Engagement or Empowerment?

In 2016, my district rolled out a plan to incorporate blended learning strategies, and models, into classes. This was a new idea to most of us, and the reasonings behind it made sense. I love new ideas, new ways of thinking, and incorporating different strategies to reach all of my students. As I tried different models, something seemed off.

It seemed to me that student engagement was off. These blended models looked great, the technology looked great, and freed me up to work with all students (one on one or small group). Blended learning seemed like the student engagement “cure-all”. Informal assessment told me otherwise. Looking back on the last year, the students seemed lost in a Chromebook; their eyes in a daze as they were having information overload. I’ve been in that state before – the best way to explain it is a feeling of anxiety building and building until you want to lose your mind. When I reach this state, I simply shut the chromebook and go for a walk. It occurred to me, if I’m feeling this way, students are feeling the same way during their 400 minute school day.

Last year, it became evident to me that blended learning models with tech were not the student engagement cure-all. This year I dedicated to improving student engagement through “out of the box” ideas and building relationships. Students need more than tech. They need a teacher that cares. They need a teacher that goes above and beyond to hook them into a lesson.

Different hooks I incorporated this year include: dressing up as a french agent, using props, music, having students create skits, piecing technology into my lessons, legos, food, mystery bags, student choice, and the list goes on (see examples). Student engagement this year has increased significantly (less discipline, more quality responses and creations). I realized that building relationships, using hooks, connecting students to one another, pieced around blended learning models would increase student engagement. However, I read an interesting quote in Innovator’s Mindset that stated, “You can engage students with a conversation on how to change the world, but why not make them want to go out and change the world by empowering them.”

This quote has been on my mind all day, and the main reason  I’m writing this post. Engagement is is great, but empowerment is better. However, in my case I needed to understand the engagement piece first. The next step for me is to learn how to empower students. Some interesting topics have been on my mind lately: design thinking, genius hours, and project based learning. These are the items I would like to learn more about, and incorporate into my class in the coming years. These are the items that can empower students to solving problems.

Looking back on 2016, along with the introduction of blended learning, we should have been discussing ways to build relationships, ideas to engage students, ideas to connect students to one another to solve problems. Technology alone will not solve engagement issues. Understanding strategies for engagement is necessary to use blended learning. In the end, however, your students must be engaged to empower them to change the world.

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