You’ve seen it: Students sitting quietly in their rows of desks. The teacher, well prepared with deep thinking questions standing somewhere in the room. The teacher asks a question. 2 or 3 hands go up. The teacher calls on one student. All the other students sit quietly.
If this several years ago, I’d say this was a well working classroom: Students are quiet, teacher is in charge.
What if I told you this doesn’t count as distinguished or even proficient teaching?
In Daneilson’s framework, domain 3C describes this critical attribute:
- Most students are intellectually engaged in the lesson.
- Most learning tasks have multiple correct responses or approaches and/or encourage higher-order thinking.
- Students are invited to explain their thinking as part of completing tasks.
- Materials and resources support the learning goals and require intellectual engagement, as appropriate.
- The pacing of the lesson provides students the time needed to be intellectually engaged.
- The teacher uses groupings that are suitable to the lesson activities.
Most students are intellectually engaged in the lesson.
Even more convicting: the Danielson Framework tells us that Student Engagement is the cornerstone, the centerpiece, of quality instruction. All other aspects of quality teaching hinges on this standard.
As I reflect on my instruction, I can’t say that most students were engaged. I think about all those times I had students silently copying text or notes from the overhead (yes, I’ve been teaching that long). I think about the times I encouraged students to ‘read’ silently with no purpose or focus.
When we think about engagement and student achievement, research tells us the more students are participating and engaged, the higher their levels of cognition and achievement can be.
As a staff, we are endeavoring to increase engagement, with the goal of increasing deeper thinking and intellectually meaningful work.
Where to start? To begin, another teacher and myself lead the staff through the QFT (Question Formulation Technique).
Our beginning prompt was Student Engagement and Higher Order Thinking.
We watched a short video of a lesson clip.
Then teachers wrote questions following the QFT protocol. Here are some of the resulting questions.
We used the QFT protocol to both model an engagement strategy that can work with students, but to also get teachers to begin thinking about their understanding of active student engagement.
Earlier in the month the school’s leadership team chose to read Total Participation Techniques: Making Every Student an Active Learner by Persida Himmele and William Himmele. The team read through the 37 easy to implement strategies and narrow the list to 6 we would try as a school.
After the QFT protocol, we asked teachers to sign up for one of the 6 engagement strategies, try it within the next 4 weeks, and be ready to come back and discuss. We’re attempting a PLC model, where teachers choose a problem of practice (in this case, student engagement), try a highly effective strategy, and gather to share and discuss. I’ll try a strategy and get back to you. Stay tuned!