What a wonderful thing it is when one person proposes to another and the other says, “Yes!” and there is what we call an engagement. The happy couple is engaged! When two people love each other at the same time it is one of those special times where all the world smiles and life is good.
When the word “engagement” is used in educational circles it carries the same kind of positive aura as does its romantic context. In the educational setting “engagement” means that students are making an investment in the school work they are being assigned. They are not just “doing their assignments” but are making a psychological investment in the substance of the subject matter. They are involved in learning and not just the pursuit of grades. This, like a girl saying “yes!” to a guy, is a wonderful thing! It is probably safe to say that one of the key things evaluating administrators are looking for in teachers all across America is their ability to get students “engaged”! It is one of the current darling buzzwords in education.
I was interviewed this week by one of the founders of the “flipped” movement in America, Mr. Jon Bergmann, who I have mentioned in previous posts. Jon (flippedclass.com) is interviewing teachers who are using the flipped methodology as part of his research for several new books he is working on. I was flattered when Jon, as he was learning about my classes, said he would like to come and observe. While I of course welcomed his visit, I immediately said to him something like “Well there is really not much to see…” I said this because as I thought about it, a visitor to my class might not see anything “sexy” going on, meaning there might not be on any given day a bunch of smiling, shouting students, involved in back and forth banter with their teacher and classmates. Some days might involve such positive fireworks, such as the day a Chicago Tribune reporter and photographer visited my class to watch my students debate on the issues in the Illinois gubernatorial campaign. But probably most days, if an observer walked in, they would see students working at their computers and a teacher sitting at his desk ready to help and guide them when prompted. Not too earth shattering.
Measuring educational “engagement” is not as easy as looking for an engagement band on someone’s finger. I am not sure you could walk into any American classroom and have any kind of immediate proof of its level of engagement. Outward indicators might prove misleading. So it just happened that the day after Mr. Bergmann interviewed me was the day I had planned to gather some data from my students along the lines of “engagement.” One of the requirements of the grant I received which filled my classroom with computers was that I must gather some kind of data to measure what educational impact this costly technological addition might be having. I kind of stressed over this requirement because I felt like I was a teacher just teaching, using the computers as best I could, and grateful, truly, for the ability they gave me to “flip” my classes. But just not sure how best to measure the growth I was sensing. I have shared throughout this blog about my joy as I have experienced evidence of student growth and engagement, but this is anecdotal and qualitative.
Over a month ago I began crafting a question I could ask students through a Google form which would only allow my students to answer, and answer just once. While I never felt totally like I finally had the perfect wording in the question, like most things in teaching with its ongoing insistence on answering the bell period by period, I finally said, “Let’s go with this.” Here is the question I asked all of my students yesterday, through a Google form:
“Please answer the following question to capture how engaged you are in the flipped classroom environment we are using in this class. (Where the responsibility is put on you to acquire information from podcasts, other students, and the book). Student engagement is defined by Fred Newmann as when ‘students make a psychological investment in learning. They try hard to learn what school offers. They take pride not simply in earning the formal indicators of success (grades), but in understanding the material and incorporating or internalizing it in their lives.'”
- A. I am much more engaged with course material in the flipped method than the traditional lecture method.
- B. I am slightly more engaged with course material in the flipped method than the traditional lecture method.
- C. I am about equally engaged with course material in the flipped method as the traditional lecture method.
- D. I am slightly less engaged in course material in the flipped method as compared to the traditional lecture method.
- E. I am much more engaged in course material in the traditional lecture method than the flipped method.
So after grading all the day’s tests Friday, the end of the work week, my final teacher duty at my desk after school was to check out the responses my students had made to this single Google-form question. When I had asked them to answer the question before they took their test, I had said nothing about what it was for, or what it was about. My request of them to answer the question was brief, and very matter-of-fact. I did not want to influence what they might write one way or the other. Students were being asked to think about what they had experienced in my flipped classes and compare it with their level of engagement in traditional lecture-based classes. I have never made this a conscious issue in the class before for students to discuss or feedback to me. Partly because I was afraid of what they might say, but mostly because I wanted to be sure they had experienced the ins and outs of “flipping” before they reflected on it. This was the day.
The initial results seem like a data-based affirmation to the anecdotal sense I have had that there is powerfully more student engagement in the flipped model, where the teacher takes a back seat and student responsibility can more authentically kick in. Over 70% of the students indicated that they are more engaged with the flipped methodology, and over 40% were willing to choose the response which said they were “much more” engaged in the flipped environment. There was only one respondent who indicated that they are much more engaged with the lecture-based environment, and only 6% who indicated they were “slightly” more engaged by the lecture-based environment. 22% indicated they it didn’t matter which environment they were in, they were “equally” engaged.
I realize that this data could be interpreted in many ways. I realize there are limitations to the polling method, the choices given to the prompt, and so on and so on. But while there are mountains beyond mountains of choices for teachers, whose work is never done, I am momentarily rejoicing in the choices I have made in the way I am operating my classes this year. I am momentarily exhaling from this sense of satisfaction, knowing that come Monday, the challenge of engaging young people, and urging them to take responsibility for their own learning, will begin again.