And that's the story of how I got my new shell. It looks just like the one I threw out yesterday, and I found it in the same dumpster. But this one had a live raccoon inside. Dr Zoidberg
I am still struggling to buy into this whole 21st Century Learner thing where we claim (in Zoidbergian new shell type arguments) that at some point, between yesterday and today, the learner and or their process of learning has changed.
Students today are different from those of yesterday. They think and engage differently. Hon Steve Maharey Minister of Education. The New Zealand Curriculum. Draft for Consultation 2006
What makes it harder for me is that those making the claims don’t/can’t elaborate on the research identifying the point of difference/ the live raccoon, between yesterday and today’s learners.
Whilst no one from the MoE is describing the learning experiences of current New Zealand students as impoverished and or dislocated, many of the statements around the release of the new draft curriculum suggest that its point of difference from the existing curriculum is that it will allow teachers to “engage all students in rich and authentic learning experiences.” Leading one to ask just what have our students been engaged in before this?
“Engagement” is an interesting notion, as is “rich and authentic”. When I hear schools advocating the use of student inquiry and authentic contexts over other pedagogical approaches on the grounds that it engages (and thus apparently motivates) students, I always want to ask
- How do you assess engagement?
- How different are these measures when students are learning through inquiry activities than when they are learning through other pedagogical approaches? And
- What difference do you find in student learning outcomes that can be causally attributed to your measures of engagement?
And when I think about “rich and authentic” I want to ask, authentic to whom? I want to know why “rich and authentic” is a more popular descriptor of the quantity and quality of the learning experience than “educationally relevant”
Ailsa’s recent blog post comment neatly captures my problem with depending on notions of student engagement as a necessary and sufficient foundation for choosing the curriculum and pedagogical approaches we use in classrooms.
My education actually did me a great service that I was not aware of at the time. 30 years later I can praise the choice of literature, George Orwell with Animal Farm. I hated it at the time- not all education is, or should be, enjoyed, and Teachers wait a long time for praise!
In my workplace the SEPs (Student evaluation of a paper) would never be able to pick up such longterm effectiveness of course content or teaching effectiveness.
As Ailsa notes, measures of student satisfaction with a course, subject, or topic are not necessarily related to student learning in the short term or long term.
Learning is not a consumer activity that can be assessed by surveys of satisfaction. “It was heaps of fun” is not a measure of relevant, effective and or long lasting student learning outcomes
And engagement, despite Prensky’s slickly marketable “engage me or enrage me” stuff, engagement is not a self report measure of wonderment and awe but rather a reflection of the determined and persistent focus that a learner needs to promote learning.
As Brabazon notes in her provocative book Digital Hemlock “To read remember, understand, synthesise and interpret knowledge is often drudgery. To learn with effectiveness requires repetition, practice and failure.”’ (p9)
I don’t know how to measure student engagement apart from perhaps self report surveys of study behaviours. And when I ask teachers what they think engagement is and how they might measure it they don’t know either. The conversation is all live raccoon stuff.
When unsubstantiated claims about student engagement/ or lack of it are being promoted as the reason for reengineering curriculum and or changing whole schools over to inquiry learning I reckon we should know more about it than we do.
The concept is simple, deceptively simple, the way we interpret engagement is anything but.
Let loose the raccoons.