Saturday, 18 July 2015

It's all about the Student Engagement!

It is all about the student engagement! This is what my week has been about. As we all know there are so many things that happen in the week of the educator, but this week was like I entered into a theme park on Monday and left on Friday.

This theme park had so many attractions that could be focused on but I am keen to share about the killer roller coaster of student engagement.

I was prepared and excited to be coming back from mid-year break. I was ready to introduce the new topics for the term, however, I was most excited about introducing Genius Hour to my Year 4 class.
My stage also had planned an immersion activity for our PBL unit: Was life the same for everyone? (colonisation). My stage then had an innovation planning day on the Friday with a science focus to allow us, as Jr School teachers, spend time with our HS head of science, promoting investigations from a true scientific direction.

I felt that my week was going to be excellent. I could not have been more correct.

Student rapport and engagement have always been central to my teaching. Always on the look out, as many of you are, for something to grab the students and make them see themselves as you see them. Genius Hour has grabbed me this year. While this concept, from research appears to be gaining legs in the US, here in Australia there are only some small pockets of educators talking about it.

When I introduced GH to the class this week I was blown away by their excitement and enthusiasm. Feel free to track how GH is going in my class through the "Idea Share" section on my blog. I am going to post there about all the trials and tribulations that occur along the way. There was one reaction that literally made me leap in the classroom as I heard it.

Framing the moment - I have finally explained to my class what GH is. There had been one small poster on our board and the students had been asking for two days what it was about. I followed the lead of those before me (Chris Kesler) and prepared as suggested with multimedia presentations, I even used the 'Kid President" video, which was a hit. The students have learned the 3 Rules that GH will run with and they are going somewhere in the classroom to brainstorm ideas. One student (JW) jumps up, a few moments later than everyone else, who have run off to get their ideas down before they fall out of their heads. JW runs to me and says excitedly, in a strong and proud voice:

"Mr Hosking, I am going to tell the world about dyslexia from a kids perspective!"

If that is not engagement, I don't know what is. I cannot wait to see what comes from that first thought, but JW has the Genius Hour bug as the next day his mum came up and said that he was "bouncing off the walls excited to learn" when he got home.

As I said, student engagement was a roller coaster this week.

The whole of Stage 2 were buzzing, it was sport day but their teachers were dressed up in 'weird' clothing from the start of the day. We were in character, the everyday British people of the 1770s. What the students learnt was that we were actually people from the first fleet to Australia. Today was our trial and the four classes were directed by guards, also dressed up, into the 'courtroom' ready for the judgement. The trial started and we were sentenced.

Student engagement was high. So high, that it all felt too real for some of the students. After some debriefing all was fine. However, while it was fun and I would do it again in a heart beat, the spotlight was thrown onto the idea of failure. I could see this as a failure, or as a set back to what was trying to be achieved. I choose not to. I see this as win! Next time I will take into account and be better prepared for this as a possibility in student reaction. However, it was great and the students are asking questions and looking for answers as to why people were treated this way and why the need for transportation.

Image from @HostBrian
A good roller coaster ends with you wanting to have that thrill back. Teach Like a Pirate was that end. Thanks to the enthusiasm, and experience of Dave Burgess, I am highly motivated to keep the thrill of this week a reality in my classes permanently. At the beginning of the week I had only heard of the book Teach Like a Pirate but had not read it and not really looked into the idea. I was invited to tag along with a colleague to a PD evening with the Pirate himself, Dave Burgess.

I have to say that I am 'hooked'. Dave Burgess was motivating and entertaining. His enthusiasm for the students in his class is unmatched. Working with some of the hardest students in his district he has planted the love of learning in their lives.

Some of the key take homes for me include:

  • Teaching is not supposed to be easy. It is supposed to be WORTH it!
  • It is not enough to be good, you have to inspiring.
  • If you had to sell tickets to your classes, would anyone be there?
  • Use hooks to engage the students and then deliver content at their peak engagement.
These are questions that I look forward to asking myself more regularly. What are some of the questions that you ask yourself to gauge if you are on the right track? 

Walking away from the most entertaining and motivating PD sessions for some time, with a new book to read and a head full of possibilities, I could not help but smile. I am looking forward to the next ride on this roller coaster.

 These images are available on Dave Burgess's site.

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