Forging the Route
Student engagement has been viewed through the classroom management lens for far too long. There is little to no correlation between how quietly students work away at their assigned tasks, and what actual learning is occurring.
Students spending the bulk of a period colouring a map or completing an endless parade of worksheets may appear quite engrossed in what they are doing, but it’s the “what they are doing” that requires much deeper analysis. For meaningful, sustainable learning to have a realistic chance to occur, students must feel both purposefully connected to, and intellectually challenged by, a given task. These key task criteria help distinguish superficial short-term filler from deep long-term fulfillment.
Fill in the blank tasks are, by definition, filler. At best, they occupy a space in a student’s short-term memory until they are retrieved on test day, rarely, if ever, to be referenced again. In order for students to be truly engaged in a task, it must have the depth and relevance to be genuinely meaningful to them. We often make the erroneous assumption that disengaged students are frustrated and overwhelmed by the given assignment. They are indeed frustrated, but it’s often from being continually underwhelmed. Far too many times in their educational careers, they have been all set to don scuba gear and then realize that a mere snorkel will more than suffice in navigating the shallow tasks ahead.
Authentic student engagement often results in elevated voices, passionate discussions/debates, and triggers more questions than answers. After all, for real learning to occur our students must be encouraged to forge the route, not simply follow the rote.