This month, as a Leadership group in RPS, we have focused our professional learning conversations with our principal and vice-principal leadership teams on Student Engagement and Belonging.
We used several resources to engage in a conversation about actualizing strategies for increasing student engagement including a closer look at our Tell Them From Me (TTFM) data collected by a sampling of our grade 7 to 10 students last year. TTFM Results for Student Engagement RPS 2012 and TTFM Report on Student Outcomes and School Climate RPS 2012 were very informative for preliminary discussions about student engagement and how we can incorporate student voice into our planning. The TTFM national data is the basis of the What Did You Do In School Today (WDYDIST) research series and classifies Student Engagement into three domains: Social Engagement, Institutional Engagement and Instructional Engagement. The following two charts come directly from this WDYDIST research:
Figure 1. – Nine Measures of Student Engagement:
This construct resonates well with me both as an educator and as a parent. School Divisions across the province too frequently see students whose level of engagement is wanting in school. We need to have a deeper understanding of the ways kids connect to school. Often, student engagement in school centers around social contexts: spending time with friends, participating in activities, clubs and sports. While this is important for their sense of belonging, our mandate as schools and school divisions should be a little more profound. We are slightly closer to our goal in situations where our students are engaged at the institutional level, where they know how to "do school". They are able to follow the rules, and do the assignments, know what is required to receive a successful grade or credit, understand the value of schooling to be successful in life but are not heavily invested in their own learning. I would argue that we should strive to go beyond institutional engagement to where we tap into students creativity and passion for learning.
I recently attended a LEADS conference on Early Childhood. In the module, I was taught and reminded that a rich Early Years classroom should have the following attributes consistently evident. They should include a classroom environment that permeates joy, play, inquiry, student interest, choice, collaboration, projects, curiosity, interdisciplinary study, personalized learning, differentiated activities and experiential learning experiences. What immediately came to mind were the following questions: Should not those same attributes be evident in all our classrooms K through 12? Why aren't they?
How do we support and encourage educators to provide rich learning experiences and extend the boundaries of the classroom that move students beyond institutional engagement to intellectual engagement? The current trend line, through the voice of students nationally and confirmed locally, is very distressing with our students starting to disengage as early as elementary school and a slow steady decline through high school where it is less than 20%.
I believe it is at the level of the elusive Intellectual Engagement that we must focus our energies so that students are actively and passionately involved in their own learning. Fortunately, there are many examples of promising practices and success in our Division that have found a way to improve engagement. A potential solution is found in classrooms that use an inquiry learning approach, based on student interest structured through an open ended essential question that requires more than a cursory Google search for answers. It often is coupled with project based learning and research where the student must design, construct meaning, discover and share their learning. In some cases, this approach can also be framed around service learning, social justice and global awareness projects designed to understand and better the world around them, whether it is through local initiatives or trying to right global injustices. One example of this is Campbell Collegiate's participation in We Day and Free The Children’s We Act program which " inspires a generation to care about local and global issues and provides the practical tools needed to turn that inspiration into action. Launched by the energy and message of We Day, We Act puts students at the forefront of service learning by educating them on social issues, developing leadership skills, and engaging them in world-changing action."
Valuing and incorporating Student Voice into our classrooms is a significant pedagogical shift that needs to occur more frequently in our schools. Kids Speak Out On Engagement is an excellent reminder of the top ten things that students would have educators remember to help them stay motivated to learn in classrooms. Making the course relevant to the real world and showing how what they are learning connects to the world around them are significant for engagement. Student choice, collaboration, mixing it up, technology, and being passionate about what we are teaching are a few other suggestions that students have for increasing their engagement in our classes. The following TEDTalk, Go With It! Connecting Kids To Learning That Matters To Them, features one of our own, Cori Miller, current principal at Balfour Collegiate. She recounts her journey from her first teaching assignment to her instructional leadership approach today and reminds us that by listening to and actively involving students to take ownership of their learning and recognize their ability to make a difference in their community to we will get a lot more output and engagement then when we try to force our own agenda and keep school the way we experienced school.
Another example of fostering a climate that is intellectually engaging is provided through the integration of technology by primary teachers, Trina Crawford and Danielle Maley, at Hawrylak. Danielle uses technology and BYOD to encourage her grade 1 students to learn how to read and write through blogging. Not surprisingly, the level of student engagement increases dramatically as the students quickly realize that their writing is important and has a much wider audience than just their classroom teacher. They become extremely excited when they receive a reply to their post and in turn are motivated to continue to develop their ideas and creativity by responding and sharing other aspects of their world. Reading, Writing and Tweeting, by Emma Graney at the Leader Post highlights her engaging work to support literacy instruction at the primary level, but this example certainly illustrates that the appropriate use of technology does not need to be limited to primary grades and has huge potential for all our students through grade 12.
Our Middle Years Practical and Applied Arts (MYPAA) is another initiative that promotes the teaching of literacy and numeracy through a hands on approach. Students in grades 6 - 8 have the opportunity to participate in a variety of hands-on experiential learning experiences including woodworking, electrical, wind, CO2 cars, robotics, beading, cooking, photography, bicycle repair,and radio. All of these portable kits are available to our elementary schools and do not require the traditional shop spaces that exist in our high schools. These kits, with links to literacy and numeracy outcomes, have proven so popular that we are expanding the number and array of kits available to our students to make learning relevant with real world applications. Joni Darke, our MYPAA Facilitator, has been instrumental in advancing this work with the underlying goal of providing accessible curriculum to all of our learners. Mobilizing Hands-on Learning and Innovations in Education: Practical and Applied Arts are two feature articles that highlight her efforts and the return on our investment in MYPAA for increased student engagement.
My final example is a celebration for engaging students by ensuring that what we are teaching is individualized, differentiated and adapted at students' level of growth and ability. With an increasingly diverse and mobile student demographic, it is imperative that schools become more versed in Intervention strategies. One size does not fit all in our classrooms. It is critical that we continue to develop our understanding of Intervention First (our version of Response to Intervention, RTI) and all the accompanying strategies, most importantly at Tier 1 to respond to students who are not learning to their potential.
Students will be much more inclined to be engaged in their learning if they are taught differently to access curriculum and allowed to demonstrate their learning in a variety of ways. Some schools are well on their way to figuring it out and shared their understanding and practices with aspiring administrators with the U of R, EADM 870 students. Kudos to four of our school teams from Ready, Centennial, Kitchener and Connaught for an amazing celebration and discussion around Intervention First and Inclusionary practices and their efforts to meet the learning needs of students in their home school. The evening was a wonderful tribute to the school culture and processes established in these four school buildings to create a learning environment that is accessible and welcoming to all students of all abilities. As the various aspects of Intervention First were discussed, staff continually demonstrated their commitment to providing and supporting Tier 1 and 2 interventions to ensure that all students can successfully access curriculum and work at their instructional level. Whether discussing assistive technology, Kurzweil, timetabling, balanced literacy and numeracy, class environment, sensory and self-regulation, meta cognition, assessment, PLC’s, LIP development, case management, parental involvement, outside agency involvement, wrap around SA team involvement and the integration of FIAP and SLC students into regular classrooms, all passionately spoke about the commitment to providing the least restrictive and most conducive learning environment possible by providing the differentiation and adaptations at the classroom and school level to meet individual student needs. And while the work is challenging in preparation time, working with challenging behaviors and educating staff, students heard loud and clear how rewarding it is to see students beam with pride as they successfully learn beside their peers when given the opportunity.
Thanks and congratulations go out to the Ready team of Maryanne Kotylak, Kama Pechey, Taylor Stepan, Lydia Leung, and Maureen Taylor; the Connaught team: Kamille Lech and Carlie Brentnell; the Kitchener team: Angie Balkwill and Wanda Lapchuk; the Centennial team: Stacey Bradley, Jeannette Revet (Pawson), Karen Jaska and Shari Powers; and the Team Lerminiaux Student Achievement members Wanda Saul, psychologist, and Krista Tameling, Occupational Therapist.
These are but a few examples of promising practices in Regina Public that promote student engagement and a rich learning experience for all. The students in Regina are very fortunate to work with and learn from such amazingly talented educators who exemplify daily their commitment to engaging all learners. Isn't that our ultimate goal for students?