The Gallup Student poll measures “the hope, engagement, and wellbeing of public school students in grades 5 through 12 across the United States.” Brian Busteed, Gallup Education’s Executive Director, told attendees at the Education Commission of the States National Forum yesterday that in their 2013 poll, Gallup learned that student engagement drops through the secondary years. This alarming statistic was accompanied by another, perhaps more chilling data set: educators are similarly disengaged. Of all professionals, teachers are the least likely to say, “At work, my opinions seem to count.” Finally, Busteed delivered the correlative piece that brought it all together: Students who strongly agreed with two statements, “My school is committed to building the strengths of each student,” and “I have at least one teacher who makes me excited about the future,” were thirty times more likely to be engaged in school than those who do not. That’s a 3,000% increase in student engagement.
I originally discovered this approach out of sheer necessity in 2012, when working with a bright, creative, lively, and oppositional group of high school students. Although this class was motivated to learn and had positive interactions with me as individuals, any whole-class instruction efforts I initiated quickly imploded. Large-group instruction triggered many of the students in this class to act out, and their disruptions were so severe that they completely derailed lessons that had worked for every other class I’d taught before.
So I shifted my approach. When students arrived in class, I greeted them individually, provided learning materials, and gave one-on-one instructions for how to get started on the lesson. During the whole class, I…
I’ve been imagining happy biology students. Indulging in summertime rest – feet up, ice water in hand – I love looking forward with optimism. When I imagine effervescent 14-year-old biologists, they're talking. In Designing Groupwork, Cohen and Lotan note research showing that learning is significantly related to talking on-task. I’d love to get my students talking next year, but figuring out how to group them has always been a stumbling block for me – it’s a job that’s time-consuming and riddled with potential potholes.