Last week I wrote about the case for engagement in the classroom, and how critical it is to student success. Today I’d like to discuss how, at Teengagement®, we strive to bring the reality of engagement into our materials.
At least half of engagement, probably more, is directed by the culture a teacher cultivates in the classroom, but content has a role to play, too. By providing engaging materials, even those teachers who struggle to connect with students have a starting point to hook students into learning and begin to build a relationship. Better yet, a teacher using engaging materials and strategies is well on the way to creating that culture of learning—a reciprocal process. At Teengagement, our purpose is to empower teachers .
High-Interest Units of Study
One great way to engage students, and the principle on which Teengagement was originally founded, is to draw them into reading by providing content that is relevant and meaningful to their lives. Sure, ultimately our goal isn’t for students to only read what they find interesting, but if our first goal is to help them read proficiently, hooking them is a highly effective way to start. This is especially true for at-risk and low achieving students, which is why at Teengagement many of our units cover topics such as literature and movies, technology, bullying and music.
By drawing students into a unit about a topic they have a connection to, or providing students with a topic that is relevant and meaningful, teachers have an opportunity to reach them. Teachers can use texts that students are motivated to read to teach students effective reading strategies that can be transferred to other texts. Teengagement units of study begin with a High-Interest Article, the purpose of which is to provide an informational text that’s a portal to student learning. From there, having hooked the student through their interest in the article, building background knowledge, and effective teaching strategies, the topic can be explored through paired texts and data. The High-Interest Article builds the foundation of engagement.
The next part of student engagement deals with how students can apply the methods and ideas they are learning to their lives. A recent research study on engagement found that,
“Students feel a sense of autonomy when doing work that, rather than simply fulfilling school requirements, relates to their interests and has personal meaning; that is, when students believe that the content of the curriculum and the design of instruction provide opportunities for self-exploration and when the activities provided are meaningful, relevant, and related to personal interests and goals, they feel a sense of autonomy.” (Wang, 2013)
Teengagement incorporates this idea first with the Essential Question, which asks students to use the unit texts to build knowledge of the world by answering a real-world question. Once students are hooked by the High-Interest topic, the remaining unit parts foster deeper exploration of the Essential Question.
Other portions of a unit ask students to apply knowledge in real-life scenarios. The Technical Writing Prompt and Ethical Dilemma ask students to respond to an authentic scenario based on the text, while the Data Integration section presents actual data related to the high-interest topic for students to explore and analyze. Giving students meaningful ways to interact with text increases their motivation.
Opportunities for Conversation and Collaboration
Another way to encourage engagement is to provide students with ample opportunities to actually use the text. Writing, of course, is a traditional way to manipulate text. But, especially for struggling students, providing tools to effectively collaborate (through discussion protocols, etc.) with peers provides an extra layer of engagement.
Within Teengagement units, teachers can and should use multiple unit parts as opportunities for collaboration and conversation, with the added bonus of meeting Speaking and Listening standards. The Essential Question and text-based discussion questions are designed to provoke rich and rigorous evidence-based conversations about text. And the Authentic Assessment, a performance task designed to expand the perspective of the Essential Question, asks students to authentically apply the text while collaborating with their peers.
Finally, engagement occurs when students are invested in their learning. Ownership is born out of one or more of the engaging factors discussed above. When students are drawn organically to a subject, when they can see its tangible application to their life, when they feel it is important enough to collaborate on with their peers… that is when ownership translates into the kind of engagement that transforms students from passive to active learners.
Ultimately, when students take ownership of their learning, they mature and gain a sense of satisfaction from it. Teengagement wants to empower teachers to engage their students, igniting a sense of curiosity and wonder, all through text.
Wang, M. “School context, achievement motivation, and academic engagement: A longitudinal study of school engagement using a multidimensional perspective.” Learning and Instruction, Vol. 28. December 2013.