I think about student engagement, what we call on-task behavior, a lot. All the time it seems. I’ve written a few blogs on the subject. I wrote What is On Task back in April of 2011, I wrote How Much Socializing Can You Put Up With on August of 2011, I wrote, I’m Bored, So What on October of 2011, and I wrote Innovation, Passion, Engagement on January 2012.
With regards to What is On Task I didn’t improve much on my 6th grade water quality project. Allowing for kids to learn at their own pace still resulted in some finishing every component, some finishing little to none of the components, and some falling all over an in between area. With the 8th grade plant project I am implementing some of the ideas people suggested in the comments. I am including more frequent, shorter deadlines for different parts of the project to give some more structure than last year.Â We’ll see how that goes. Already teams, and kids, are at different stages from those who are off and running to those who are still at the starting line.
I look at my own kids. My daughter has never done anything, from potty training to eating her veggies, until she is ready. No manner of coaxing, cajoling, or disciplining has managed to do otherwise. She’s eight. My son is different. He responded better to coaxing, cajoling and disciplining. He would do as he was told, when he was told but he is more passive aggressive in letting us know that he’s not ready to do something. He’s 14. Two different ways of letting the adults in their lives know when they are not ready to do something.
So as a teacher what I am trying to do? I am under the delusion that I can get 27 to 30 unique, individual kids to do what I want them to do when I want them to do it.
So what am I learning from these experiences? Ease up on kids without easing up them. If you think that’s nuts, you’re right! But that is what teachers try to do every day whether they realize it or not. It’s that fine balance between having kids work and learn and realizing that not all our students are going to want to, or be able to, work and learn every day, every period, in every subject. This is what drives me crazy and leads to sleepless nights! I don’t know when to ease up, when to be okay with off task behavior, when to feel okay moving on even though not everyone is done, when it’s okay to extend a deadline even though 10 to 20% of kids are done. One thing I do know from working with so many kids is that no matter how hard I try to make a lesson, activity, or project engaging, even if I let them choose everything, it’s NOT engaging to everyone! Why??
One thing that helps me sleep at night is the knowledge that middle school aged kids come in all shapes and sizes, and that they are NOT all at the same level of anything. And after 21 years of teaching, 15 of those at the same building, I see that even those kids that worry me the most in middle school turn out okay as they get older. Maturity plays an essential role and I have to keep reminding myself of that. I have to keep reminding myself that most of those little 6th graders and those bigger 8th graders (some bigger than me!) do mature into high school students and adults who will be okay.
It’s that lesson, that most of my students will be okay, that helps me ease up on them now. Ease up by not being so frantic that they all do everything I have planned for them and instead to allow them to tell me what they will and can do when they are in my classroom. It’s not easy for me but at least I’m working on it because I still don’t have this student engagement thing figured out.
Have you figured this thing out?