When did "engagement" become "fun?"
It became apparent throughout her career that students achieved to the standards she set. Expect that it’s too difficult for students to show up to class on time, and students showed up to class late. She expected that students showed up on time, and they did.
Expect that students aren't responsible enough to bring their materials, and students would show up without materials. Naturally, students showed up to her class with all the required materials. These are two very negative examples, because the same standards of achievement worked when a high standard was set.
She expected students to listen to every word she said, and they listened intently. She expected students to speak to one another respectfully and they avoided swearing, derogatory terms, and slurring. She expected students to work together (actually work together, not just sit and talk about the football game) and students worked together. She expected students to work for forty minutes straight, even on the day before Christmas break, and they got used to working for forty minutes straight while other classrooms in the building rewarded thirty minutes of work with ten minutes of fun, wasted nothingness.
Students entered her classroom, read the board on the right to see what they were expected to accomplish in the beginning of the period, and they took their seats and started working -- not a minute of engagement wasted. She delivered directions clearly, modeled how to solve a single problem, and then let students work on the next problem. They invariably made mistakes, and by reviewing the mistakes they made, the lesson was immediately authentic, because she was teaching students, not curriculum. Note that she was teaching students, not entertaining students.
There were never more than two steps that students were supposed to accomplish at a single time, and there was no long stretch of unstructured time during which students could disengage. During math class, every student was always engaged in listening, solving, correcting, questioning, teaching, erasing, and reorganizing. Fun was not part of the equation -- mathematics pun intended.
In a statistically low achieving district, with only 8% 8th grade proficiency on the Common Core Aligned state test, her students achieved 74% proficiency when compared to other actual students in actual schools in the actual United States. To the non-researchers among you, that means 74% of her students outperformed the national average of eighth graders everywhere that our online testing software was used. I do not particularly love research or data, obviously, but that statistic staggered me. At the end of the same year, with the same students, my kids only achieved something like 34% proficiency compared to their peers. If my friend writes a book, you should read it.
Students in a class like the one above will misbehave less. People misbehave when they have the time to do so. I am more likely to eat healthy food during the school year, because I have forty minutes to eat lunch. Either I eat the can of black beans or the salad that I brought, or I go hungry. There’s no time to misbehave. Similarly, I don’t snack (as much) during the school year, because I’m too busy teaching, and correcting, and planning, and managing. During the summer, when I have time, I eat far worse. Students’ behavior isn’t that much different than my eating tendencies. Given too much time, they will behave poorer, given constant engagement, and they will behave better.
Do students behave in the above class because they’re having fun? No. Students behave in classrooms like the one above because they are engaged in academic activities, and have no time to get into trouble. They behave, in large part, because consequences force them to behave, or at the very least, give structure to their behavior. This type of engagement does not happen by accident. Follow the rules below to achieve similar results.
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So much of the writing published about education is published by people who don't teach. I figured it was time for a teacher to write about teaching. I've been proud to teach 8th-grade ELA in Dunkirk City Schools since 2007, and to serve at Fredonia State University as an adjunct professor, teaching educational technology since 2017.