Posts Tagged ‘engagement’

So, I’ve been thinking about the gathering I hosted on Friday.

At the encouragement of a colleague I invited all my teaching colleagues to a 1:1 What’s Working gathering on Friday after school. I know it sounds like a terrible time, but students get out early on Friday and we (faculty) aren’t really supposed to leave right away. I sent out an invite of sorts and promised food. I got a handful of acceptances right away. Then on the morning of the gathering I sent out this picture of the cake I made for the event. I got some more people with that.


So, I think what’s working is cake. This chocolate sour cream bunt cake from Cook’s Illustrated (January,2004) never disappoints.

I expected folks to stay 30 minutes, maybe 45 minutes at most. A number of people came and went as they needed to. Totally fine. I didn’t want this to be some serious meeting with an agenda. I took notes so that people could just listen and talk. But then, it turned out people stayed. And stayed longer. At the hour and a half marked we had to call it an afternoon.

What was exciting was having people come together to share the positives. I get plenty of complaints from people. I don’t think I’m in danger of not hearing the negative stuff. Hearing about all different things that are working for particular classrooms and courses was so interesting. It’s always so great to hear the excitement and enthusiasm people have for what they are doing. I can’t help but be excited too.

So, what did people share? Here’s a quick link to my notes. Feel free to read through, take what you need, ask any questions in the comments, suggest your own favorite classroom tech use, share a recipe.

I am curious about how other schools and tech coaches engage their colleagues generally. Our Middle School Tech Coach, @Betny802, has been hosting weekly Tea and Tech gatherings for a number of weeks. She sends out a note with the menu (1 beverage, 1 food item, 1 tech thing) in advance and has been getting a few people at each tea. She’s building momentum. Our Lower School Technology Coach, the very connected @TeacherDebra, sends out regular digests of ideas with shout outs to particular teachers. She is also in and out of classrooms all the time. In high school I don’t think that teachers expect or would take well to me wandering in and out of rooms during class. We have a mid-day break time that is a possibility, but I have not had any luck with that as a gathering time, except to trouble shoot, hence the Friday option.

So, moving forward, I want to continue our gatherings. I plan to stick with the Friday time for right now. Here are my questions:

  • Every week seems too frequent, but once a month might not be enough. Every other week?
  • Do I try to sneak in a little something in particular, or just let the sharing take its course?
  • Maybe on alternate Fridays have a learning session that comes out of ideas that were shared the week before? Too much?

I’d love some thoughts.


So I’ve been thinking about student engagement and empowerment. A few weeks ago I wrote about technology’s ability to add sparkle and perhaps encourage students to lean in to a topic. My original post was about engaging students partly because it began from some frustration with technology resistors. In particular I was thinking about folks who resisting tech integration on the grounds that technology adds fun and fun is bad.

I had some conversations with others, via the comments and Twitter, that are the basis for this post. In a comment of my previous post, Philip Cummings (@Philip_Cummings) made the very good point that engaging isn’t always enough.

I worry that too often we take stuff that just isn’t engaging to kids and try to infuse it with technology in order to engage them. For example, grammar drills aren’t going to become magically engaging just because you ask kids to do them on an iPad. Engaging learning is purposeful, meaningful, and timely to the learner. It connects with their passions and interests; the learners must think it matters (and not just for the test on Friday). My school is 1:1 with tons of technology-infused into lessons, but students still aren’t always engaged. The shiny might help for a little while, but I think it wears off fast.

I totally agree with Philip as I said in my reply to him. I was making a case, though perhaps not very effectively, for including technology as one of the ways teachers try to encourage students to lean in to a topic–as a hook to real purposeful learning not as a flashy cover for boring rote stuff.

Then on Twitter I had a conversation with Christina Brennan (@christybrenn) The key word in that conversation was empowering.

Screen Shot 2014-03-16 at 11.22.16 PM

I think both of them were talking about the much bigger and more significant step of empowering students with technology. Again, I totally agree. (I was back there being frustrated about who was taking the very first step.) My big picture goals for students’ technology use include empowerment. Faculty believing that technology might help to engage students in meaningful work is a start and only a start. Setting a goal of using technology to empower students is much more impressive, important, forward-thinking, and interesting. And, let’s face it, maybe terrifying.

So, I started with the less threatening engaging. But is it less threatening a reasonable early step or is it a side step that doesn’t really get us on the path to empowerment?

So, I’ve been thinking about resistance, in particular resistance to integrating technology into class. Honestly, I think about this frequently. There’s the fear thing, the time thing, the kids-will-know-more-than-I-do thing. Another “thing” I’ve been tossing around in my head is the technology-is-fun-and-we-are-doing-serious-work thing.

CC photo by Paul Farning

CC photo by Paul Farning

I think there’s something about the trifecta of high level courses, high performing schools, and high-powered students that lends itself to all of us taking ourselves a little too seriously in the classroom. To be clear, I am very serious about education. By that I mean that I believe with my entire being in the power of learning and the transformative potential of students doing excellent work. I believe that students should work hard at school; it should push them intellectually; they should wrestle with ideas; feedback on work should be constructive, honest, and supportive. I think that all students should create work in many forms and actively reflect on their learning. I do not advocate “cute idea teaching” where projects that have no educational value but look great on the walls are the norm. And, in the same breath without contradiction, I am also all for a little sparkle. I want all students to lean in to whatever class they are in. Sometimes that pure form of a subject, however bright and shiny it appears to the teacher who specializes in it, does not look that way to the students. Sure we can take the attitude that “this is good for them,” like vegetables. However, putting our subject matter in the category of things students don’t like is probably not productive. Mixing in a little secret spice to (insert your favorite subject here) goes a long way in terms of adding appeal without watering down. If we can make what we know is good and worthy and valuable a little more appealing to the unconvinced would that be wrong?

In a recent blog post John Chubb, President of NAIS (National Association of Independent School) wrote about student engagement. He titled his post “Measuring what Matters: Student Engagement.” So, I’m thinking he’s all for student engagement just from that title alone. He references Ferris Bueller Day Off “Bueller, Bueller. . .” If that doesn’t make any teacher want to weep, I don’t know what will.

When I advocate using technology in class to increase engagement, I am never suggesting turning class into recess (see my point about “cute idea teaching” above). But, in some circles fun and even engaging has become a bad word, a word that means easy, not rigorous. Fun and engaging do not mean those things; I double checked. Helping students find a less intimidating and more engaging way into the material or discussion is not making the class too easy. It is meeting students where they are and moving them forward. If by sprinkling a little sparkly technology dust onto what we are doing I can get my students to lean in a little bit more, put forth some more effort, discover this topic is more interesting than they suspected, push them to think, super. I am not above a bait and switch.

So many teachers I know are great performers in class.  They will dramatize, use funny pictures, joke, anything they can to get help their students see the subject matter in a more possitive light. Why should that stop at technology? Technology is one more tool (actually many, many tools some of which will disappear just when you have fallen in love with them) to add to your bag of tricks. And, let’s face it creating the next generation of (insert your particular discipline here) scholars is not going to happen without students enjoying the subject matter and the work.