Responsible, Engaged, Autonomous, and Connected Learners
Students accept and demonstrate personal responsibility for their education by becoming autonomous (self-directed) learners fully engaged in all aspects of the educational process and firmly connected to the school community.
I will be a better student if I act on the following beliefs:
- My learning is my responsibility.
- I gain the most when I learn and lose the most when I don’t.
- The more I put into my education, the more I will get out of it.
- I will do better in school and enjoy it more if I actively participate in events and create connections between me and my teachers and classmates.
- Explain and illustrate what self-motivation and self-reliance look like with stories, exercises, and activities.
- Tell a story showing how failing to learn only hurts the student (e.g., a girl who didn’t learn to swim because she didn’t like her swimming teacher or her swimming teacher didn’t like her); what good does blaming her teacher do when she falls overboard in a lake?).
- “If we can’t first connect with our students’ hearts, then we don’t have a chance of connecting with their minds.” – Justin Tarte
- “Our kids do not want to be taught, they want to be moved… focus a little less on figuring out how you will teach them, and a little more on how you will inspire them.” – Paul Bogush
- “Students will only care about learning if they believe that their teachers care about them.” – Nicholas A. Ferroni
- “One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.” – Malala Yousafzai
- “What we learn with pleasure we never forget.” – Alfred Mercier
Igniting Student Engagement: A Roadmap for Learning by John McCarthy
The opening months of school are a time of optimism and new beginnings. Each school year’s start rejuvenates educators and students. Yet these feelings can quickly turn sour if we do not encourage students to find meaning in what we ask them to do. There are ways to engage learners in lessons and units. Here are three practices that, when incorporated by teachers, offer entry points for students to invest in their learning.
Communicating authentic purpose to students is critical if we want their attention. Beyond the school walls, there is much that captures peoples’ notice — games, social media, entertainment, events, and friends. All of these often out-match the potential value of the school curriculum. Keeping learning real requires three easy steps:
- Connect skills and concepts to students’ interests. – Curriculum is often taught as non-concrete concepts that are steeped in academic abstractions (just like this sentence). Learning happens when we connect concepts with practical applications, such as the effects of centripetal force from a tight turn on a skateboard, bike, or car. Understanding also happens through reflection on and revision of creative writing, or prototypes that demonstrate the targeted skills and concepts.
- Engage students in professional dialogue with experts in the field. – Parents, friends, and colleagues either have the expertise or know “the right people” who can talk with (not to) your students. Professional dialogue is an authentic practice that provides context for subject-based skills. Often, a guest will say something that the teacher has already said many times, yet now the students embrace the idea because it came from that outside person. Professional dialogue is not the guest talking at the learners. Instead, the conversation is a give-and-take. Students recognize when they are included as contributors.
- Challenge students to solve a problem, design for a need, or explore their own questions. – Give students real-world challenges to solve. The experiences may be a single activity, a collection of lessons, or an entire unit. Discovery in science, math, games, and other areas happens through trial and error. Opportunities to apply concepts in practical ways are important to learning. Reflecting on successes and mistakes is where growth occurs, sparking new ideas and innovations. The process takes time in the short term, but if sustained learning is key, then the long journey to the destination outcomes is worth the effort. Otherwise, students see the work as a checklist to be completed and forgotten.
If You Engage Learners, They Will Take Over
Each new school year is a crossroads of many travel options. Students drive their learning when we share the maps, empowering them to chart their way to the various unit destinations. Provide them a clear view to a purposeful outcome that has meaning to them, and they will want the wheel. They will invest the time and practice needed to become confident drivers. When they want to control, our best option is to give them the keys. There’s always the extra set of brakes available to us — but we should tap them only when needed.