Social and Cultural Foundations of American Education/Dynamic Learning Environment/Engagement

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Why is engagement important?
To be a teacher in the right sense is to be a learner. I am not a teacher, only a fellow student.

—Soren Kierkegaard

“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.

Enthusiasm[edit]

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[edit]

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?).

Opportunity[edit]

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.

Environment[edit]

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.

Motivation[edit]

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.

Summary[edit]

What we learn with pleasure we never forget.

—Louis Mercier

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.

Multiple Choice Questions[edit]

Click to reveal the answer.

Which of the following shows the BEST way to involve students in a discussion?
A. An oral pop quiz.
B. Having a "What we already know" discussion where students brainstorm out loud as a group.
C. Having students read passages in the textbook, and ask questions of selected students afterward.
D. Have students listen to a lecture.

B. Having a "What we already know" discussion where students brainstorm out loud as a group.

What way would be BEST to prevent boredom in students during a history lesson?
A. Class notes taken from the overhead.
B. Role play and dressing up as Colonial Americans to act out the Boston Tea Party.
C. Questions given on a worksheet to be answered during a lecture.
D. Punish the students who do not pay attention

B. Role play and dressing up as Colonial Americans to act out the Boston Tea Party.

One aspect of the FISH! Philosophy mentioned in this article is “Be there”. Which of the following would be a good example of this?
A. Good attendance.
B. Smart planning for class discussion.
C. Find something in the lesson for the day that you would like to know more about and research it together as a class.
D. Ask the students to write a poem.

C. Find something in the lesson for the day that you would like to know more about and research it together as a class.

Which of the following creates the BEST environment for engaging students?
A. A well-organized classroom with a podium up front for the teacher.
B. A classroom that is comfortable to be in where the teacher is seated with the students during discussion/lecture time.
C. A strict no talking policy during all lectures.
D. Students who get As on their tests get to sit anywhere they want in the classroom.

B. A classroom that is comfortable to be in where the teacher is seated with the students during discussion/lecture time.

Which of the following best demonstrates a warm and relaxing learning environment?
A. Lamps placed around the room, desks placed in a semi-circle with the teacher sitting eye-level with students during a lesson
B. Neatly aligned desks in a stark white classroom where the teacher stands behind a podium
C. Desks placed in "pods" of four, with the teacher far removed from where the students are seated
D. Students are able to listen to music and sing out loud as they do their work

A. Lamps placed around the room, desks placed in a semi-circle with the teacher sitting eye-level with students during a lesson

Sam, a fourth grader, checks out three books at the Library about the solar system because he enjoys learning about this subject. Sam is demonstrating which type of motivation:
A. Intrinsic motivation
B. Extrinsic motivation
C. Social motivation
D. Student motivation

A. Intrinsic motivation

In order for Julie to get a passing grade in Science, she must get a B on her next test. Julie wants to avoid failing, so she studies every day for a week. Julie is demonstrating which type of motivation:
A. Intrinsic motivation
B. Extrinsic motivation
C. Social motivation
D. Student motivation

B. Extrinsic motivation

Kate wants to learn more about becoming a doctor. Therefore, she uses the Internet to do research. Kate is demonstrating which type of motivation:
A. Intrinsic motivation
B. Extrinsic motivation
C. Social motivation
D. Student motivation

A. Intrinsic motivation

Essay Question[edit]

Click to reveal sample responses.

How will you use engagement (your enthusiasm) to foster inspiration and curiosity in your classroom? How much importance do YOU place on engagement?

Engagement in the classroom is very important to me as a future teacher. I am fortunate that enthusiasm is part of my personality because I cannot imagine trying to engage students without it. In order to engage students, it is important to incorporate the students’ interest and curiosity about a particular subject. For instance, if I receive questions from students about types of pets, I could invite a veterinarian to speak to the class. We could also take a field trip to a zoo to learn about other types of animals. In addition to providing these activities to the students, I will also show my excitement and enthusiasm for learning more about the animals. The students will observe my curiosity and will most likely become more curious themselves. When students are interested in a particular subject, they will be more motivated to complete assignments relating to that subject matter. This presents a great opportunity to have students research a subject of their choice using newspapers, books, the Internet, etc. Listening to my students and learning about their interests will not only benefit me as the teacher, but will also benefit the students when engagement activities are utilized in the classroom. I understand the importance of engagement and plan to engage my students as often as possible. —Amanda Walters


I too feel that engaging the students is of the utmost importance. I want to keep the students motivated, interested and fully engaged. Some of the ways in which I plan on doing this is first by being enthusiastic about the topic. Encouragement, creativity and using our imagination will all contribute to us being able to engage our students fully. We must always look for ways to keep the students interested in the topics being covered so they won't become bored and disinterested. If they don't enjoy what they're doing and don't have an interest in it, it will be harder for us to teach them. We must strive to keep them curious about the topic being studied. We should think outside the box when it comes to using visual props, technology, and anything else that might grab the students’ attention. Since the students now are very digital minded we should take advantage of the technological innovations available to us. Teachers need to be technologically literate and integrate technology into their everyday lessons. This is a great way to motivate, inspire and engage the students who are so used to be surrounded by technology in their everyday lives. Teachers who have been in the schools for a number of years may be resistant to the idea of learning more about technology. There’s a good chance that they use technology in their classrooms less than newer teachers. I feel that all teachers every year should have a required technology class that they must attend so that they are kept up to date with what’s available for them to use in their classrooms. The more educated they become the more comfortable they will also become thereby increasing the chance of them using technology in their classrooms. We must not underestimate the power of technology when it comes to keeping our students engaged. —M. Johnson

References[edit]

  • 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.