Sunday, December 6, 2015

Brights spots of engagement

That's one of our students on the slackine. It was one of our Friday Fitness options this week. It's much harder than it looks, but it's an addictive blast. And he was fully engaged. How can we get students to be this engaged in learning?

For this week's "pick-me-up" activity on Friday morning, I gave the students the data we've been collecting on engagement. Ellen, our instructional assistant, has been walking around at random times each day recording how many students are on-task. As I told the kids Friday morning, "on-task" is not the same as engagement, and certainly not the same as flow, but it'll have to do for now.

So I handed out the data--just a list dates, times, and percentages, telling them that I wanted them to be a part of this whole "empowerment evaluation" process I'm trying to implement here. I told them I wanted them to have a say in improving their school.

I talked about doing science on ourselves. Research. Making hypotheses and testing them against the data--looking for patterns.

And then what happened?

Well, there was at least one comment along the lines of "Man, we suck!"

There was also some blank staring at the sheet.

But there was also plenty of discussion, and plenty of observations being thrown around.

I didn't give them this graph--just the data.
A few were surprised that Monday was so high. There was at least one hypothesis about why that was the case.

Many noticed that Tuesday and Thursday were very low. But this didn't surprise anyone, since these are the internship days, when fewer students are here, and those who are here are waiting to go to internship or returning from internship.

So I asked them the central question, "Would you like to see these numbers increase?" After a few heartfelt answers of "Yes!" I reminded them that if you want to see something change, you have to change something. You can't keep doing everything the same and expect results to change (seems like I've heard that somewhere before...).

As I walked around checking on their work, there were several students jotting things down on the data sheet, but one student in particular stood out. His sheet was covered in calculations. He was a picture of engagement. In fact, I'm pretty sure he was in flow.

I asked what he was finding, and he told me that he'd figured out that Wednesday's had the highest engagement, followed by Mondays and then Fridays. He'd done this by summing up all of the percentages for each day.

Why didn't he use the average? Because he was starting from where he was. I'm not sure he knew what an average was, or that it could apply here. Instead, he was working with what he knew to solve a new and meaningful problem.

Later, when he was back in his classroom, still working on the problem, I saw that he had a table constructed that included the numbers of data points for each day of the week. He had figured out that the different numbers of measurements on each day were important. When I asked him about it the problem, he replied, "Yeah, I know. I'm gonna even that out later."

Awesome. Awesome example of problem solving. Awesome example of motivation. Autonomy, mastery, and purpose in action.

He didn't have to do it (Autonomy).

He was in his flow channel (Mastery).

He was working on a real problem--to figure out what was happening with student engagement at his school (Purpose).

"One of the techniques for solving problems is called Bright Spots Analysis," I had told the students earlier that morning. "You look at the best days, and ask yourself why they are the best, and you try to replicate that."

This engaged student on Friday was a bright spot. Working with that data, doing some serious quantitative reasoning, he was as engaged as he was on that slackline. He was as engaged as I've ever seen him--as engaged as I've ever seen any student, for that matter.

Now if we can just replicate that.

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