Student Engagement 2.0

By Henry Dibrell and Rebecca Fox

This month I want to introduce you to someone, Rebecca Fox. Fox is the President of the Katy ISD School Board and has a passion to see young people achieve.  She is a mom, a wife, and a very good friend.  I think you will find what she has to say about student engagement very engaging.

While I love getting gifts, I dread the latest and greatest invention related to technology.  Just when I have mastered the features of a new phone, iPad, Kindle, or fill-in-the-blank with the latest invention, a new and improved one is being advertised incessantly.  If you have children, especially teens or pre-teens, you know how effortlessly they can adapt to new technology and multi-task with the greatest of ease.  Watching our children do homework on the computer while listening to music and texting their friends made me understand the new trend toward 21st century learning.  It is all about engagement.  Technology is vital to how students live and ultimately how they learn.  Our students are growing up in a technology rich world, yet when students walked through the school doors, we asked them to unplug and power-down. That was until recently when KISD began a new program to include Mobile Learning Devices (MLD) as a part of instruction.  A high percentage of our students have their own MLDs, and we were expecting them to learn the way we did with a teaching model where teachers stood at the front of the room and delivered instruction.

Over the past few years, teachers have grown frustrated with the lack of engagement in the classroom.  These digital learners were being asked to take notes on paper and submit assignments in a manner that had nothing in common with their learning styles outside the classroom. In a world where information is available within a matter of seconds, it doesn’t make much sense to tell students to look something up in a dictionary or textbook.  In the time it takes to find an article in a textbook, a student can find the article, a video and a podcast about the same topic with links to accompanying material that provides much more depth and breadth. This MLD model is much more engaging and meets the learning style of the student.

Last year, the school board voted to allow students to bring their own devices to school.  No more hiding them in backpacks or sneaking peeks at them between classes. It is all about engagement.

Teachers also had to embrace a new teaching style that involved creative use of technology and letting go of a comfort level in the classroom to allow true engagement.  Changing instruction styles to meet students where they are makes a huge impact.  Many times the teachers were learning from the students.  The Digital Natives (the kids) were teaching the Digital Immigrants (that’s us, the old people). If you have children you know it is easier to ask them to help you figure out technology than reading the instruction manual. Teachers understand that too, so they became more interactive and an over-the-shoulder resource to guide student learning.  Teachers are excited about the increased levels of engagement, the collaboration between students and the ownership students take of their assignments and learning.

Teachers and administrators are pleased to see the surging levels of achievement for students using technology tools. Teachers who have been teaching for many years say they have never seen results like this.  These tools allow teachers to creatively address different learning styles so that every student is able to master the content. The excitement in students’ voices when they discover something new and the inclusion of their classmates with “cool, you gotta see this” naturally produces the traits that are so often touted by 21st century learning models. The collaboration in classrooms and the inclusion of mobile learning devices is changing the way students learn, and the way teachers plan for learning. It truly is all about engagement.

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