It is easy to see that part of this problem is that the more time in school, the more disconnected it gets from how we learn. This is where Connected Learning really strikes home for me. As Mimi Ito states in a recent Huffington Post piece, “Connected learning is when you’re pursuing knowledge and expertise around something you care deeply about, and you’re supported by friends and institutions who share and recognize this common passion or purpose.” Ryan Bretag, Metania blog
The drop in student engagement for each year students are in school is our monumental, collective national failure. There are several things that might help to explain why this is happening -- ranging from our overzealous focus on standardized testing and curricula to our lack of experiential and project-based learning pathways for students -- not to mention the lack of pathways for students who will not and do not want to go on to college. Brandon Busteed, Executive Director of Gallup Education.
Do these findings suprise anyone? In my own experience and from listening to my own children, this is an accurate graph. The only change I'd make would be to extend the engagement drop through the first two years of college before the direction moves upward again when general education requirements are met.
As both Bretag and Busteed suggest above, some correlations between engagment, relevance, and project-based learning can be easily and correctly drawn. I've been fussing about the need for concrete ways to improve projects since, oh, about 1999. And it's obvious nobody has been listening and now look what's happened. Maybe another approach?
Perhaps our elementary collegues know something about engagement that secondary teachers don't? With apologies to Robert Fulghum. It's been more than a couple years since I attended kindergarten, but I remember it as three of the best years of my life (old joke). Anyway...
Everything I know about engagement I learned in kindergarten
In kindergarten you get
- Show and tell. You got to do something or bring something and then tell others about it. Secondary skill attainment measurement needs to be less about testing and more about show and tell performance-based assessment. Oh, and listening to other students is a lot more involving than listening to the old person in the room.
- Choices. As a little kid you often got to choose - your library book, your reading buddy, your activity, the subject of your drawing. People tend to choose things that interest them and interesting things are engaging. How often do we let older students choose?
- Play. Elementary teachers can make a game out of almost anything - and make just about every task feel like play. The older we get, the less we get to play and more we have to work. Just why is that? Gamification is a fancy term for putting play back into the curriculum. Look it up.
- Naps. Most adolescents I know are tired - and not because they've been up all night texting. (Well, maybe that's part of it.) We've long known that teens do better when school starts later in the morning. Tired people have a tough time staying engaged.
- To go outside. The best learning takes place in the "real world" not in the classroom. Whether it is studying bugs and leaves in first grade, marching with the band in junior high, or doing service learning as seniors, we all are more interested when it is the real world with which we are dealing.
- Colors. A blank sheet of construction paper and some crayolas have always let young learners be creative. Creativity is inherently engaging. What's the high school classroom's equivilant to scissors and paste?
- To do it together. Reading groups. Play groups. Science groups. It's better with other kids. Social learners are engaged learners.
- Reading for enjoyment. Our elementary teachers and librarians want us to practice reading so much they let us read what we like! Do our secondary teachers want us to write so much, know so much, experiment so much, and solve problems so much that we get to do it for enjoyment?
- Learning that's important. Nobody needs to convince a little kid that learning to read, to add and subtract, or to know about firemen is important. And that you should pay attention when being taught these things. Calculus, world history, the Romantic poets, the atomic structure of non-metals, not so much. If you can't convince me what you are teaching should be important to me, teach something that is.
- Care. OK, this should have been the first one. I really believe a lot little kids are engaged because they know someone cares that they are. Yeah, the littlies are cute and cuddly and all that, but the gangly, awkward, homely teens need to know adults care too. When someone else is paying attention to you, you pay more attention yourself.
There you are - 10 simple steps to keep the engagement level from tanking.