Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Engagement is the Outcome of Meaningful Work

Engagement is the Outcome of Meaningful Work
Tanna Kincaid
October 2011

A question I ask my kids and one I am sure many other parents ask and wait anxiously for their child’s enthusiastic response on is, “What did you learn today?”  Our recent professional work has been around getting a laser focus on our instructional targets.  This is part of the solution to helping students talk about that “what” when they go home.  But is having the “what” posted on the board or written in their planner enough to get the enthusiastic response?  Probably not.  For that we need to move from “what” to “how”.   

There are different levels of the “how”.  “How” that is focused on knowledge level recall is a strategy that we do well.  It is necessary but can’t be the end.  The enthusiastic chatter we want from students when they talk about what they learned is not likely to happen as the results of knowledge level worksheets or essay responses that have predefined right answers from the book; even if they are done using technology.  

Moving from knowledge-based student learning to student performances that require the integration and application of knowledge and skill open up significant opportunities for students to showcase independent learning behaviors, creativity, critical thinking, and to use digital tools.  

I have spent most of my career focused on the “how” of instruction through technology use.

  • How teachers can use technology to expand access to engaging materials and resources?

  • How the classroom walls can be knocked down through communication and collaboration with other learners and experts?

  • How students can choose and use a variety of digital tools to create products that illustrate their learning?

I believe that our goal for students to be ready for post-secondary and the workplace can be fully realized only if our students are provided with opportunities to select and use digital tools to make meaning for themselves. Access to tools is necessary however the tools themselves do not provide the student engagement and independent learning.  As Sylvia Martinez states in her recent Generation YES blog post, “Students may be momentarily entertained by technology used to wrap a stale activity, but it won’t last.” “The confusion of “engagement” as a primary goal of lesson design is a mistake. Engagement is not a goal, it’s an outcome of doing interesting, personally meaningful work.”

I am a longtime advocate for the use of technology in education but believe the ultimate value is not the tools but how the tools allow for students to communicate, research, synthesize, think and create product evidence of the “what.”  To do this we need the combination of tools with innovative pedagogy.

One good example of matching technology with innovative learning is our Social Studies pilot in 5th and 6th grade where students are working in pairs on classroom netbooks.  The students access their materials online through the digital text, write and create products online, and submit their products electronically for feedback.  Another pilot investigating tablet devices has ensued with results expected in December. This group will work from the primary perspective of value-added for the purposes of meaningful and relevant work.