Nov 6, 2012

To Be Engaged Through Authenticity

It’s a mystery what engages students. Whoever says otherwise is lying.

Sure, there are some tried and true strategies that result in engagement; those things that have students knee deep in rich learning. But can we really answer what it is about those experiences that hooks them?

In class today, I saw a group of students totally focused on the role of the government in relation to private enterprise while participating in Civic Mirror. I would classify these students as being immersed in the learning, however, as I take a step back I can’t seem to pinpoint what it was that was the factor for engagement.

Was it the gamification? Was it the competition? Was is it the structure of the activity?

I’ve seen students totally immersed in learning before when none of those things were present and instead, it was because it was fun, or included technology, or aesthetically pleasing.

So then, what is it that results in true engagement?

My first thoughts are connected to Dan Pink’s theories of intrinsic motivation being autonomy, mastery and purpose. (If you haven’t read Drive yet, pick it up. I think it is essential teacher reading.) But I also think, engagement is about authenticity.

That’s why it is so damn hard to pinpoint what causes engagement. It is equally hard to pinpoint authenticity.

I think of authenticity as a means of making learning real life.

It is connected to authentic audiences (not just the teacher or other classes but the marketplace). It is connected to authentic problems/projects (not just school work, imagine if projects). It is connected to authentic learning (I suppose this is about purpose primarily).

What does all this mean?

I don’t think I’ve got answer. I think that engagement is still a mystery, but it is in the process of moving “school work” to “life work.”

1 Comment

  • Well said, Scott.

    To add to your point about authenticity, I think teachers need to be truly passionate and believe that what they are teaching is significant and worthwhile. Early on in my career I was so fixated by the curriculum and other teachers’ lesson plans that I found myself teaching stuff I didn’t give a shit about and, in turn, neither did my students.

    I also think teachers need to be innovative and creative when it comes to presenting content. This should really be something that is studied and practiced in teacher college programs. We also should be participating in more of this throughout our careers. I’m not sure you can teach authenticity or passion to teachers, but I do think you can teach innovation and creativity.

    I believe if innovative and creative teachers are educating students about ideas that matter (I know, how do you decide what matters?), then you’re more likely to get greater engagement.

    I’m currently studying Pink’s book, “Drive”, with my 12U leadership class. The students are loving it as am I. One of their assignments related to the book is to write a proposal in which they suggest ways to upgrade our society from motivation 2.0 to motivation 3.0, maybe even beyond. I’ll share what they come up with.



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