In the upcoming newsletter from our schools, Explorations in Learning, one GMS teacher, Leona Barnes is quoted — “Student engagement occurs when students are actively invested in their own learning . . . they see themselves as stakeholders in their own learning.”

This statement is the tip of the iceberg for Ms. Barnes.  She is the epitome of the teacher/facilitator who works daily to keep ‘her kids’ involved in learning.   When she was asked to define engagement she wrote:  ”Tom, thanks for asking me.  It really allowed me to step back and analyze what I do with the students.”  She appears to reflect frequently about the way she teaches.  Her full statement describes her philosophy of engagement.

Definition:  From my vantage point, student engagement occurs when students are actively invested in their own learning.  In other words, at this point in the learning process, they see themselves as “stake-holders” in their own learning.  I feel like I’m in “teacher heaven” when this happens in my classroom. 

 As I was reflecting on this question, I realized that there were several strategies that I keep in mind to foster student engagement:

1.  Each unit begins with a big question.  Students have to view their learning with a sense of “wonderment.”  Giving them an opportunity to express what they would like to learn in relation to our unit engages them right at the beginning.

2.  Material is presented in small “chunks.”

3.  Students are given a variety of ways with which to work with these smaller pieces of information.

4.  Once students have mastered all of these pieces of information, they have to put it together to make sense of the whole. (Sometimes, I start with the “whole” and then we analyze the “pieces.”)

 Because the lesson was broken into smaller steps, students will arrive at #4 feeling a sense of confidence and security, so it’s easier to take risks when learning.  I’m also very careful as to what kind of feedback I give when students are engaged.  The feedback must always be stated positively, so that students will continue to feel confident and secure during this learning process.

Thanks Mrs.Leona Barnes for your exciting teaching and your visionary instructional leadership at GMS.