In February the Grattan Institute, (an independent think tank focussed on Australian public policy), canvasses the issue of student engagemet in a new report. This is a key aspect of the work of schools and the focus of much of our work at Lauriston.
As the authors of the report cogently point out the way in which a teacher sets up the learning environment in the classroom in the first few weeks of the year will have a significant effect on the quality of the outcomes. Fortunately, at Lauriston we do not have to contend with poor student behaviour and just about all of the girls come with a significant commitment to learning.
Lauriston focusses on learning processes which are clear and which are unambiguous about high expectations. This climate built on a foundation of good relationships with and between students provides a pathway for success in its many forms.
When I reflect on my own schooling and the expectations of my days at school I have come to realise that we expect much more of today’s students especially around higher order thinking and the capacity to critically scrutinize the information available through a range of mediums. No longer is knowledge alone sufficient.
The Grattan Institute report raises a number of issues related to student engagement pointing out the importance of creating a positive classroom environment. It asks questions about the efficacy of noisy classrooms and about passive disengagement (compliant, but not involved) and it proposes what works best in successful learning environments. In the first week it was released the report attracted its share of critique but it has some sensible things to say about how good schools minimise disengagement and maximize value add.
So, what things can we do to encourage engagement and to maximize effective learning? The research tells us that high expectations, strong teacher-student relationships and clarity and structure in instruction are key elements for success in preventing disengagement. In addition, active learning (where the student willingly participates) and is challenged and rewarded by positive praise and encouragement will minimise passive disengagement.
One of the current initiatives at Lauriston involves the development of signature projects at years 7, 8 and 10. These projects are experiential and challenging and they utilize the resources that the school has already put in place for example the FabLearn Lab. The projects are also interdisciplinary and provide opportunities for the integration of digital tools.
One of the tricks in maintaining student engagement is being able to adapt to changing learning styles and we know that the internet, hand held devices, YouTube and Apps have changed the way in which students access information and then manipulate it to meet their needs. As teachers we have had to adapt too in order to continue to provide stimulating learning environment.