“And Art Alive Still” by Dhammza, (Flickr) under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivs Generic Licence
A recent reading of Student Engagement: What should we know and what should we do? made me realize that I didn’t really have a good handle on the term student engagement. I thought I understood what it meant, but it has become one of those catch phrases that we grab hold of in education. Everyone thinks they know what it means, and it connotes lofty dreams, but no one can really pin it down in a succinct, easily-agreed-upon definition.
In a survey of the literature, Parsons and Taylor (2012) looked at the history of the term and found four purposes for utilizing student engagement: “. . . . achievement or knowledge accumulation, good academic outcomes (grades), and ultimately graduation as the goal . . . compliance or control as the goal . . . emotional/psychological “high” as a goal . . . powerful, “deep” learning and improved cognitive/metacognitive, knowledge building skills as the goal” (pp. 16-17).
If we as educators truly believe that we want powerful, deep learning and knowledge building skills for our students, then we have to let go of the traditional focus on control and achievement. This is no easy thing. The need for control and constant focus on achievement is rooted deeply in what we do. It is woven throughout our curriculum, our culture, and our way of being.
Parsons and Taylor (2012) confirm this. “Throughout the literature the focus on achievement versus learning was glaring. Our measures, our goals, and our language are geared toward higher achievement and completion, and not toward learning and human development” (p. 50). A perfect example of this is the provincial exam trap we get caught up in every year.
I say, let’s try learning instead of achievement, and let’s practice freedom to learn over control. As Dunleavy and Milton (2010) state, “When all students become competent and powerful learners for life, we can fairly claim both excellence and equity in public education” (p. 8).
Dunleavy, J. & Milton, P. (2010). Student engagement for effective teaching and deep learning. Canadian Education association, 48(5), 4-8. Retrieved from: http://www.cea-ace.ca/education-canada/article/student-engagement-effective-teaching-and-deep-learning
Parsons, J., & Taylor, L. (2011). Student engagement: What do we know what should we know? University of Alberta, 1-59. Retrieved from: http://education.alberta.ca/media/6459431/student_engagement_literature_review_2011.pdf