Thursday, October 3, 2013

Engagement is the Key to Learning

By Scott Powers, Chief Learning Officer

Two primary goals of schools are 1) to help students attain the knowledge and skills they need to be successful when they leave school and 2) to help students learn how to learn because the knowledge and skills required to be successful in the world change over time.

In recent years, Texas has emphasized, through its curriculum requirements, the need to prepare students for a changing and increasingly complex world by developing standards for college and career readiness (CCRS) and integrating these standards into the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), the foundational content knowledge and skills students should master to graduate. During the most recent legislative session, state lawmakers reinforced the importance of college and career readiness standards in K-12 education, making indicators of college and career readiness part of the state's accountability system for schools and districts.

This raises a couple of questions for schools and their communities. One, what exactly is college and career readiness? Two, what kinds of learning environments will help students achieve college and career readiness?

As for the first question, Texas was the first state to adopt college and career readiness standards. The standards were jointly created through a process that included public education, higher education, and business stakeholders. The state's college and career readiness standards represent a broad range of knowledge and skills that students need to succeed in entry-level college courses, as well as in a wide range of majors and careers, and they require more active student participation in the learning environment. While the CCRS are organized into the four distinct core content areas of English/language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies, there are elements that cut across all four disciplines. According to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, these cross-disciplinary components of the CCRS are tools that college instructors in all areas use to challenge, engage, and evaluate students in each specific subject area. The CCRS include, but are not limited to, such things as:
  • developing problem analysis and problem solving skills, 
  • developing an ability to engage in inquiry and dialogue, 
  • developing the ability to self-monitor learning,
  • working collaboratively to complete and master tasks, 
  • and conducting research including identifying topics and questions to be investigated, evaluating sources of information, and designing and presenting effective products.
So now the second question: What kinds of learning environments will help students achieve college and career readiness? We know that school is often not very engaging for many students, particularly as they get into junior high and high school. Research strongly suggests that the longer students stay in school, the less engaged they become. We also know that student engagement positively correlates with grades, attendance, retention, graduation, employment, performance on standardized tests, and college and career readiness. The Texas legislature believes part the answer to this question is in addressing the problem of student engagement. In addition to making college and career readiness an indicator of student achievement in the accountability system, the state has also made student engagement a component of school district accountability. Navasota ISD also believes student engagement, the extent to which students actively participate in the learning process, is a key to achieving college and career readiness. So how do we engage students? We create opportunities for students to be more active in the learning environment through the very standards we are already required to use to help students attain the knowledge and skills they need to be successful when they leave school and that prepare them for college and careers (CCRS); more problem analysis and problem solving, more inquiry and dialogue, more interaction with others in the classroom, greater use of technology, and more emphasis on creatively demonstrating what is learned. With more than 80 percent of 21st century jobs requiring some post-secondary education, the risk is not in trying to engage students in more active learning. It's in not doing so.

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