Three Interrelated Keys to Greater Student Engagement and Deeper Learning

 

By Liz Locatelli, Ed. D. 

I have left most recent conversations with educators and students feeling very sad. Leaders are overwhelmed, teachers are exhausted and frustrated and students are bored. I couldn’t get my head around how we could make a difference until I had the opportunity to read a draft of Kallick and Martin-Kniep’s article, “A Three-Way Relationship in Service of Deeper Learning.” While it’s not the answer to all the ills we are facing in education today, it did remind me of the basics which we seem to be forgetting in our struggle to teach virtually.

The article reminds us of the simple facts that most educators have learned through experience. Deep learning occurs when students are given opportunities to interact with each other in exploring significant content and relevant issues, when they are held to high standards and when they are given actionable feedback that allows them to improve their performance. A number of students with whom I’ve spoken give their teachers lots of credit for all their effort, but say they feel cheated out of opportunities to interact with their peers. They complain that they are reading and answering questions, but not learning anything of real substance. They are handing in short answers but not getting feedback beyond an indication of which answers need to be corrected or pleasant comments on how nicely they’ve done.  

Out of a concern for teachers and students who are working hard but feeling unrewarded, I decided to use the basis of the article to create a tool that would help teachers to think about ways to engage students more fully, even in virtual classes. Using three labels to show what students need, A Community of Trust, Self-Agency and Meaningful Work, I provided specific examples of what a teacher can do to achieve each goal. Having worked with Giselle Martin-Kniep to create guidelines for helping teachers to incorporate Culturally Responsive Pedagogy into their lessons, I decided to use a similar format to create questions that teachers can ask themselves and their students related to the three interrelated keys or goals.  

I was excited to find that the tool was extremely helpful in my own preparation for a new Webinar on Empowering Students to Make Sense of Complex Text. With some minor adjustments, I was able to tailor the tool to fit this more specific context and to guide my thinking about the Webinar. The interrelatedness of the three keys became very clear as I rethought how to present strategies that I’ve been sharing for years and the result was a truly enhanced program. 

This is a time of great uncertainty for all of us and more than ever we need to reach out to each other, teacher to teacher, teacher to student, student to student, and the list goes on. It may take some creative thinking and planning, but we need to find ways to allow students to interact and to work together, whether in partners on the phone, in small break out rooms through Flipgrid or on Google documents that allow them to comment on each other’s work. They need to share their feelings and experiences as well as their thinking about significant topics and their own learning.  They need to be challenged and to be guided toward higher levels of achievement. With more time on their hands, students can greatly benefit from absorbing projects that allow them to focus on issues and ideas beyond their own losses and concerns. Now more than ever our students need us.  

 

Three Interrelated Keys to Greater Student Engagement and Deeper Learning

This tool is designed to help teachers explore strategies and questions that build deeper relationships with students while promoting deeper learning. 

 

Trusting Environment

Self-Agency

Meaningful Work

The teacher actively engages students in collaborative and community-building activities that help all students feel connected & respected. The teacher promotes students’ agency and self-advocacy through meaningful choices, scaffolding, feedback and goal setting processes. The teacher engages students in real-world activities that stimulate curiosity about significant questions, perspectives and texts to build dispositions/skills that prepare students for life beyond school.
 

Create surveys that allow students to give feedback to teachers about:

  • what supports them as learners
  • what they want to read or learn
  • how they want to structure their learning process
  • how they want to demonstrate learning

Provide opportunities for students to share who they area as learners by:

  • creating videos that reveal their identity: culture, interests, preferred activities
  • having group discussions around issues that invite a variety of perspectives
  • working with other students to learn about differences and commonalities

Provide opportunities for students to support each other by:

  • establishing classroom norms that promote respectful collaboration, capacity to reconcile differences, and structures for problem solving
  • providing opportunities to make sense of texts and content in small groups
  • modeling how to give feedback that is kind, specific and helpful and providing protocols for peer-review focused on specific criteria.

Developing student voice & self-agency in exploring options & determining preferences by:

  • using flexible groupings (alone, partner, small/large group; ability/language or mixed) 
  • teaching strategies for making sense of information (highlighting, annotating, mind maps, brainstorming, graphic organizers, jigsaws, carousels)
  • using multiple types of assessment (recall, product and demonstration) 
  • asking students to reflect on what did/didn’t work for them within a unit 

Empower students to assume responsibility for their own learning by: 

  • making success criteria explicit through anchors, learning targets, rubrics, etc. 
  • using scaffolding questions to support critical thinking
  • co-constructing criteria to assess students’ work accurately 
  • providing tools for students to track their own progress and reflect on how they dealt with challenges and overcame obstacles
  • helping students establish long and short- term goals.

Establish clear & specific purposes for learning by: 

  • focusing instruction and assessment on knowledge (factual, conceptual & procedural) that is most significant and relevant
  • focusing attention on thinking skills and dispositions that deepen learning and prepare students for life beyond school

Make purpose/expectations clear to students by: 

  • sharing the culminating task and criteria for success at the beginning of the unit
  • showing students how what they are learning is relevant and transfers to work in the future. 

Engage students in critically examining and exploring significant local, national & global issues by:

  • reflecting on how their own experiences and cultural influences affect how they see themselves and others
  • exploring resources that reflect a variety of perspectives and unpacking assumptions and biases.
  • using inquiry to seek the truth when resources show different/conflicting views

Provide authentic audiences for students by:

  • identifying who can benefit from what they have learned/produced
  • exploring ways to share through a variety of venues

Trusting Environment

Self-Agency

Meaningful Work

 

Sample questions for teachers:

  • Have I shared my own identify with my students?
  • Have I provided students with choices of what to learn that reflect what I have learned about their needs and interests?
  • Have I given students opportunities to work collaboratively and to assume different roles & responsibilities?
  • Have I provided protocols that promote respectful interactions and encourage all students to participate?
  • Have I helped students reflect upon their ability to work with others?
  • Have I approached student errors as opportunities to learn and improve?
  • Have I asked open-ended questions that elicit a variety of perspectives?
 

Sample questions for teachers:

  • Have I provided clarify for students concerning what is expected, where they are, and what to do to succeed?
  • Have I provided a variety of strategies and encouraged students to determine which work best for them?
  • Have I scaffolded instruction so that all students are prepared to ponder and respond to higher order questions?
  • Have I given students access to exemplars and models of the kind of work I expect them to produce?
  • Have I asked students to reflect on their learning and to consider what worked and what they want to do differently next time?
  • Have I helped students to recognize their own progress and to celebrate accomplishments even when the outcomes are not fully met?
 

Sample questions for teachers:

  • Have I considered student interests and concerns in designing lessons/units?
  • Have I communicated the purpose and expectations clearly?
  • Have I invited students to share experiences relevant to the learning and to reflect on how these affect their views?
  • Have I provided resources that relate to different cultures, races or identities?
  • Have I engaged students in using inquiry to examine issues from multiple perspectives when resources show different or conflicting views?
  • Have I provided opportunities for students to generate and ask questions that help them to look for common ground among seemingly disparate sources?
  • Have I involved students in determining the issues and problems in their community and beyond?
  • Have I encouraged students to find/consider an audience beyond our class that can benefit from what they have learned and produced?
 

Sample Questions for students:

  • What are you good at inside school? 
  • What do you want me to know about you?
  • How would your friends describe you?
  • Where do you see yourself in your future?
  • What are 3-4 outcomes you hope to achieve this year?
  • What are your preferences for how, where and when to study?
  • How did you contribute to the group work/discussion?  What could you do next time to increase your contribution?

Sample Questions for students:

  • What about this lesson/unit did you find challenging?
  • How did you respond to the challenge?
  • Which strategy worked best for you?
  • What lessons/strategies have you learned that will help you in similar situations/tasks in the future? 
  • What did you notice in the anchors/peer review that you can use to improve your own work?
 

Sample Questions for students:

  • What connections can you make to this experience/text?
  • What would you like to know about ____?
  • What information is missing and where can you find it?
  • Has anything you heard or read changed your thinking about _____?
  • What makes this author credible?  
  • What do you know about this audience?
  • What might be the best way to approach the topic with this audience?
  • What have you learned about yourself as a learner?  How will this help you in the future?

 

Three Interrelated Keys to Empowering Students to Comprehend Complex Text

This tool is designed to help teachers explore strategies and questions that build empower students to read more independently and to understand the message more deeply.  

 

Trusting Environment

Assessment Interactions

Content Integrity

The teacher actively engages students in collaborative and community-building activities that create an environment of trust where students support each other’s learning. The teacher promotes students’ agency and self-efficacy through clear expectations, meaningful choices, scaffolding, helpful feedback, reflections on learning and goal setting processes. The teacher engages students in real-world activities that stimulate curiosity about significant questions & ideas, explore a variety of perspectives and build dispositions/skills that prepare students for life beyond school.
 

Provide opportunities for students participate in non-threatening discussions/activities that allow them to 

  • share their thinking
  • to explore its accuracy and logic
  •  to rethink their initial interpretations based on new information
  • to reflect on what they have learned and how

Provide opportunities for students to share experiences that:

  • relate to the text and deepen understanding
  • might affect their interpretation of a text

Ask questions that encourage students to explore a text from a variety of perspectives: 

Provide opportunities for students to support each other by:

  • establishing classroom norms that promote respectful collaboration, capacity to reconcile differences, and structures for problem solving
  • modeling how to give feedback that is kind, specific and helpful and providing protocols for peer-review focused on specific criteria.

Developing student voice & self-agency in exploring options & determining preferences by:

  • using flexible groupings (alone, partner, small/large group; ability/language or mixed) 
  • using multiple types of assessment (recall, product and demonstration) to check for comprehension
  • encouraging students to ask questions about the text and concepts being explored

Empower students to make sense of text independently by: 

  • showing them how to focus on what they understand and can do
  • promoting independence by teaching students to use cognates, word analysis and context clues as well as strategies such as highlighting relevant lines and using graphic organizers to unpack text
  • teaching a variety of strategies for making sense 
  • asking students to reflect on which strategies or tools work best for them
  • providing learning targets that provide clear and specific guidelines 
  • using scaffolding questions to support critical thinking

Create a reason for engaging with a particular text by: 

  • focusing instruction and assessment on knowledge (factual, conceptual & procedural) that is most significant and relevant
  • focusing attention on thinking skills and dispositions that deepen learning and prepare students for life beyond school
  • selecting texts that build self-knowledge and an awareness of significant global, national and global issues and situations
  • using inquiry to seek the truth when resources show different/conflicting views

Make purpose/expectations clear to students by: 

  • sharing the culminating task and criteria for success at the beginning of the unit
  • showing students how what they are learning is relevant and transfers to future work/task

Provide authentic audiences for students by:

  • identifying who can benefit from what they have learned/produced
  • exploring ways to share through a variety of venues

Trusting Environment

Self-Agency

Meaningful Work

Sample questions for teachers:

  • Have I given students opportunities to work collaboratively and to assume different roles & responsibilities?
  • Have I provided protocols that promote respectful interactions and encourage all students to participate?
  • Have I helped students reflect upon their ability to work with others?
  • Have I approached student errors as opportunities to learn and improve?
  • Have I asked open-ended questions that elicit a variety of perspectives?
 

Sample questions for teachers:

  • Have I provided clarity for students concerning what is expected, where they are, and what to do to succeed?
  • Have I provided a variety of strategies and encouraged students to determine which work best for them?
  • Have I scaffolded instruction so that all students are prepared to ponder and respond to higher order questions?
  • Have I asked students to reflect on their learning and to consider what worked and what they want to do differently next time?
  • Have I helped students to recognize their own progress and to celebrate accomplishments even when the outcomes are not fully met?

Sample questions for teachers:

  • Have I considered student interests/concerns in selecting a focus/purpose for reading?
  • Have I communicated the purpose and expectations clearly?
  • Have I invited students to share experiences relevant to the text and to reflect on how these affect their views?
  • Have I provided texts that relate to different cultures, races or identities?
  • Have I engaged students in using inquiry to examine issues from multiple perspectives when resources show different or conflicting views?
  • Have I encouraged students to find/consider an audience beyond our class that can benefit from what they have learned and produced?
 

Sample Questions for students:

  • What do you find most challenging about reading assignments?
  • What do you do when the text contains many unfamiliar words?
  • What are your preferences for how, where and when to read?
  • What part of this text makes sense to you? 
  • Can you think of any experiences or prior learning that relates to this text?
  • How has your understanding of this text been affected by your group’s discussion? 
  • How did you contribute to the group work/discussion? What could you do next time to increase your contribution?

Sample Questions for students:

  • What about this lesson/unit did you find challenging?
  • How did you respond to the challenge?
  • Which strategy worked best for you?
  • What lessons/strategies have you learned that will help you in similar situations/tasks in the future? 
  • What did you learn from your peers that might help you to make sense of text independently in the future?

Sample Questions for students:

  • What connections can you make to this text?
  • What would you like to know about ____?
  • What information is missing and where can you find it?
  • Has anything you heard or read changed your thinking about _____?
  • What makes this author credible?  
  • What do you know about this audience?
  • What might be the best way to approach the topic with this audience?
  • What have you learned about yourself as a learner?  How will this help you in the future?

 

Liz Locatelli is a consultant at Learner-Centered Initiatives who works with teachers to create Quality Curriculum, including authentic assessment tasks, formative assessments and rubrics, all aligned to the standards. Liz has extensive background in literacy education, curriculum development, professional development and action research. She holds an Ed.D., from New York University in Literacy Education and her dissertation was on engaging teachers in creating their own curriculum.