Could a classroom be transformed into a place where "on task" and "off task no longer had any meaning, where all student activity that led to learning was honored and promoted?
@GeraldAungst poses this disruptive question in his recent post entitled On-Task is not a waypoint on the route to engagement. He describes a four-quadrant grid with On-Task as the horizontal axis and Engaged as the vertical axis.
He correctly observes that "While we'd like to have all students in the upper-left quadrant (on task and engaged), we seem to think that the lower-left quadrant is the next-best place to be." And he asks, "What if instead of forcing kids to the left, we looked for ways to raise them up into the quadrant of off task but engaged? What kinds of teacher action would encourage a student to engage on his terms without necessarily participating in our activity?"
The distinction that @GeraldAungst articulates between on-task and engaged relates to Phil Schlechty's distinction between ritualistic engagement and authentic engagement. With ritualistic engagement, students go through the motions of a task, complying with the instructions of teachers, but not fully committing themselves to a task because they do not intrinsically value it.
I commented on Gerald Aungst's blog about practical considerations relating to his proposal for a classroom where ALL student activity that leads to learning is honored and promoted. Gerald appropriately responded, "If practical things are getting in the way of learning, maybe we have to change what we consider practical . . .Change the system, and what is practical may change."
Honoring ALL student activity that leads to learning is an incredibly high standard. Accepting Aungst's challenge to "change the system" with this high standard in mind leads to many disruptive questions. How should the student day be organized? What type of classes, if any, would be held? To what extent, if at all, should we rely on direct instruction? How should we assess and recognize student progress in learning? Is there still a role for course credits/Carnegie units?
And this brings me to the key role of student choice. Even within the confines of the current system (standardized tests, bell schedules, Carnegie units, etc), educators can increase the likelihood of student engagement by providing more student choice. This leads to greater variety of student activity within a classroom, even if it does not achieve the proposal of honoring and promoting ALL student activity that leads to learning.
Imagine a continuum that runs from teacher control to honoring ALL student activity that leads to learning. Providing students more choices moves us along the continuum.
We can provide students different types of choices. Broad or narrow. Relating to means or outcomes. In any case, as we provide students more choices, we will open our minds to the possibilities and avenues towards honoring ALL student activity that leads to learning.
To use the language of @GeraldAungst, choice is a waypoint on one of the routes to student engagement.
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