RFSD News column: Focusing on student engagement to increase student success | PostIndependent.com

RFSD News column: Focusing on student engagement to increase student success

Rick Holt
RFSD News
Rick Holt

Student engagement occurs when students are keenly interested and engaged in their learning or activity — even for a moment or brief period of time. Research shows a strong correlation between student engagement and student achievement for all levels, subject areas and instructional activities. So increasing student engagement is the on-ramp to increasing student achievement.

That’s why the Roaring Fork Schools have been intentionally focused on embedding and improving engaging instruction in the classroom this year. Research shows, and we have observed, that using strategies to engage students in their learning is the most effective way to promote meaningful learning experiences. Engaging students in their learning is absolutely critical for success.

What is Engaging Instruction?

Increased engagement occurs when the active learning environment requires meaningful student interaction with the content, process or purposes, and students find themselves inspired to do their work. “Student engagement is the product of motivation and active learning. It is a product rather than a sum because it will not occur if either element is missing,” Elizabeth F. Barkley explained in Student Engagement Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty.

There are specific structures that teachers can use to keep students engaged in the content, including building relevance, peer-to-peer discussion, student choice, validating student thinking, and effective question techniques. All of these strategies support active learning that engages students in the process. In contrast, lectures, silent reading and worksheets are more passive strategies that fall short on engaging instruction.

Why Are We Focusing On Engaging Instruction?

The Roaring Fork Schools’ instructional model consists of three components: classroom culture, design elements and engaging instruction. Over the last three years, the district has provided professional development and feedback from “learning walks” that focused on and supported the entire model. The Instructional Team’s goal through its work is to improve high-quality instruction and to find high-leverage areas for continuous improvement.

This year’s instruction-related strategic priority zooms in on one particular area of the instructional model: engaging instruction. Specifically, the priority is to “increase academic engagement through sustained learning experiences that involve students cognitively, emotionally and behaviorally.” Chief Academic Officer Rick Holt, who oversees the district’s curriculum and instruction, explains that the current focus on engagement is the result of observations from the last three years.

This year’s instruction-related strategic priority zooms in on one particular area of the instructional model: engaging instruction. Specifically, the priority is to increase academic engagement through sustained learning experiences that involve students cognitively, emotionally and behaviorally. The current focus on engagement is the result of observations from the last three years. The Instructional Team has observed instructional practices in the classroom hundreds of times over the last three years and seen that the highest-leverage opportunity for improving students’ learning experiences is to make learning more engaging. This is the key to improving student learning.

In other words, increasing and improving engaging instruction is the most effective way for the Roaring Fork Schools to support student success. By focusing in on engaging instruction, the rest of the model is not set to the side because engaging instruction has roots in and strengthens the other areas of our instructional model.

How Are We Supporting Engaging Instruction?

The instructional team and building leaders are conducting the second of three learning walks for this year. During this process, building leadership and the instructional team visit more than 80 percent of our classrooms, noting bright spots and looking for schoolwide opportunities to improve engaging instruction. The goal is to get an understanding of what a student experiences in a school day and then provide buildingwide feedback based on that perspective. Additionally, this year’s professional development offerings are aligned with engaging instruction.

Over time, we expect that improving our engaging instruction will result in feedback from student surveys about students being more engaged. Long term, we expect to actually see an increase in student learning.

How Parents Can Support Student Engagement

Parents can help support student engagement at home by asking students about what they are learning, helping students make meaning out of what they are learning, and then connecting student learning to future goals.

Rick Holt is chief academic officer for Roaring Fork Schools.