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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

What Causes Engagement? #rockhill #rhschoolboard #rockhillschools

Fellow board member Dr. Jane Sharp had these comments on a recent  blog post of hers:

Teachers = Engagement = Achievement? IPads?

When Randy Bridges came to RH3 as Superintendent in 2002 he brought with him his strong belief in the power of engagement as espoused by Philip Schlechty.  According to Schlechty we need to change public schools from “places focused on compliance to those focused on engagement. “  From my, thankfully infrequent, experiences of sitting in classes that consisted of boring lectures and filling in worksheets I knew that he had a point but felt his suggestions provided a framework but no bricks.   That is, his recommendation to “work on the work” was not enough for me to identify specific actions.  When several years before I retired I discovered another approach called Professional Learning Communities I knew I had discovered my bricks. 
By teacher collaboration (consistently working together to plan instruction), monitoring data (teacher’s regularly giving small tests to check understanding and sharing results), weekly remediation and enrichment (sharing and working with each other’s kids trying to let none fall behind) we did achieve growth in learning we were all proud of.  In 2007-08, 84% of tested students passed the state reading test; 81% passed in math.  97% of teachers, 82% of fifth graders, and 86 % of parents said they were pleased with the learning environment.  (Engagement?)  The school was recognized for progress in “closing the achievement gap.”  Not surprisingly, I continue to think of this as an effective way to organize for instruction.
However, Rock Hill 3’s current superintendent, Lynn Moody, was trained under Randy Bridges and still has great belief in the Schlechty model.  We can’t really talk together about this topic because, as I have said to her, her eyes glaze over when I talk of Professional Learning Communities and I quit listening when she talks of engagement.
However, we are preparing to move into another era in instruction and I have been recently pondering my prejudices.  Lynn’s position, I believe, is that by adopting personal computer devices we will increase engagement which will lead to increased learning.  I can’t deny that student engagement is important.  I need to know the relationship, if any, between computers, engagement and learning.
For the past weeks I have been roaming the web.  To avoid (though probably not enough)  reminders of college research papers as possible I put all references I used at the end and just talk about what I learned.
Many of the studies were correlational studies.  As many of us learned  in college correlation doesn’t necessarily indicate causality.  Because two things happen together doesn’t mean one causes the other.  One article evaluated 30 studies to determine what research says about one-to-one initiatives.  (One-to-one means providing a computer for each student.) Some found that after a school adopted the use of 1-to-1 computing some achievement scores improved.  In one large study math scores improved more than in reading.  Other reports found that after 1-to-1 was started student engagement improved but academic scores showed little change.   Again, correlation means two qualities seem to be associated but not that one causes the other.  There could be another factor/change that influences both.
When teacher behavior was included in the mix there were certain teacher actions associated with improvements in both achievement and/or engagement.    One kind of effective action describes the teacher’s skill in maintaining classroom order by noticing students who did not understand and helping them quickly or recognizing and reinforcing students who were involved.   Another skill describes a teacher supporting students’ commitment to learning the content and meeting academic goals.  Teachers with this skill had an especially a strong, positive effect on achievement.  Skillful teacher behaviors included asking questions which had no pre-specified answer or validating student responses by including their ideas in follow-up discussions.  When teachers do these kinds of things improvement in student motivation (engagement) AND achievement often occur.  Students who see teachers creating a caring, well-structured classroom where expectations are high, clear, and fair are likely to say they feel engaged in school.   High levels of engagement then tend to be associated with higher attendance and test scores.
There were numerous anecdotal reports (not cited here) on 1-to-1 computing where a single teacher, writing on a personal blog, reported increases in achievement.  A single teacher who starts using digital devices and finds that scores improve cannot conclude that the computers caused the improvement.  Although unintended, the teacher’s expectations and changes in teaching styles could affect the outcome.
A few reports simultaneously examined the use of computers, academic outcomes and also included measures on teacher behaviors.  In cases where the computers were correlated with improvements in academics the teachers lectured less, provided more individual and group project work, and worked and shared more with other teachers.  Extended professional development (additional education in teaching methods) also occurred with most successful programs, i.e., those where students’ learning improved.
So, at least in the sampling of studies I read, teacher support seems critically important to student engagement and achievement.  Student who feel their teachers treat them with fairness, caring, and high expectations for their success are more likely to report being engaged in school.  High levels of engagement are associated with better academic performance.  Thus, the sequence appears to go from teacher skill and support, teacher teaching method (1-to-1 personal devices or not) to students engagement to academic performance.
If we want academic improvement we have to focus on our teachers, making sure they have the professional development they need as well as the time to collaborate with their colleagues in planning instruction and re-teaching where needed.  Care for our teachers is a crucial step in our anticipated move to one-to-one computing.  Most studies of the introduction of new technologies suggest that without due attention and support for teaching communities our chances of success will be much reduced.
  1. Bebell, Damien, O’Dyer L. Educational Outcomes and Research from 1:1 Computing Settings.  Journal of Learning Technology and Assessment.   January, 2010 . Vol. 9, No. Special Report
  2. Gates Foundation Report Learning About Teaching 2010
  3. Klem, A. M., Connell, J. P. Relationships Matter:  Linking Teacher Support to Students Engagement and Achievement.  Journal of School Health. 74 (7). Sept. ‘04
  4. McGarity, J. R, Jr., Butts, D. P. The relationship among teacher classroom management behavior, student engagement, and student achievement of middle and high school science students of varying aptitudes.  Journal of Research in Science Teaching. 21(1) Jan. ‘84
  5. Nystrand, M, Gamoran, A. Student Engagement: When Recitation Becomes Conversation.
  6. ProjectRed’s research summary.
  7.  Sauers, N. J. McLeod, S.  What Does the Research Say About School One-To-One Computing Initiatives. Castle Briefs  UCEA Center for the Advanced Study of Technology Leadership in Education.  University of Kentucky.  May, 2012.
  8. Skinner. E.A,  Bellmont, M. J. Motivation in the Classroom: Reciprocal effects of teacher behavior and student engagement across the school year.  Journal of Educational Psychology 85(4), Dec, ’93.

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