I had an epiphany last week and it was bittersweet.  And this was my revelation – engaging students is easy.  It’s easy, and anybody with an ounce of creativity, humor, life experience, or pulse can do it.  It’s simple.  Do a cover from Justin Bieber with a kazoo.  Watch a movie with lots of violence.  Tell that story of when Uncle Jake forgot to put on his pants before he went to the store – and then was pulled over by the cops.  I can guarantee that if you try any of these methods that student who gives you that just-make-me-care-I-dare-you stare will be glued.  If it is only engagement you’re after, you now have three new strategies for your next class.  Brilliant.

I’m obviously being a little facetious and to be fair, simple engagement is not erroneous in any way and it is critically important to create interest in what you teach.  Engagement always needs to start somewhere.  Whether it’s through an authentic learning activity, meaningful relationship, or personal charisma, student engagement needs an initial spark (and fuel) to get started – it can’t start ex nihilo (although that would be nice).  Simple engagement seeks to draw students into the learning.  What makes it difficult (simple is not synonymous with easy) is trying to find a way to engage a class full of individual students, with unique needs, learning styles, and interests.  On top of this, what works for one class may not work for another, which means there is no simple answer for creating engagement in your class.  Personally, I’ve been scouring Ebay in the hopes that someone will sell their engage-o-matic magic wand and *poof* problem solved.  Too bad life doesn’t work like that!  (Seriously though, if you know anyone with a magic wand…)

Sustaining engagement is something entirely different and much more difficult (which is a daunting thought).  Last week  I came to the conclusion that creating student engagement is something I’m fairly good at.  And just when I was about to give myself a big fat congratulatory pat on the back for completing my inquiry, this other niggling thought wormed it’s way into my brain:  Is the engagement I create sustainable?  Well…no.  Not usually.  I’m almost done with the interview series I talked about in my previous blog and when that’s finished – back to the regular boring assignments?  Or will the experience of having learned in such an authentic context carry them through the rest of their time in my class?  Sustainable engagement is when students no longer need me to perform in order for them to be interested.  When they care about what they’re learning on a deeply personal level.  So how do I create this?

Sustainable engagement has just as much to do with the student as it does with me. It involves a shift where the responsibility to learn moves from my shoulders and becomes a shared experience.  It’s like some sort of epistemological shift happens and the student takes ownership over his or her learning.  My guess is that this shift happens in different ways, at different times for each and every student – for some it may happen in grade one, while for others it may take the duration of high school, and others may never experience it.  My goal is to try to create a classroom where engagement is sustained and my inquiry is shifting to reflect this goal.  How do I create a classroom where sustained engagement can be fostered?  What is my role within this context?  What is my next step?

As always, your thoughts are always welcome…

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