Meet Alice*. She has big blue eyes and streaky blond hair that she flicks from left to right as she gathers the support and congratulations of her peers.
She’s making a mooing sound at the moment. This is not some kind of speech impediment; it is her way of calling me a cow. Apparently, this is a far cleverer and more highly-evolved method than using the actual word – hence the huge grin on her face.
Alice also has other skills besides bovine impersonations. She is erudite and articulate in her analysis of her progress in maths.
“Alice how are you getting on with that maths?” I say.
“Don’t talk to me,” she replies.
“Have you started yet?”
“Don’t talk to me.”
“Shall I help you with the first one?”
“Don’t talk to me – why are you talking to me?”
I’m talking to her because I am a maths TA, assigned to “support” Alice, who is underachieving by two grades in maths. Although in the eight months that I have been working with her I have never seen her pick up a pencil or open a book, so it remains unclear who calculated the two grades and how.
The ‘vanishing TA’ trick
The maths teacher drifts towards us, watches for a few moments and drifts away again. There is nothing that she has not already said.
Should Alice’s powers of oration fail to fend me off, she has other weapons in her armoury. There is the “vanishing TA trick” whereby she is apparently gifted with the ability to prevent herself from seeing or hearing someone who is right in front of her. Then there is the repeating scream of uncontrollable hilarity, combined with total loss of the ability to sit upright – on this occasion inspired by her having managed to extract an entire glue stick from its plastic sleeve and mash it into a neighbour’s hair.
The teacher, who – like all our teachers — had paid for the class stationery out of her own money, emails the inclusion team to come and take Alice out of the lesson. Cue Alice’s shocked indignation. “What did I do?” she wails, “I didn’t do nothing.”
Getting her out of the lesson and into the exclusion room takes until lunchtime, with arguments every step of the way. So yet again, neither Alice, her colluders, the teacher, the rest of the class, nor I achieve any actual maths work.
She will be reported to her head of year, who will tell us to praise the positives and issue her with a fidget spinner. Her mother will be called, who will bewail the numbers of supply teachers Alice has had and how unsettling it all is.
Oddly, the mothers of Alices never seem to make the connection between their child’s behaviour and staff leaving. Alice has made mincemeat of several fresh, green, energetic, kind-hearted, optimistic NQTs already this year.
One Alice in the school would be a source of frustration and would have the staff room sighing in sympathy. But in my school, around a quarter of the children are either an Alice or one of her supporters. Their parents collude, their heads of year smile and pat them on the head and members of the senior leadership team stomp around issuing contradictory instructions and blaming the teachers.
So how exactly am I meant to support the maths department? Oh: the head has asked me to report any teacher “failing” to control Alice’s behaviour, directly to her, in detail before the next perfomance management reviews. Will this help, do you think?
*Not her real name. The writer is a maths teaching assistant in a secondary school.
Gee I really like what this lady talks about– and she makes so much sense !!!
Peer teaching is not a new concept. It can be traced back to Aristotle’s use of archons, or student leaders, and to the letters of Seneca the Younger. It was first organized as a theory by Scotsman Andrew Bell in 1795, and later implemented into French and English schools in the 19th century. Over the past 30-40 years, peer teaching has become increasingly popular in conjunction with mixed ability grouping in K-12 public schools and an interest in more financially efficient methods of teaching.
Not to be confused with peer instruction—a relatively new concept designed by Harvard professor Eric Mazur in the early 1990s— peer teaching is a method by which one student instructs another student in material on which the first is an expert and the second is a novice.
Goodlad and Hurst (1989) and Topping (1998) note that academic peer tutoring at the college level takes many different forms. Surrogate teaching, common at larger universities, involves giving older students, often graduates or advanced undergraduates, some or all of the teaching responsibility for undergraduate courses. Proctoring programs involve one-on-one tutoring by students who are slightly ahead of other students, or who have successfully demonstrated proficiency with the material in the recent past. Cooperative learning divides classmates into small groups, with each person in the group responsible for teaching others, and each contributing a unique piece to the group performance on a task. Reciprocal peer tutoring (RPT), a more specific version of cooperative learning, groups classmates into pairs to tutor each other.
The main benefits of peer teaching include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Students receive more time for individualized learning.
- Direct interaction between students promotes active learning.
- Peer teachers reinforce their own learning by instructing others.
- Students feel more comfortable and open when interacting with a peer.
- Peers and students share a similar discourse, allowing for greater understanding.
- Peer teaching is a financially efficient alternative to hiring more staff members.
- Teachers receive more time to focus on the next lesson.
Research also indicates that peer learning activities typically yield the following results for both tutor and tutee: team-building spirit and more supportive relationships; greater psychological well-being, social competence, communication skills and self-esteem; and higher achievement and greater productivity in terms of enhanced learning outcomes.
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Various peer teaching programs have cropped up at universities around the world in the past few decades, promoting the notion of peer-assisted learning. Nearly every institute of higher education in the world provides peer tutoring opportunities for struggling students and teaching assistant positions for advanced students.
Students in the Advanced Chinese Studies program, Intensive Chinese Language program, and Summer Intensive Chinese Language program at Peking University (PKU) in Beijing are required to meet for a minimum of three hours per week for one-on-one sessions with their Chinese language tutor. The Peer Language Tutor program at PKU is a unique hallmark of these programs that help ensure its students’ linguistic and cultural fluency progresses throughout the program. These tutorials provide students extra conversation practice in Mandarin and guidance with homework assignments, while giving students an opportunity to befriend and be a part of the lives of their Chinese peers. Past students have stated that their peer tutors were one of the favorite aspects of the program.
Tutors in Australia can gain a TAFE (Technical and Further Education) certificate in the course Literacy Volunteer Tutoring (Schools) Theory and Fieldwork. Senior students enroll with TAFE and are trained in reading assistance by participating in set modules on theory. At school, the tutors participate in fieldwork by supporting junior students in the reading of the actual classroom texts from their various subjects during Drop Everything and Read sessions on four days per week. The program demonstrates significant success in the full range of government schools including coeducational, girls, boys, central, collegiate and primary schools. The success achieved by Aboriginal students and by boys is particularly significant.
The Peer Tutoring Program at Duke University in North Carolina offers up to twelve hours of free tutoring each semester to Duke undergraduates who are in enrolled in select introductory-level courses. Students meet with a tutor weekly in a convenient public location on campus such as an empty classroom, the library, or a dorm common area. All peer tutors receive on-going training both in best current tutoring practices and on tutoring strategies relevant to their tutoring discipline.
Despite the continued popularity of college student peer tutoring, there exists little comprehensive research on its effectiveness and benefits. What research does exist, however, has found that peer tutoring is highly cost-effective and usually results in substantial gains for participants, both academically and socially.
A reciprocal peer tutoring (RPT) program at California State University, Fullerton has been evaluated extensively. The program requires students in a large introductory psychology course to meet with student partners periodically throughout the course to quiz each other and discuss the main ideas for each unit of the course. Largely a commuter college, the program seeks to increase academic success, as well as to increase the social integration of the students. The program has been highly successful in both respects: when compared to control students who participated in other supplementary activities, RPT participants showed higher academic achievement on unit tests, rated themselves as more satisfied with the class, were better adjusted psychosocially, and frequently used their RPT partner as a supportive resource in the course.
Carsrud (1984) describes an example of a surrogate teaching method in which doctoral students supervised undergraduate psychology students in conducting research projects. One of the major goals of this program was to encourage highly motivated and well-prepared students to become interested in pursuing research through skill development and exposure to first-hand experience. The undergraduates worked closely with the graduate students in designing and implementing the research, and were required to produce a professional-style report at the end of the study. The program was considered a success, based on participants’ self-reports.
In addition, it was noted that 20 of the 25 undergraduate students entered graduate programs in psychology within one year of graduation. (However, the study lacked a control group of comparable students without exposure to surrogate teaching and it is therefore possible that those who entered graduate school were already graduate school bound.)
A different type of surrogate teaching program was used in an introductory psychology class at Washington State University. Students were given the choice of attending weekly supplemental discussion sessions led by senior undergraduates or participating as subjects in various research projects within the department. Those who opted for the supplemental discussion sessions were assigned to either a maximal group (six students to one tutor) or a minimal group (twenty students to one tutor). Students who were in the tutoring groups performed significantly better on the class exams than did the control subjects who merely served as research subjects.
In early learning institutions, the effectiveness—if not the widespread use— of peer teaching is equally apparent. In one study conducted in an Ohio school in 2011, four sixth grade students of the same reading level engaged in reading passages from the Quality Reading Inventory (QRI). The QRI is an informal assessment instrument containing graded word lists and numerous passages designed to assess a student’s oral reading, silent reading, and comprehension abilities (Leslie & Caldwell, 2006).
One pair of students engaged in a peer tutoring activity as they read a passage together, actively discussing and talking about the passage as they read. The students then individually gave a retelling of the story to the investigator. The second pair of students read the same passage separately and individually gave a retelling of the story to the investigator. Each pair of students engaged in this procedure twice a week, resulting in a total of eight times, over the course of four weeks.
The students who had engaged in peer learning scored significantly higher on the QRI (Quality Reading Inventory) test than the students who had not, indicating the effectiveness peer tutoring can have on academic achievement.
The accuracy of the retellings was examined using the QRI retelling scoring procedure to determine whether there is a relationship between peer tutoring and higher retelling accuracy. The retelling data was scored using the QRI retelling scoring sheet, and retellings were assigned a numeral score. The scores over the four week period were graphed and examined to determine whether there is any relationship between the pair of students engaged in peer tutoring and individually-working students.
The students who had engaged in peer learning scored significantly higher on the QRI test than the students who had not, indicating the effectiveness peer tutoring can have on academic achievement. This is just one example; to name them all here would take far more time than you or I have to spare.
Despite its popularity, peer teaching has come under considerable scrutiny in recent years, especially in the K-12 community. One blogger writes, “This practice has significant downsides for both parties” and goes on to describe the story of frustrated teachers in Manhattan who created a buddy program, enlisting older students to help teach struggling readers. She cites lack of evidence as a primary concern, mentioning a 2008 National Mathematics Advisory Panel which reviewed instances of instruction in which students were primarily doing the teaching. The panel found only a handful of studies that met its standards for quality.
“I’m imagining a scenario where one student is helping another in drilling math facts,” the blogger writes. “I can buy that. Otherwise, peer teaching seems to be a waste of precious classroom time.”
Her primary issue with peer teaching, though, is the return on her investment. “I want expert teachers, not other students, teaching my kids,” she says, referring to the expenses associated with quality schooling.
Another blog cites “student hesitancy” as a potential issue. Some students may feel that being tutored by another makes them inferior to that student, setting up an adversarial relationship from the start. If a student develops this feeling of inferiority, he may be less than eager to work with his assigned peer and, as a result, not put his full effort into the tutoring program. The blog also mentions lack of confidentiality, parental concerns, time and scheduling conflicts, and improper tutor selection as possible problems.
All valid points, to be sure. But, as is the case with most educational strategies, the boons outweigh the burdens if it is implemented correctly. Below are a few suggestions for employing peer teaching in your own classroom.
10 Tips On How To Pull Off Peer Teaching
1. Be sure your tutors are trained.
Existing research identifies adequate tutor training as an essential component of peer tutoring programs.
One after-school peer tutoring program implemented in a middle school in California, called Student-2-Student, offers tutoring in a variety of subjects to students with the help of high-achieving eighth graders. Student-2-Student is selective in its recruitment of tutors. Qualified eighth graders meeting a minimum GPA requirement and demonstrating high citizenship must complete an application process and obtain approval from their teachers before being paired with struggling students. The program advisor then matches tutors to students based on who seems to be a good match academically and socially. Tutors receive quality training in effective ways to work with their tutees.
This program led to a significant improvement in core subject letter grades for all participants. In an evaluation of the program, participants also demonstrated increased responsibility, completion of homework assignments, and significantly improved work habits.
2. Use a reward system.
In another peer teaching program, sixth grade students enrolled in general reading education classes in a Midwestern, urban middle school were assigned to tutoring pairs of either equal ability or pairs in which high-achieving students modeled successful learning with lower-achieving students. Similar to Student-2-Student, the students received training prior to tutoring.
What sets this peer tutoring program apart from common peer tutoring practices is the inclusion of a reward system for students to encourage participation and on-task behavior. During the sessions, the teacher supervised all activities and passed out raffle tickets to students exhibiting good tutoring or on-task behavior. Students wrote their names on earned tickets and placed them in a collection throughout each week. At the end of each week, the teacher would draw several names of students who could each choose a small prize from a box of inexpensive toys.
Evaluation of the class-wide peer tutoring model with rewards for good behavior showed substantial letter grade improvements for the students. The lottery system for reinforcing participation and on-task behavior was show to overcome challenges to student motivation.
3. Emphasize confidentiality, positive reinforcement, and adequate response time.
The tutors at Student-2-Student are taught to demonstrate three important things during any given tutoring session: confidentiality, positive reinforcement, and adequate response time when asking questions. The training process also instructed tutors on explaining directions, designing work for extra practice, watching for and correcting mistakes, and providing positive feedback and encouragement.
4. Choose the learning exercise and the appropriate vehicle for it.
Simply placing students in groups or pairs and telling them to “work together” is not going to automatically yield results. You must consciously orchestrate the learning exercise and choose the appropriate vehicle for it. Only then will students in fact engage in peer learning and reap the benefits of peer teaching.
5. Use group strategies:
To facilitate successful peer learning, teachers may choose from an array of strategies:
- Buzz Groups: A large group of students is subdivided into smaller groups of 4–5 students to consider the issues surrounding a problem. After about 20 minutes of discussion, one member of each sub-group presents the findings of the sub-group to the whole group.
- Affinity Groups: Groups of 4–5 students are each assigned particular tasks to work on outside of formal contact time. At the next formal meeting with the teacher, the sub-group, or a group representative, presents the sub-group’s findings to the whole tutorial group.
- Solution and Critic Groups: One sub-group is assigned a discussion topic for a tutorial and the other groups constitute “critics” who observe, offer comments and evaluate the sub-group’s presentation.
- “Teach-Write-Discuss”: At the end of a unit of instruction, students have to answer short questions and justify their answers. After working on the questions individually, students compare their answers with each other’s. A whole-class discussion subsequently examines the array of answers that still seem justifiable and the reasons for their validity.
6. Use role playing and modeling.
During the first week of the sixth grade reading program, project staff explained the tutoring procedures and the lottery, modeled each component of the program, and used role-playing to effectively demonstrate ways to praise and correct their peers.
7. Emphasize the importance of active learning.
Many institutions of learning now promote instructional methods involving “active” learning that present opportunities for students to formulate their own questions, discuss issues, explain their viewpoints, and engage in cooperative learning by working in teams on problems and projects. Critique sessions, role-play, debates, case studies and integrated projects are other exciting and effective teaching strategies that stir students’ enthusiasm and encourage peer learning.
8. Teach instructional scaffolding.
To reap the benefits of peer teaching, tutees must reach a point when they are practicing a new task on their own. Tutors can help prepare students for independent demonstration by providing instructional scaffolding, a method by which the tutor gradually reduces her influence on a tutee’s comprehension. See our guide on instructional scaffolding here for further explanation.
9. Explain directive versus nondirective tutoring.
A tutor who engages in directive tutoring becomes a surrogate teacher, taking the role of an authority and imparting knowledge. The tutor who takes the non-directive approach is more of a facilitator, helping the student draw out the knowledge he already possesses. Under the directive approach, the tutor imparts knowledge on the tutee and explains or tells the tutee what he should think about a given topic. Under the non-directive approach, the tutor draws knowledge out of the tutee, asking open-ended questions to help the student come to his own conclusions about the topic. Both are valid methods, but different levels of each should be used with different students and in different scenarios.
10. Explain how to provide feedback.
Positive verbal feedback: Teach your tutors the importance of positive verbal feedback. Prompt students to come up with a list of standard statements which they feel may be positively reinforcing. They also need to be taught how much positive feedback to give. Giving feedback after each and every response can take too much time and diminish its effect. Teach tutors to give genuine praise after every third or fourth correct response and after particularly difficult problems. Make sure to have them practice.
Corrective feedback: Teach your tutors how to respond when an incorrect answer is given. When an incorrect answer is given, the tutor should promptly give and explain the correct answer or draw the correct answer out of the tutee without being critical of the tutee, and then give the tutee an opportunity to repeat the correct answer.
It should be noted that the majority of peer-tutoring programs for students are intended to complement, not substitute for, regular classroom instruction. Tutoring should never be a substitute for professional teaching. An ideal learning atmosphereis as a rich blend of peer and adult instructional strategies.
Resources To Find Out More About P2P Teaching
Student engagement is one of the most reliable predictors of gains in learning. We can all agree that students who actively participate in learning are more successful and satisfied with their own educational careers. Still, keeping students engaged is easier said than done. We know it’s important, and we’ve tried our hardest day in and day out to make it happen, but many students still seem disengaged.
That’s why some of the oldest tricks in the book–such as grading participation and holding pop quizzes–need to be reconsidered if we want 21st century learners to stay motivated.
What’s Wrong With the Way We Think About Student Engagement?
Despite increasing interest in student engagement in countries around the world, there is no clear understanding of the construct. In fact, there has been much confusion regarding its definition and measurement.
Lois Harris of the Department of Teaching, Learning, and Development at the University of Auckland says we need to starting thinking about engagement in terms of “schooling versus learning”.
“Teacher actions can influence how students engage [with a course], making it relevant to understand their conceptions of student engagement and how to facilitate it,” she says. “Reviews of existing literature suggested that a distinction between engagement in schooling and engagement in learning might help differentiate between social and academic outcomes.”
In her 2010 experiment, data from 20 Australian teachers were analysed to show how teacher thinking related to this distinction. While some teachers held complex conceptions centred on promoting cognitive engagement and student learning, others aligned with engagement in schooling, focusing on generating participation and emphasising positive student affective experiences.
Harris says we need to make a distinction between student engagement in schooling and engagement in learning based on literature and empirical results. If we don’t, the concept of engagement might never become educationally fruitful.
A 2014 study found that teachers and students actually have more dissimilar than similar perceptions about what engages students. One survey asked students how important nine selected teacher behaviours were in engaging them in learning, while the other asked teachers what priority they put on these behaviours and how important they thought they were to students. The selected questions were drawn from an extensive research literature identifying teacher behaviours that engaged students.
A Danish study from 2012 found similar results. Surveying students and teachers in a Danish vocational education and training institution, researchers discovered that teachers and students held diverging perceptions of student engagement when it came to educational goals and goals related to perceived future work settings. The misrecognition of the students’ perception of engagement had direct negative consequences for student performance and feelings of attachment to their institution.
What Does Student Engagement Really Look Like?
The term “student engagement” has traditionally been used to depict students’ willingness to participate in routine activities, such as attending lectures, submitting required work, and following instructors’ directions.
“[Students] who are engaged show sustained behavioral involvement in learning activities accompanied by a positive emotional tone. They select tasks at the border of their competencies, initiate action when given the opportunity, and exert intense effort and concentration in the implementation of learning tasks; they show generally positive emotions during ongoing action, including enthusiasm, optimism, curiosity, and interest.”
Jim Parsons and Leah Taylor of Arizona State University posit that, while older means of improving student engagement involved reshaping “renegade” students, current work revises institutions to fit student needs.
In 2011, Nick Zepke and Linda Leach of the Department of Educational Studies at Massey University, New Zealand, synthesised 93 research studies from ten countries to develop a conceptual organiser for student engagement. It consisted of four perspectives identified in the research: student motivation; transactions between teachers and students; institutional support; and engagement for active citizenship.
Another study identified five indicators for student engagement in university: the level of academic challenge, active and collaborative learning, student-faculty interaction, enriching education experiences, and a supportive learning environment. Indicators of the absence of student engagement included unexcused absences, cheating on tests, and damaging property.”
“The opposite of engagement is disaffection. Disaffected [students] are passive, do not try hard, and give up easily in the face of challenges… [they can] be bored, depressed, anxious, or even angry about their presence in [a course]; they can be withdrawn from learning opportunities or even rebellious towards teachers and [peers].”
Several methods have been demonstrated to promote higher levels of student engagement. Instructors can enhance student engagement by encouraging students to become more active participants in their education through setting and achieving goals and by providing collaborative opportunities for educational research, planning, teaching, evaluation, and decision-making. Providing teachers with training on how to promote student autonomy was beneficial in enhancing student engagement by providing students with a more autonomous environment, rather than a controlling environment.
One method that has been gaining popularity in university teaching is the creation or encouragement of learning communities. Learning communities are widely recognized as an effective form of student engagement and consist of groups of students that form with the intention of increasing learning through shared experience. This may consist of curricular communities of students co-enrolled in multiple courses in the same field of study or communities that focus on organized group learning activities. Within learning communities, students are able to interact with peers who share similar interests and stimulate conversation about the topic.
Such conversations are beneficial because they expose the members of the community to new ideas and methods. Students that are a part of such communities are therefore able to generate and construct their knowledge and understanding through inquisitive conversations with peers, as opposed to being given information by the instructor. This type of engagement in the field leads to a deep understanding of the material and gives the student a personal connection to the topic.
Learning communities allow instructors to constantly gather evidence of student learning to inform and improve their professional practice. They use common assessments and make results from those assessments easily accessible and openly shared among members of the team in order to build on individual and team strengths and to identify and address areas of concern. Results are then used to identify students who are experiencing difficulty and need additional time and support for learning as well as students who are highly proficient and require enrichment and extension.
Learning community programs also improve students’ interpersonal dialogue, collaboration, and experiential learning within the context of diversity, these programs address a decreasing sense of community and connection and allow students to relate their college-level learning to larger personal and global questions.
The J. Erik Jonsson Community program (3 years old-5th grade) in Dallas, TX has a simple formula for success: “Powerful Pedagogy + trusting relationships = student engagement” (Journal of Staff Development, 2008). The majority of research is done is early education, but this sentiment rings equally true in higher education. Accomplishing that end is nearly impossible in introductory, general education courses with enrolments reaching up to 300 students, but relationship-building is a skill that is under-appreciated in the “college experience”. In Australia many institutions offer an integrated program developed by Hands On Learning Australia, which provides a type of micro-climate for students experiencing disengagement to develop trusting relationships in the context of practical, construction based tasks.
With all this in mind, take a look at the following commonly held beliefs about student engagement and consider whether they help or hinder it.
1. Engagement in schooling is the same as engagement in learning.
This is a misconception that many of us have without knowing it. Everyone is engaged in learning; it’s part of being human. But not everyone is engaged in schooling. And unfortunately, the latter can seriously detract from the former. Students who dislike their course work or institution will tend to dislike the learning they are being asked to do. If we keep in mind that environment and engagement are inextricably intertwined, we’ll start to see “student engagement” as a context-dependent quality rather than some ideal state of being that only we, as teachers, can magically and permanently affect with an exciting lesson plan.
2. Participation should be graded.
Most teachers, especially at the tertiary level, assign about 10% of a student’s overall grade to participation. This does not bring shy students out of their shells; it makes them ask one question a week–to which they probably already know the answer–so that you know their name. The only way these students will open up is if you provide them with a learning environment that offers respect and eliminates judgment.
3. Personal relevance is just a cute theory.
Personal relevance is one of the most powerful tools in the pedagogical toolbox. Provide culturally relevant texts to students of a particular background, and they’ll enjoy reading more.
4. Pop quizzes motivate studying.
Ditch the fear factor. Pop quizzes may temporarily make students more aware of what they’re learning–the names of characters in a book, the process of solving an equation–but they don’t motivate students to study harder or more frequently. There’s nothing wrong with telling students you are going to quiz them every Friday. If anything, planned, regular quizzing increases memory retention and makes students better test-takers.
5. Group projects enhance learning.
Group projects are tricky: they enhance engagement, but they don’t necessarily enhance learning. In many cases students don’t actually learn more when they’re working with others, especially when given a specific role. It may be worth letting students choose whether to work with a group or work alone.
6. Group discussions increase participation.
Sure, group discussions are more interactive than lectures, but they don’t excite students any more than lectures do. I’d argue that there’s greater potential for engagement in a course of 100 than in a group of five that’s been shoved off to the side, expected to discuss a topic “amongst themselves.” In a small group, students are aware it’s just an exercise. In a large group, students respect each other for having the courage to pipe up. Every action seems more significant, and there’s a sense of being a part of the whole. If the sole voice that represents the whole settles on a weak point, others are more likely to pipe up and correct it.
7. If no one responds to your questions, no one is interested.
It can be a real let down when the discussion you planned for lecture don’t go the way you hoped. Everyone seems asleep; no one’s volunteering their opinion. But don’t write your lecture off immediately. Try a warm-up exercise, crack a joke, help students feel more comfortable. They may be interested but need a little prompting.
8. Course size has an inverse affect on student engagement.
The latest research says students in small courses or at small institutions aren’t necessarily more engaged than students at large institutions.
“Despite the many studies that show positive effects, research has yet to come up with a consistent, integrated explanation for the gains attributable to reduced [course] size,” says Jeremy Finn of the University at Buffalo, the statistician who advised a study published in the journal Review of Educational Research.
9. If their performance suffers, they aren’t interested.
Surely, sometimes this is the case. But don’t assume it’s always the case. More often than you think, students want to do well but don’t fully understand the expectations and standards you require when it comes to assignments.
10. Disengagement signifies disinterest.
Okay, sometimes it does, but not always. Research on self-efficacy has shown us that a lack of belief in one’s academic ability can be enough to disengage a student. The student may be interested in the subject, but without that basic level of academic self-confidence, she’s going to check out pretty quickly.
11. Incorporating the interests of 30+ individuals into your course material is impossible.
Pass out a survey at the beginning of the course and find out what your students want to get out of it. Change your lessons accordingly. Pass out another survey part-way through the course. Change your lessons again. The more flexible you can be, the better.
12. Learning necessitates engagement.
The brain learns plenty when it isn’t “engaged.” From body language and facial expressions to cultural cues and social etiquette, the majority of what we pick up on a daily basis is below the threshold of our consciousness. So why the obsession with capturing attention, piquing interest, assuming that students must love a subject to death in order to gain something from it? We need to take a step back and ask ourselves whether it really makes sense to be measuring engagement over learning.
Madi Craig knew she was at risk of dropping out of school.
She struggled with tests during high school. And then, in year 10, she fell further behind after her single mother had a heart attack and was rushed to hospital. She refused to leave her mum’s side for three weeks.
“I thought that school wasn’t for me,” she said. “I didn’t have that role model who went through school because mum dropped out of school.”
Disengaged young Australians are costing taxpayers a staggering $18.8 billion by increasing crime, clogging health services, relying on welfare and reducing tax revenue.
That’s the finding of a report by Victoria University’s Mitchell Institute which highlights the grim consequences and cost of one in eight Australians never attaining a year 12 qualification.
Many of these people are from disadvantaged backgrounds and make up the one in eight Australians who are long-term unemployed.
Victoria University vice-chancellor Professor Peter Dawkins said schools were failing to engage students and needed to have a greater focus on life skills.
“We really need to take this seriously because it’s high stakes for the economy and the community,” he said.
The Counting the costs of lost opportunity in Australian education report, by Stephen Lamb and Shuyan Huo, found that a disengaged 24-year-old, who is unemployed and doesn’t have a qualification, costs taxpayers $10,300 a year. This amounts to $411,700 over their lifetime, and $18.8 billion across the lifetime of the 46,000 young Australians who were disengaged in 2014.
The social cost is even greater. It includes lost earnings and personal medical costs and is estimated at $50.5 billion across this group.
“Every student who fails to complete year 12 or equivalent qualifications, or every young person who is not able to actively engage in work or study after they leave school, produces a direct cost on Australian taxpayers and government through lower tax revenues, higher dependence on public health and higher costs on crime and law enforcement system,” the report said.
There is a link between dropping out of school and criminality.
Only 14 per cent of 25 to 34-year-olds entering prison in 2009 had a year 12 qualification compared to 63 per cent of the general population.
And Australians without qualifications were twice as likely to live in families dependent on government income support.
Foundation of Young Australians chief executive Jan Owens said a one-size-fits-all approach to education was failing young people.
“We urgently need to transform the entire school and higher education learning experience so that it better prepares students for a changing and uncertain future world of work,” she said.
She said young people needed to learn skills like digital literacy, critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and an entrepreneurial mindset.
Smith Family chief executive Lisa O’Brien said supporting a disadvantaged child’s education was “one of the most effective ways to help them break the poverty cycle”. “.
Fortunately things have improved for Madi.
She was supported through high school by the Smith Family’s Learning for Life program, which took financial pressure off her mother by paying for excursions and school items. It also let Madi choose the electives that she wanted instead of “picking the cheaper ones because that’s all we could afford”.
There was an upside to her mum’s stressful stint in hospital – it inspired Madi to pursue a career in nursing.
She embarked on a nursing degree, and her Smith Family sponsorship paid for university essentials like textbooks and her scrubs. The 22-year-old Indigenous woman is now working in her “dream job” as a mental health nurse.
“I had someone who believed in me,” she said.
Why Kids Shouldn’t Sit Still in Class
Sit still. It’s the mantra of every classroom.
But that is changing as evidence builds that taking brief activity breaks during the day helps children learn and be more attentive in class, and a growing number of programs designed to promote movement are being adopted in schools.
“We need to recognize that children are movement-based,” said Brian Gatens, the superintendent of schools in Emerson, N.J. “In schools, we sometimes are pushing against human nature in asking them to sit still and be quiet all the time.”
“We fall into this trap that if kids are at their desks with their heads down and are silent and writing, we think they are learning,” Mr. Gatens added. “But what we have found is that the active time used to energize your brain makes all those still moments better,” or more productive.
A 2013 report from the Institute of Medicine concluded that children who are more active “show greater attention, have faster cognitive processing speed and perform better on standardized academic tests than children who are less active.” And a study released in January by Lund University in Sweden shows that students, especially boys, who had daily physical education, did better in school.
“Daily physical activity is an opportunity for the average school to become a high-performing school,” said Jesper Fritz, a doctoral student at Lund University and physician at the Skane University Hospital in Malmo who was the study’s lead author.
“Activity helps the brain in so many ways,” said James F. Sallis, a professor of family medicine and public health at the University of California, San Diego, who has done research on the association between activity breaks and classroom behavior. “Activity stimulates more blood vessels in the brain to support more brain cells. And there is evidence that active kids do better on standardized tests and pay attention more in school.”
John Ratey, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and the author of “Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain,” said: “Movement activates all the brain cells kids are using to learn, it wakes up the brain.”
“Plus,” he added, “it makes kids want to come to school more — it’s fun to do these activities.”
But not all districts are embracing the trend of movement breaks.
“The bottom line is that with only six and a half hours during the day, our priority is academics,” said Tom Hernandez, the director of community relations for the Plainfield School District in Illinois, about 40 miles southwest of Chicago. He said that under state law, the schools provide daily physical education classes and that teachers in the district find ways to give students time during the day to refresh and recharge.
“Kids aren’t meant to sit still all day and take in information,” said Steve Boyle, one of the co-founders of the National Association of Physical Literacy, which aims to bring movement into schools. “Adults aren’t wired that way either.”
Mr. Boyle’s association has introduced a series of three- to five-minute videos called “BrainErgizers” that are being used in schools and Boys and Girls Clubs in 15 states and in Canada, Mexico, Ireland and Australia, he said. A version of the program is available to schools at no charge.
The program is designed so that three to five times a day, teachers can set aside a few minutes for their students to watch a video and follow the cues given by the instructors. In one typical video, the instructors are college students of all shapes and sizes at the University of Connecticut who do a quick warm-up and then lead kids through a mini workout involving movements from several sports: baseball, basketball and a triathlon. That’s followed by a cool-down.
“At the end of the week, kids have gotten an hour or more worth of movement, and it’s all done in the classroom with no special equipment,” Mr. Boyle said. “We’re not looking to replace gym classes, we’re aiming to give kids more minutes of movement per week. And by introducing sports into the videos, giving kids a chance to try sports they may not have ever tried before.”
Julie Goldstein, principal of the Breakthrough Magnet School in Hartford, Conn., said her school has been using BrainErgizers since the spring of 2015.
It’s easy for the teachers to implement, and “easy for the students to follow,” Mrs. Goldstein said. She said the program has “helped them focus and bring up their energy level in the classroom.”
Scott McQuigg, chief executive and a co-founder of GoNoodle, a classroom movement program used in more than 60,000 elementary schools in the United States credits Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” initiative with helping to bring movement and the health of children into the public consciousness.
“We call this the Movement movement,” Mr. McQuigg said. “If we invest three to five minutes for our kids to move in the classroom, we are actually going to optimize the next 45 minutes for learning. That small investment in time has such a big yield for teachers.”
GoNoodle, which offers free and paid videos, aims to entertain kids while they are moving, Mr. McQuigg said. GoNoodle and other “brain break” videos can be found on the website for “Let’s Move! Active Schools,” part of Mrs. Obama’s “Let’s Move!” initiative.
“We have purposely not gone after this as an exercise program,” Mr. McQuigg said. “This is a digital generation that expects to be entertained, and we think we can do more good around getting them to move if they are entertained.”
For example, GoNoodle videos have kids running alongside their desks through a virtual obstacle course or following along with dance moves.
Joseph E. Donnelly, professor of medicine and director of the Center for Physical Activity and Weight Management at the University of Kansas Medical Center, said one of the good things about kids being more physically active in classrooms is that everyone is moving at the same time.
“In physical education classes, there is a lot of standing around, a lot of minutes of kids waiting to do an activity, and sometimes kids are only moving for about 15 minutes during a 50-minute class,” said Dr. Donnelly, who co-authored a statement on the effects of physical activity and academic achievement in children that was published last year by the American College of Sports Medicine. “If you do movement in class a few times a day, that can add up to at least an extra 60 minutes more of movement per week.”
Lindsay DiStefano, an associate professor in the department of kinesiology at the University of Connecticut, said the country is due for a major shift toward appreciating the benefits of physical activity in the classroom.
“In 1961, President Kennedy said school kids needed physical activity to thrive, but in the past 20 years, the pendulum has totally shifted the opposite way because schools are feeling the pressure to have students do well on standardized tests,” Ms. DiStefano said. “We are not thinking about the child as an entire person, how physical activity helps them cope with the stresses of school and actually benefits them in the classroom.”
Teachers Quit Principals, Not Schools
NBC’s new show This is Us has captured the hearts of America. It highlights the real struggles and triumphs that we as humans face on our journey through life. On a recent episode, “What Now?” Randall was grappling with his father’s death and how much he had sacrificed and given to his job.
Randall did not quit because he didn’t love his job. He quit because of issues stemming from his boss Tyler. It’s been said many times before, “People don’t quit jobs; they quit bosses.” In education, as pointed out in the New York Times article “Want to Fix Schools? Go to the Principal’s Office.”, there has not been much focus on the leaders of schools. The principal helps set the culture which helps retain teachers. The brief, “Musical Chairs: Teacher Churn and its impact on Indianapolis Public Schools” published by Teach Plus stated: “for teachers who voluntarily left a school at some point in their career, 49 percent cited school leadership and 40 percent cited school culture as reasons for leaving.” The principal is the one who steers the ship and when the principal cannot steer the ship in the right direction families and teachers look for a different school environment.
I once worked for a principal who avoided having difficult conversations and avoided dealing with conflict. At a staff meeting this principal said “Nobody has a gun to your head. If you don’t want to be here leave.” When minority staff complained about other staff members stating we were affirmative action hires, the principal told us we should move on and not worry about it. Although I earned a highly effective evaluation rating and loved the students, I eventually resigned from the school. Working in an environment where the culture is toxic was not good for my mental health. When a teacher’s mental health is compromised, the teacher cannot be the best he or she can be for his or her students.
This is why a strong leader is key. School districts across our country need to invest more resources into developing their leaders. Yes, teacher development is important, but a great teacher under a poor leader is a teacher who is likely to leave and a school that is not likely to succeed.
The school leader also has to be a cheerleader for his or her school. I recently heard Julie Bakehorn speak. She is the principal of Arsenal Technical High School in Indianapolis Public Schools and the recipient of the prestigious Hubbard Life-Changing School Leadership award. She shared with a cohort of future administrators that they had to be the best pitch person and cheerleader for their schools because no one wants to work at a school where the principal is not passionate. She also shared that you had to have the right structures and relationships in place to operate a successful school. She said, “I don’t want an assistant principal who is waiting for me to retire to become principal of this school. I want to build assistant principals who can go on and lead another school.”
Just like Ms. Bakehorn is intentional about building strong leaders in her building, we need other principals to do the same. We need districts to include improving principal leadership in their strategic plans. We need the community and other important stakeholders to hold schools accountable for developing the best leaders. We know when a school has strong relationships with the community and high student success, there is a great leader leading the charge.