Why isn’t that kid on task!

Student engagement is such as hot topic these days. With a wave of the Magic iWand, today’s youth can move from work avoider to engaged entrepreneur according to the buzzy world of edtech. It seems every off-task work avoider can be won over, if only we knew a guy who knows the right app to do it. I don’t buy into this at all. Teaching is hard and it’s always been hard. High school kids do not walk into school with a neutral work ethic, nor is there some gear-change moment that teachers are supposed to spot. Not all kids like the topic or the subject at hand, nor do their siblings or parents for that matter.

There are groupings of students and there are groups of students. Finding the sweet-spot assumes that at some point, by some method or incantation, that teaching and learning can be a stable pursuit. Attempting to separate motivation, attitude, belief and effort from learning is as useful as trying to guess the lottery. Moving kids from one grouping to another requires a careful hand — and not based on a score or a grade. We can put children into any number of groups, but not solve the wicked problem itself. For example, if your classroom is attempting to be PBL, but the mindset of separating kids is though behaviour+marks, then the exercise is futile and unlikely to improve one thing without de-stablising another.

When people thrust “data” from some form on “test” about comprehension, cognition etc., then this is like trying to weigh a pig to see how happy it is … unless your classroom is designed to operate in sync with the test itself. I guess cookie-cutter classrooms and tests are one way to represent education to the public, but not engagement. Are the kids disengaged or just tuned to other channels?

The problem is not ‘education’ or what content is used in it, but the fact that students are increasingly under the illusion that advances in technology has brought them on-tap knowledge and endless choices about what they do and when they do it. I’m sure that the ‘dose-response’ taking hold among societies technological users is eroding the basic need to get onto a task, figure it out and bring it home. That’s not engagement, that’s a battle with consumerism and behavioural conditioning that we might not be winning, despite our ability to draw circles.

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