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“Engagement” is the principal buzzword in today’s educational world, probably because studies have linked positive student engagement with increased student achievement. These studies clearly demonstrate that “students learn more and retain more information when they actively participate in the learning process.”* These same studies identify TEACHERS as the critical factor in both engagement and in improved achievement. So, we come back, yet again, to what all teachers have known forever — Teachers Matter!

While validation is nice, this “Teachers Matter” idea cuts both ways. Teachers are crucial in improving student achievement, but they are also held responsible when students do not perform well, regardless of any extenuating factors or conditions. National, state and local administrations expect teachers to create collaborative, supportive environments with high, but achievable, standards.* At the same time, scholars, administrators, politicians and bureaucrats at all levels recommend a wide variety of learning strategies to improve student learning. Condensing and synthesizing most of these suggestions, the common elements of effective student learning seem to be:

                          1. Creating and sustaining a supportive learning community.

                          2. Designing experiences that interest learners.

                          3. Making connections to students’ lives.

                          4. Aligning learning experiences to important outcomes.

I can hear you thinking, “Here we go again. Here comes another ‘shiny new idea’ for solving a complex problem.”

We are not going to offer any panaceas here. What we do suggest is not “another shiny new idea, method or approach,” but one that was tried and true at all levels of education for nearly 100 years. It is teacher-directed, student-centered, standards-based and incorporates stuffthe Common Core. It engages students, is discipline-gender-age neutral and teaches students 21st century skills. It is “stuff.”

We suggest you use “stuff” to teach. “Stuff” connects your goals and objectives with standards and Common Core requirements and allows you to make connections to students lives. “Stuff” is discipline-neutral. It doesn’t matter whether you teach math, science, social studies or Language Arts, “stuff” works. You get to choose what “stuff” works for you. What do we mean by “stuff”? Stay connected over the next few weeks and we will show you our “stuff.”

*Studies cited:

Akey, T.M. School Context, Student Attitudes and Behavior, and Academic Achievement: An Exploratory Analysis. NY: MDRC, 2003.

Garcia-Reid, P., Reid, P., Peterson, N.A. School Engagement Among Latino Youthin an Urban Middle School Context. Valuing the role of Social Support.  Education and Urban Society, May, 2005. Vol. 37, No. 3, pp. 257 – 275.

Heller, R., Calderon, S. and Medrich E, Academic Achievement in the Middle Grades: What does Research Tell Us? Atlanta: South Regional Education board, 2003.


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