“If we teach today the way we taught yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow.” – John Dewey
We recently perused Robert Marzano and Debra Pickering’s publication on classroom engagement, The Highly Engaged Classroom. As always, Marzano is both interesting and informative. Marzano and Pickering acknowledge that student engagement is an essential ingredient in effective schools. However, they point out that student engagement does not occur spontaneously. The successful classroom they say, “…is the result of a teacher putting specific, effective strategies into place that are proven to foster engagement.” They go on to identify four major factors that affect students’ decisions to participate actively in classroom exercises. The interaction of these factors is complex and can vary from day to day, class to class and individual to individual. One factor that is not as short-term, is the nature of classroom content. Does your content relate to your students’ lives? According to Marzano and Pickering, When content relates to students’ lives, engagement is more easily facilitated. When it does not, students “turn off and drop out” of the learning process.
So, in today’s highly diverse public school classrooms, how can teachers shape content to relate to facilitate effective engagement? Marzano and Pickering offer five approaches that work: designing comparison tasks, creating analogical reasoning tasks, providing a choice of tasks that all relate to the same theme or idea, presenting real-world applications of the problem, and lastly, designing cognitively challenging tasks. Of the five, the last seems to align more closely with the goals of providing rigor and depth for students.
It seems that, if we design “activities that engage students in decision-making, problem solving, experimental inquiry and investigation” as Marzano and Pickering suggest, then we are accomplishing several goals at once. Firstly, we are creating a culture of explanation rather than a culture of “right answers.” Further, we have students thinking critically and at higher levels more quickly. We offer students the opportunity to succeed more readily. We allow for cooperative efforts and peer leadership to develop more naturally. When we create activities that have students involved in critical thinking and problem solving, then we are not only most closely recreating the modern workplace, but also developing the skills most necessary for our students to succeed in the modern world. It is time we break the rigid traditions of dispensing knowledge from above that were devised in the Industrial Age and move forward to understand that students are swimming in oceans of information. Let’s create the kinds of classroom methods, activities and tasks that assist our students in becoming successful in a technical, global world. Memorizing the names of the presidents in order, or the multiplication tables, or “i” before “e” except after “c”…. should not be considered learning. Today’s students can acquire this rote knowledge as they engage in more meaningful activities. Critical thinking, problem solving and decision making are the skills needed today. If we cannot teach and practice those, then the words of John Dewey will haunt us the rest of our days.
What kinds of exercises and activities are you employing to develop your students in this modern world? Share them with us. Join in a conversation about how to meet the challenges of our modern educational world. We have some methods that we have used and work, but let’s hear from you to get things going.