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Engaging Students: What Works

Born to Learn is delighted to be able to share this piece written in Learn magazine, a magazine produced by the British Columbia Ministry of Education. Learn asked students from Gulf Islands Secondary School to write a column sharing their thoughts on the importance of student engagement in BC’s education system. This is their contribution, written from their own perspectives. They want the reader to know that they do not intend to speak for all students. Our thanks to Farley, Madee, and Lauren for their thoughtful and frank student perspective.

Engaging Students: What Works
By Farley Cannon, Maddee Nash, and Lauren Utter

Student engagement is an essential component of education. When students are engaged, they are inspired to be creative and collaborative, to develop goals and passions, and to become interested and invested in their own education. Engagement becomes the core of learning as students are not only physically present in their studies, but mentally absorbed a well. This requires the involvement of two sides: student and teacher. The foundation of the school system as it has existed in the past and, in many cases, still exists today, is based upon lecture-style teaching, which in its nature is one-sided, and thus does not have the capacity to fully engage students.

How learning is assessed and graded is also important. The present grading system often does not emphasize the importance of students being engaged during the process; rather, evaluation often focuses solely on the final product – the grade. Within this system of evaluation, students can easily become disengaged when they are not invited in to the process as equal participants in their own assessment and success. Too often students are not even aware of how or why they received the grades they did. If students are not involved in the process of their own learning, the grades will have no meaning.

What works better for students? Assessing learning processes and competencies, and the ability to think critically, for example (rather than factual learning outcomes), will promote and encourage students to engage and focus on their education. All the learning that goes on before a grade is assigned cannot be reduced to a single letter of the alphabet. Even students who receive “good” grades are often no longer challenged by what they are learning; instead their challenge lies in continuing to prioritize school above all of their interests. Students in this situation often have to forgo valuable learning opportunities, whether in or out of school, due to the abundance of redundant school work. In these cases, school is taking away from possible educational experiences instead of providing them.

Some students have let go of their school work for this reason in order to pursue activities and passions that are not widely perceived as educational. These students are then regarded as disengaged when really they are just not engaged in what is available to learn at school. Why is “school learning” considered to be more valuable than something extracurricular that is, in fact, engaging for a particular student?

As it stands, students who are “disengaged,” and even some who appear to be “engaged,” are unable to reach their full potential, whether it is because they are not being challenged in valuable ways or because they are not interested in what school has to offer. Making education an engaging and enjoyable process will result in students learning worthwhile life capacities, such as critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, inquisitiveness and innovation. Acquiring these skills, not just the ability to score well on tests, should be the goals of a good education.

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