When Teengagement® first began producing Units of Study way back in 2005, occasionally we would receive feedback from customers that sounded something like this
“Our students love it! They come into class excited to read each article—and these are kids who don’t read. But I’m concerned that it’s too interesting; after all, their standardized test has boring articles that they won’t even try to read. Shouldn’t we focus on practicing those?”
Student engagement is a popular buzzword in education—even mandated by Common Core. But when we engage students through content, aren’t we simply dumbing down the material? Are we saying, “You can’t handle this boring text, so I’ve made it more interesting for you?”
Our answer, quite simply, is no. Research backs the idea of engagement, which is proven to decrease the drop-out rate and increase student literacy success. How does this work? Motivating, and therefore engaging, students to read (and to learn to read) means that they must:
- perceive the topic as something they feel strongly about or have interest in
- feel that the topic is worthy of the effort of communicating their ideas, and
- be motivated to read or write about the topic outside the classroom
“Taking Action on Adolescent Literacy” breaks it down, stating,
“Becoming skilled readers, writers, speakers, listeners, and thinkers requires ample opportunity for practice, authentic reasons for communicating, and effective instructional support. To achieve competence in literacy, students must be motivated to engage with literacy tasks and to improve their proficiency as readers and writers. Instruction and practice then provide the coaching and feedback necessary to gain competence. Increased competence inspires continued motivation to engage. This cycle supports improved student achievement.” (emphasis mine)
A Winning Combination
Students need ample opportunities to practice skills in order to become experts. The acts of providing engaging texts, coupled with instructional strategies designed to motivate and involve, are a winning combination for any student—but especially those who struggle to engage in learning.
Does this mean that we should only provide students with material they’re already interested in? Of course that isn’t practical, nor should we limit their worldview in this way. Engaging students through strategies, relationships, and giving them questions to answer about important, authentic issues and events is equally important. Engagement as the central focus of the culture of education is crucial, because it is engagement that leads to persistent preparation and interaction.
Next week I’ll show how Teengagement has designed our Units of Study to maximize student engagement.
Irvin, J., Meltzer, J, and Dukes, M. “Taking Action on Adolescent Literacy: An Implementation Guide For School Leaders.” ASDC.org. 2007.