Student Engagement: Starting a Dialogue Around Effective Instruction with Students and Colleagues – Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence
Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence

Student Engagement: Starting a Dialogue Around Effective Instruction with Students and Colleagues

Student Engagement: Starting a Dialogue Around Effective Instruction with Students and Colleagues

July 29, 2021

By Brison Harvey and Kevin Presnell

The 2020-2021 school year highlighted many of the inequities that have existed for far too long for our students; but it also forced many of us educators to get outside of our comfort zones, learn new material and new ways of teaching in order to connect with our students, and engage them with meaningful instruction. As we emerge from this pandemic Kentuckians have been given a unique opportunity to reset how we do business. We have been given a once in a generation moment to redefine “normal.”  As we do so, it is crucial that we leverage student voice–in addition to personal and collaborative reflection–to identify and inform our most effective and engaging teaching practices.

As the student engagement work group of this past school year’s inaugural Prichard Committee Teacher Fellows program, the two of us have grappled with understanding authentic student engagement. Student engagement, in practice, can look different in different classrooms. Every teacher has their own style and every classroom has its own culture. What works for one teacher may not necessarily work for another, and what worked one year for a teacher may have to look different for the next group of kids. In our work as Fellows, we developed new tools to help teachers define effective student engagement for themselves in their own classroom setting.

Below, you will find three sets of reflective questions. These questions are intended to gather input on instruction from students, reflect upon student feedback personally, and then use the data to reflect collaboratively with teacher colleagues.  It is important to note that answering questions like these could feel unnatural for students. While student answers may initially gravitate towards what they liked and did not like, what is more important is that students are facilitated to reflect on strategies that helped them to learn, and how they know that it helped them to learn. Reflective students become engaged students and this process will provide teachers with the data they need to continuously improve their individual and collective instructional practices.

Reflection Protocol:

This three stage protocol has been designed to help you capture what works, what doesn’t, and how to collaborate with your colleagues to build stronger instruction for the students you serve.

1) Student Reflection Questions:

These questions are designed specifically for student reflection. Try to give students space to answer however they like.

  • What classroom activities help you learn best? How do you know?
  • What is something your teacher did during “at-home” learning that helped you learn? How do you know?
  • In your mind, what does an ideal class period look like? (more appropriate the older the student)
  • What would you change about in-person learning to help you learn better? What makes you think this?

2) Teacher Reflection Questions:

As you move to the self-reflection phase of the process, try to keep the framework of high engagement, content-driven, 21st century/essential skill development in the forefront of your mind as you work through these reflection questions.

  • What does student engagement look like in my class?
  • What worked in my class pre-COVID? How do I know?
  • What would I change about my pre-Covid instructional practices based on what I’ve learned during virtual instruction?
  • Were ALL students engaged in my class during “at-home” learning? How do I know? If not all were engaged, which were and were not engaged?
  • What worked with my instruction during “at-home” learning? Which practices should I continue to use moving forward?

3) Teacher-to-Teacher Reflection Questions:

Use these questions to engage in dialogue with your colleagues.

  • Share your own reflections as a group and highlight the responses you received from students. What similarities do you find between your collective responses?
  • What strategies were highly engaging for some students but not others? Explore why that may be true.
  • Are the teaching strategies–identified through reflection and student voice–energy-intensive or difficult to create? If so, how can teacher-to-teacher collaboration help ease the workload for teachers?

Things to Consider:

  1. Make sure everyone, including teachers, administration, and students, understand the full purpose behind the protocol.
  2. Some deviation from the exact wording of the questions may occur. However, for consistent and productive reflections, it is vital for educators to use a common set of questions with agreed upon language.
  3. Having a clear way to collect and synthesize the responses is important in the process. Verbal discussions can elicit some terrific conversations, but can be difficult to recall and capture later. Keep in mind that if you are collecting individual student responses anonymously (via a survey), the data should eventually be shared holistically with students in order to engage in meaningful dialogue as a class about what works and what doesn’t in the classroom.
  4. Time needs to be set aside to reflect on responses individually and to review in teacher teams or as a school.
  5. Don’t allow this protocol to simply be a beginning (or end) of the year activity that gets shoved in a drawer.
  6. Although teachers bring their own expertise, students also have valid opinions when it comes to their own engagement. As such it is important that teachers maintain a growth mindset when analyzing the data students provide.

Call to Action:

The past year forced many of us to think outside the box and to rethink our practices.  As we move back towards “normal” we must not lose the good practices that we developed in the past year. We have the ability to build our best practices yet – with students at the heart of our instruction. Students know what helps them learn and they can identify the practices that work for them in the classroom. Making time for reflection and gathering student voices can help us distill and refine our best teaching practices. We just have to be willing to listen.

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