Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Engaging Today's Students in Active Learning (Part 5)

English: Students learning about snow, in the ...
Students learning about snow, in the the snow! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by Candace Mondello

In Parts 1 through 3 of this series discussed barriers to active learning - various causes that impacted students' ability or willingness to learn.

In Part 4 we looked at strategies to grab students' interest and get them involved in their own learning.

In Part 5, the final article in this series, we'll discuss the final strategies to engage your students.

Building Trust

Beyond the mechanics of the classroom, beyond the curriculum, the technology used, and the external tickets lay the core of motivation: Relationships. Many students, today as well as over the course of time, long for someone to trust. More often than not, they are burned in their quest.

Teachers, too, pull back. Legalities and politics dampen the desire to pour their heart and soul into teaching. Too involved and a teacher may be charged with abuse; too detached and a teacher loses communication of anything valuable to the students.

There are degrees of trust: removing distrust is a completely different concept than building trust. Distrust is the absence of trust-the beliefs that people are actively trying to harm you. Trust is basically the belief and confidence that people will follow through on their promises, and that they have the capability to do so.

Building trust, however, is an active process whereby individuals allow themselves to be transparent to others, and therefore, vulnerable. Building trust involves risk. In such, it seems that building trust is a cyclic process; that once an individual takes a risk to trust and anticipates outcomes were attained, the ability to trust in that instance is deepened and the risk is diminished in regard to future actions.

The strength and transparency of the student/teacher relationship contributes to a more solid student learning experience. The positive relationship allows students to identify with their teacher and feel a sense of belonging.

Teachers who reveal themselves to their students, who allow students to get to know who they are, have more success building relationships with students. It is important that teachers demonstrate their personal side-feelings, emotions, difficulties, and successes.

By modeling transparency, students learn to build trust and relationships ... a skill that will serve them for the rest of their lives both personally and professionally.

Another aspect important to building trust with students is teachers' ability to laugh at them selves when they make mistakes. Distrust develops at a much greater rate when teachers make excuses or attempt to gloss over their own errors and, conversely, student trust and respect are heightened when teachers allow themselves to be exposed, openly accept responsibility for their errors, and move on.

Problem-solving skills involve discovering how to recover from mistakes-an integral part of students' success in their future careers. Actually building time into lesson plans to deal with mistakes is considered a worthwhile process.

Projects or assignments containing defects allow students an opportunity to remedy problems through critical thinking. Students learn to respond effectively to miscalculations or faulty materials-a skill that corporations find to increase employability.

Discovering that several paths exist to remedy a given situation contribute to students developing acceptance and tolerance for numerous solutions or opinions that differ from their own-helping them to grasp the concept of more than one right answer.

Students need to know how to identify their strengths and integrate their skills in class assignments. Most students demonstrate a basic need of self-value; that they have something to contribute to the whole.


Using the example of mentoring from the business world, and equally as important, reverse mentoring, students learn the value of helping each other. Instead of viewing the learning process as a competition (in which one student must fail for another to succeed), education needs to be viewed as a collaborative effort.

Encouraging students to help each other learn-while experiencing no negative consequence to their own grades or personal achievement-improves student behavior. Most students are familiar with working in study groups or teams particularly on class projects; however, many students don't experience positive, true interdependence.

Unfortunately, in an often confused and forced process, students are randomly grouped and expected to work together on a common goal without guidance on group-interaction skills.

Positive group experiences are more likely when the team members grades include extra credit points for participating in a group, a percent of grade for group members is based on teammate evaluation, and students feel they have a responsibility to educate classmates during presentations rather than simply being graded on a data dump.

Another powerful aspect of encouragement and motivation involves student awareness of scholastic value. Students are more encouraged to participate when they understand exactly how the classroom material applies to their life and specifically, their future. They need the balanced guidance from educators who understand and can explain honestly what to expect from the working world.

Understanding the strong connection between scholastics and life application helps to reinforce the importance of education and cause students to better engage in learning. Since no two students respond to the same stimulus in the same way, variety is imperative.

American students are generally offered so much choice that the freedom ultimately confines them-a concept referred to as choice overload. Although students may initially crave free, open choice without any limitation, the reality of such a concept proves to be so overwhelming that students actually experience demotivation.

However, completing tasks in a monotonous way leads to complacency ... both by teachers and students. Imagination crafted into planning and presentation through student involvement raises students' level of participation and increases their stake in the outcome.

It also contributes to an increased student perception of responsibility to learn and to contribute to the learning process-motivating students to engage in active learning.

We've examined barriers that block teachers from effectively engaging students in the learning process in a classroom environment. These barriers include home life challenges, feelings of not belonging or not identifying with schoolmates, disrupted sleep patterns, and varying learning styles.

We know these challenges contribute to the average high school student's decreased motivation to learn. Hopefully, you've gained insight into the modern-day educational crisis and a few strategies to intervene and improve the system.

Have more questions about helping your child get the BEST education possible? If your child struggles in school - this blog is your resource for finding the answers and getting results. Candee has been an educator in the public system for a decade. She LOVES helping parents connect with their child's education. Go to her website Dyslexia Testing Online and talk with her!!

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