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Student Engagement: More than just jargon

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November 2011

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How many students get excited about writing essays or reports?  How many students can’t wait to crack open those textbooks each day (or log onto digital textbooks because it’s basically the same thing)? How many students look forward to entering your class each day?  I’m hoping that last question is indicative of the first two.   So how do teachers ensure student engagement?

The quick answer is student-directed learning.  Engaged students feel like they are important members of the class community.  They take ownership of their own learning when they get to direct their own learning.  Are they allowed some choice in the topics they study?  Are they encouraged to pursue their own learning style for new knowledge and skill attainment?  Are students able to access materials at their level for better comprehension and synthesis?  Do they get to choose their preferred mode of demonstrating learning to the teacher?

These are not pipe dreams.  I’ve done them and watched other teachers facilitate classes that are student-directed. Unfortunately, they are still the exception in most places.

By “student-directed” I don’t mean a free-for-all.  There are structures in place, expectations are communicated, and goals created and met.  It can be scary for the teacher to give up that control that comes from teacher-centered instruction.  The rewards, however, are more than worth the risk.  Most students aren’t accustomed to this type of classroom instruction, either, so usually a gradual release process is the best implementation plan.

Some ways to move into student-directed learning that is differentiated and personalized:

I am very passionate about personalized learning and love to talk about/teach/train about all of the above and more. Please reach out if you want to discuss how to implement a student-directed environment in your own classroom, school, or district.  You can find me on Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, and email.

This can (and should) be attained at any grade level, K-higher ed.  If you’re already teaching in this type of classroom, I’d love to hear your success stories.  Freedom and empowerment lead to student engagement, which leads to true learning.

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