Student Engagement In Project Based Learning
“What does student engagement mean? And what can we do to promote it in our classrooms?
Student engagement to me can be easily summarized by one word: passion. “Passion” is a loaded word and open to interpretation, so let me explain what I mean by passion, in hopes that it may shift the conversation for educators away from traditional driving forces in teaching and learning to a new outlook of where our work actually needs to start.
Passion in education
- Synonym: excitement
- Definition: The learner soaks up everything related to the content/task and their affinity for the topic is visible to others and can’t be contained.
Passion in education
- Synonym: invested
- Definition: The learner is committed to the content/task because they understand the purpose and recognize that it matters- whether it be for their own benefit/interest or the benefit of the greater good.
Passion in education
- synonym: ownership
- Definition: Learner feels a genuine responsibility for the topic/task and exercises agency to develop and grow.
Passion is a fierce driving force for learning; consider the college athlete laying it on the line day in and day out for what often amounts to a few final moments of a game, or the aspiring musician putting in their ten-thousandth hour of lonely and tedious practice to master a new skill, the mad scientist locked up in their lab on their hundredth failed experiment, or the four year old who runs from the living room to the bedroom to find their dinosaur figurines to tell you every fact you never wanted to know about extinct these animals. Across gender, age, interests and geographic context the underlying characteristic is the same-passion fuels the engagement needed to remain open to learning and growing…the end eventually, success. So how do we create that “can’t stop, won’t stop” feeling in our students when it comes to school? And more importantly, how do we balance fostering this characteristic in our students without it being a game for ensuring content mastery? The following are three invitations for us as educators to consider as we consider ways to promote student engagement in the classroom:
- Create the conditions for passion to permeate- All the research related to school transformation tells us the value of establishing a healthy culture as the foundation for which you build change upon; and the case for student passion in the classroom is no different. A teacher must create a climate that allows students to freely express their interests, and feel as though their learning style and personality will be honored. I invite teachers to establish and revisit classroom and group work norms, leverage Multiple Ability Orientation activities and explore new protocols for writing and discussion that allow students to explore their strengths and passions in a variety of formats.
- Create open-ended learning experiences- There is no shortage of buzzwords in education right now that are grounded in the philosophy of open-ended learning. From Project-based learning, to inquiry based learning, to Design Thinking-pick your framework and do it with fidelity, because the origins of these approaches lie in the notion that open-ended tasks (grounded in content standards): 1) “set the floor, not the ceiling”, meaning learning has unlimited potential; 2) provide students with ample opportunities for “voice and choice” through the learning process 3) allow for differentiated outcomes and processes that have the potential to truly meet the needs of all learners.
- Foster self-awareness -Passion is personal; what gets one student really fired up, might not do much for another student. For a student to know their strengths, passions, and areas for growth they must have an established foundation of intrapersonal skills that allow them to self reflect. Combined with this, the must also develop an agency to move their growth forward. I encourage teachers to build in opportunities for frequent feedback and reflection and honor the learning process through mechanisms such as Digital Portfolios, Student-Led Conferences and exhibitions of learning.
All of this said, this does not mean that standards should be ignored and best practices of teaching and learning omitted. I simply hope to bring a fresh perspective to the curriculum and classroom management conversations by exploring the role student passion could play in our classrooms, alongside content and skill mastery; Figuring out a healthy relationship between the two via authentic, open-ended learning that allows students to explore their interests provides a new promise for student engagement that will benefit us all!