but do so anyway, and end up absorbed in it wanting more. I think acknowledging these feelings happen to all of us is important. Then you can discuss how to reengage yourself into an activity, or how to choose to open yourself up to the possibility of engagement eventually occurring. Now this will obviously look different at different age levels.
You can then talk about choosing to be open to engaging in specific times when you have noticed students’ engagement lagging. Assessment could be one of those times.
I know when students become aware of something, like engagement, they will be more willing to hold themselves accountable. When students become aware of something then they can start to assess themselves and think metacognitively about it.
I think you could create a self-assessment where students keep track of their own engagement all year long. Then they can visualize and verbalize goals and strategies that may help them engage in the areas where engagement has consistently been weak. This is a tool that will look different at each grade level and possibly year to year within your own classroom.
Then, when it comes to engagement during district and state assessments towards the end of the year, you have evidence to fall back on and will have, already had conversations about engagement. This should help students recognize when they start to get restless and their mind wonders. They should be able to bring it back because of that awareness, with a little redirection.
I think another key ingredient for engagement during testing is for students to establish themselves as flexible thinkers. This can be done through modeling and talking about experiences. Being flexible is a mindset. Once they are flexible with their thinking students focus on being problem solvers. Students have to have a desire to figure things out and understand that they will be required to solve problems and look at tasks with an open mind. This needs to be established as an everyday expectation. In our classroom you will be challenged daily and often. You will have to be open to changing your thinking as you learn. And let them know you will be there to help them as they go and that you will be learning together. Let students know that in this classroom we will struggle sometimes and that we will pick ourselves back up and figure it out. Students must aspire to figure tasks out and have a mindset to not give up as they wrangle with it.
Engagement will come and go for our students, so we have to give them the language and tools to notice and chose to engage or reengage when they sense they are losing focus. I think it should be an ongoing and adaptive conversation of modeling and discussion all year long. You need to center discusses around those intrinsic feelings that engaged people feel while immersed in an activity, not the extrinsic rewards they may get after the activity. I want students aware of what it feels like being in the action of deep thinking and engagement. The have to know and be able to verbalize what learning feels while engaged. The know what it feels like when they are not!
These are a few quick thoughts on engagement and assessment. Hope you can find them useful. I would love some feedback! Troy