We’re Engaged! or 3 Must-Do Strategies to Move from Compliance to Engagement

By on April 15, 2013

I guarantee, if you’re anything like me, you’ve been there before. Maybe it was during your undergrad. Maybe during your credential program. Maybe it’s been at (dare I say it?) a professional development seminar. You’re sitting there watching a bunch of projected slides, with a bunch of handouts in front of you. You nod when you’re supposed to. You talk to the people next to you when you’re supposed to. You leave the class for the day and never return to the material you just “learned.” Sound familiar?

In these situations, like the good and dutiful students we are, we were compliant. We did what we were asked. We passed. We got our hours. We left. But were we engaged?

What is the difference between compliance and engagement?
If we jump out of the student role and into our teacher role, we can learn a lot about this potential problem. Brilliant, well-prepared, well-meaning educators fall into this trap all the time. We know this because we’ve all experienced it from the other side of the podium. The word itself--compliance--conjures up images of factories, machines, and robots. And if there’s something I don’t want to do, it’s churning out a bunch of robots from my classroom. I want to help raise up thinkers.

If we take a hard look at our own teaching methods, though, we might find that we, unintentionally, enable compliance through our expectations of students. Eek. Our kids, ESPECIALLY our best and brightest, know exactly what to do to comply to get the grade.

But is that why each of us have made the sacrifices we have to commit our lives to teaching? Heck no! We all want full engagement! We want my classroom to be a place where kids love to learn for the sake of learning and expanding, not just for the external reward of a grade or a passed class.

So how do we do this?
Enter the LTA Environment. The LTA Environment is what we hope all our classroom environments to be. It is made up of four elements that support us teachers in shaping our students into lifelong learners when the enter into our four classroom walls, each and every day.

In trying to solve the issue of compliance vs. engagement, let’s look at one of those four elements: Engagement.

There are three ways we can engage students: physically, socially, and intellectually.

1. Physical Engagement
Physical engagement occurs when we move our students around. We get them out of their seats to do a 4-corners activity. We have them raise different color cards to help us check their understanding. We have them circulate for a gallery walk. We can have them make appointments in their appointment books. Physical engagement is good and necessary, but if done alone, is actually the least effective engagement strategy because kids can still comply passively. To kick the engagement up, it’s imperative we add the other two methods. Which, brings us to number 2...

2. Social Engagement
Social engagement, simply put, gets kids talking. Research states that the most effective learning environments for students engage them in discussion or sharing activities every 5-8 minutes to help them process ideas. But these discussions don’t have to take forever. Even a quick 20 second exchange can keep the energy up in your classroom and help your students comprehend and retain information, particularly from a rigorous text. It asks all students to socially engage, not just the ones raising their hands, having, in essence a one-on-one conversation with the teacher with 35 other onlookers. Teachers may choose to have longer lessons that engage students socially, like a socratic circle discussion. Some fun ways to get kids engaged socially can be found under collaborative work. Like the physical engagement strategy, however, social engagement activities can devolve into compliance activities if the questions we ask don’t challenge our students intellectually. We do this by promoting high-level thinking. And that, then, brings us to number 3...

3. Intellectual Engagement
Intellectual engagement happens when we put the onus on our students to create meaning from the questions or challenges we present within our discipline. It allows us to step out of the role of “Deliverer of Information” and into the role of “Facilitator.” Without intellectual engagement, physical and social engagement becomes play time and an opportunity for passive compliance. If your kids leave your classroom still talking about what you were all discussing in class, you know you’ve hit the sweet spot of intellectual engagement. We get to this level when we have challenged our students through the questions and tasks we ask them to do with the information we have presented.

When our classroom environment models the LTA environment, all three engagement strategies are happening.

Engagement is seen when students...

  • form arguments and support their claims with strong evidence or supporting details.
  • lift individual white boards high into the air with answers to a higher level question.
  • analyze and synthesize complex ideas through speaking or writing.
  • apply knowledge to new learning experiences in class, online, or outside.
  • evaluate the validity or credibility of an idea or process.
  • work in pairs or small groups to solve problems.
  • collaborate online using 21st century tools.
  • apply scientific principles and methods to authentic research.

Stay engaged by joining the conversation
If you, or your colleagues are working on engaging students, share this post by forwarding it to a friend, posting it on Facebook, or tweeting about, using the social sharing buttons below.

We know, that as experts in your field, engagement can be seen in lots of ways. Please leave a comment below and let us know how you either physically, socially, or intellectually engage your students.

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