Social and Cultural Foundations of American Education/Dynamic Learning Environment/Engagement
|“||To be a teacher in the right sense is to be a learner. I am not a teacher, only a fellow student.||”|
“Do not train children to learning by force and harshness, but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each” (Shalaway). These words of inspiration for teachers, left to us by Plato, provide the framework for seeing the importance of engaging students in the classroom. Through engagement, a teacher can positively influence the way his or her students view learning. Chances are you remember a certain teacher who truly made an impression on your young life. It is also likely that this particular teacher in your life is someone you would like to model in your own teaching career. All teachers have a desire to be “THE ONE” students remember as making a profound difference in their lives. In order to achieve that goal, we must first look at the importance of engagement in the classroom. After all, learning can not take place unless those being taught are engaged in the lesson! Several keys unlock the door to the importance of the art of engagement in the classroom: enthusiasm, curiosity, opportunity, environment and motivation. Each of these key items plays a vital role in recognizing the importance of engaging students.
|Several keys unlock the door to the importance of the art of engagement in the classroom: enthusiasm, curiosity, opportunity, environment and motivation.|
The first key is enthusiasm. Former classroom teacher and current school librarian Nicole Foley says, “Teachers must be everything. Given the amount and quality of entertainment children are exposed to these days, teachers have to be entertainers to engage their students. You must convey your enthusiasm to hook your students. Engagement is 99% of teaching. If you get their attention and keep it, the lessons themselves are so much easier!”(N. Foley, personal interview, September 16, 2006). Enthusiasm does not necessarily mean doing handstands or waving your arms wildly in front of the classroom, although this would definitely be engaging. Enthusiasm stems from a love of teaching and the attitude a teacher brings into the classroom. ChartHouse Learning and the FISH! Philosophy tells us to: Be There, Play, Make Their Day, and Choose Your Attitude (Strand). These are all keys to engagement, and the great significance engagement plays in the classroom. Attitude is everything, says Ryan and Cooper, who wrote Those Who Can, Teach. “If teachers have warmth, empathy, sensitivity, enthusiasm, and humor, they are much more likely to be successful than if they lack these characteristics” (Ryan). A teacher who models enthusiasm will infect students with a passion and desire to learn. True learning stems from this desire. If a teacher has a genuine enthusiasm for teaching in general, it makes it much easier for him or her to find the enthusiasm within for specific lessons. Remember, it is very difficult to be interested in something that the presenter obviously finds boring. Every classroom can thrive with enthusiasm, because enthusiasm fosters curiosity.
Curiosity is the second key in the importance of engaging students in the classroom. WANTING to know something makes it so much easier to “tune-in” to the subject matter. Enthusiasm is contagious. This point is brought out in The Excellent 11, by Ron Clark, teacher, author, and motivator. It may take some time, but students will begin to “catch” your enthusiasm in the classroom. The excitement you share will foster curiosity (Clark). Humans are, by nature, creatures of curiosity. To tap into that natural interest is to keep the minds of your students open and wanting to learn (Shalaway). Being curious with your students is also very important. Any group of students will be more interested if the teacher shows interest in learning with his or her students. Modeling curiosity sends the message that “we will learn together”. The concept of curiosity provides NATURAL motivation, which brings us to the third key to the importance of engagement: opportunity (not sure colon is best punctuation?).
The science of teaching is dependent upon engagement because it provides the opportunity, through creative means, to see and teach to different learning styles and skill levels. Engagement also provides the opportunity to become aware of areas where strengths and weaknesses lie. Being fully engaged WITH your students provides the opportunity to explore any lesson in a number of different ways (visual, tactile, and auditory). In addition, being fully engaged with your students will give you a chance to practice the true work of a teacher: molding students into independent thinkers and teaching them how to learn. Kathryn Elmore, a teaching associate at Roanoke College, told The Roanoke Times, “Our children are our greatest hope for fixing the messes we have made of this world. We must embolden them to think outside the box. We need to teach them not just to answer correctly, but to question the answers they have been given”(Elmore). It is through the opportunity afforded us by way of engagement that we can achieve this goal. Engagement provides the opportunity to focus on building a relationship with your students. Elmore also states that “The secret to creating a positive learning community is found within the teacher-student relationship. Good teachers already know this little secret." The significance of engagement in the classroom is seen in the opportunities it provides as well as the environment it creates.
An engaged classroom environment, the fourth key to understanding the importance of engagement, is achieved by creating a place where students WANT to be. Ron Clark tells a personal story in his book, The Excellent 11, about a year in which he walked into his classroom to find white walls and old, ugly desks. He proceeded to make this room engaging by means of electric blue paint. Voila! The students wanted to come to that classroom, probably to see what he would do next!(Clark). Mr. Clark had an instant environment which engaged his students. The concept of environment as part of the significance of engagement is simple. It reaches far beyond electric blue paint. An engaged teacher makes his or her classroom a place of interest, where students are welcomed by a caring instructor who values their thoughts and opinions.
Webster’s Third International Dictionary gives this definition of motivation: “to stimulate the active interest in a study through appeal to associate interests or by special devices: to make a study interesting or otherwise appealing to students.” (Janes, Koutsopanagos, Mason, Villaranda, 2000) Motivational dispositions are within each of us as a person whether we recognize it or not. It is the fifth key to understanding the importance of engagement. Basically we are born with motivational dispositions. However it is also true to say that there are different types of motivation some we are born with and some that we learn as we have more contact with other human beings in both learning and social environments. As a teacher one of the strongest motivational tools you have is yourself and the classroom. Students must find you and your classroom attractive. Each student wants to know that you, the teacher are happy to be there, which in turn influences them to be happy to be there. Motivation is key to a student’s success. “…students’ motivation to learn apply not only to performance (work on assignments or test) but also to the information processing that is involved in learning content or skills in the first place (attending to lessons, reading for understanding, comprehending instructions, putting things into one’s own words).” Brophy.
High motivation can help students get the most out of school. A student’s motivation depends on the student’s desire to participate in the learning process. There are two main types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. A student who is intrinsically motivated learns for the enjoyment it provides and for a feeling of accomplishment. When a student learns in order to earn a reward or to avoid a consequence or punishment, the student is extrinsically motivated (Janes, Koutsopanagos, Mason, Villaranda, 2000). Understanding how students are motivated can help teachers engage students in the classroom. In order to develop an engaged learning environment, it is important for teachers to incorporate the students’ interest and curiosity about a particular subject. Incorporating guest speakers, field trips, role-play, reading books and newspapers on a specific subject will engage the students (Janes, Koutsopanagos, Mason, Villaranda, 2000). While utilizing each key (enthusiasm, curiosity, opportunity and environment) to unlock each student’s engagement, keep in mind student’s motivation prevents him or her from being left behind.
|“||What we learn with pleasure we never forget.||”|
Through the keys of enthusiasm, curiosity, opportunity, environment and motivation you can see the magnitude of engagement in every teacher’s classroom. Although it is our hope as educators that students remember the lessons taught in our classroom, it is certain that they will remember how we made them feel. It is through engagement that a teacher will find the opportunity to make a lifelong impression upon a young child’s heart and mind.
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- Brophy, Jere. Motivating Students to Learn. 1998 pp12.
- Clark, R. (2004). The Excellent 11. New York: Hyperion.
- Elmore, Kathryn S. (2006, September 3). Time please to teach more than test. The Roanoke Times, p. H3.
- Foley, N. Personal interview, September 16, 2006.
- Janes, Leslie M.; Koutsopanagos, Caryn Lee; Mason, Diane S.; Villaranda, Iris. (2000). Improving Student Motivation through the Use of Engaged Learning, Cooperative Learning and Multiple Intelligences. Retrieved from: ERIC (Educational Resources Information Center) ED 443559.
- Ryan, K. and Cooper, J. (2007). Those Who Can, Teach. Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin.
- Shalaway, L. (1998). Learning to Teach. NewYork: Scholastic.
- Strand, P., Christensen, J., Halper, A. (2006). Schools of Fish! Burnsville, MN: ChartHouse International Learning.