Monday, July 25, 2011

EduKare: Choice is the rule of engagement...

Excellence, then, is a state concerned with choice, lying in a mean, relative to us, this being determined by reason and in the way in which the man of practical wisdom would determine it. Aristotle 

flickr photo by Benimoto

Recently the folks over at #ecosys were discussing the issue of student engagement in schools. This issue is prominent in education circles everywhere. Few would debate the necessity to engage students in their learning, so the dialog is centering around how best to actually do it. As I was reviewing the #ecosys Twitter stream from the latest chat, something I've been mulling lately popped back into my head. Engagement is about choice.

Self-determination is key if kids are to find relevance in what they learn; nobody appreciates being dictated to without the opportunity to have input... which makes it difficult to understand why we don't begin offering any learning content choice to students until secondary school.

It has always struck me that much of what is done in elementary school would benefit secondary school kids, and much of what is done in high school would benefit elementary school kids. Interestingly enough, so many of the exemplary teachers I have met and worked with from both elementary and secondary school are the same ones I'd be inclined to complement by telling them they'd be awesome teaching in the opposite school setting. There's something about secondary school teachers that haven't lost their inner child... their ability to be totally in the moment and uninhibited with their students; the ones that haven't forgotten that school is always more engaging when it's fun.

Conversely, there's also something about elementary teachers who understand that choice is a vital element of engaged learning, and who strive to establish a teaching and learning environment that encourages kids to steer their own learning ship as kids in secondary school should be expected to. This element of self-determination is fundamental to Edukare school philosophy.

Good teachers can be engaging just because of who they are. Because of their personality, perspective and ability to connect emotionally with kids, they stand out as those who have that extra bit of with-it-ness. Good teachers also scour the horizon routinely for the latest teaching tools to engage learners, but I'm not yet convinced that all good teachers understand the efficacy of choice as a tool to engage students. Tom Whitby recently tweeted...


Tom Whitby
A good teacher can be effective with a dirt floor & a stick. Add tech knowledge & Tools and things, more often than not, get better. 
As one who values the inclusion of contemporary technology advantages in education, I agree with Tom, but I have to ask whether any tool, including technology in education as a generalized tool, can be considered ubiquitously good if no choice is provided to students who would be potentially benefiting from using it? Under dare I say "normal" classroom circumstances, the only truly engaging tool in education is the provision of choice to students. We understand this in secondary school, but not so well in elementary school. If we're going to help kids write their own learning stories, we need to consider seriously how choice can factor prominently into teaching and learning in the kindergarten to fifth grade set.
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