Does Engagement Equal Learning?

Does student engagement always ensure student learning? Not always. Students can be thoroughly engaged in your activity, and still walk away having learned very little about the content that you were hoping to teach. Even lessons that provide engagement can be all fun with little gained. This is why it is so vitally important that when we teach, we aim at both engagement and higher-order thinking about the content we are teaching. We suggest the use of Total Participation Techniques (TPTs). These are techniques that allow for all students to demonstrate, at the same time, active participation and cognitive engagement in the topic being studied. The use of higher-order thinking is what takes students beyond simple engagement. Instead it ensures that students are cognitively engaged. They're not just having fun; they are also thinking deeply about the content.

In our former book, The Language-Rich Classroom, we introduced the concept of higher-order thinking in this way: “Picture your brain as a room full of filing cabinets. Someone asks you, “How old are you?” You grab the file and give it to, or withhold it from, the person who asked the question. Another person asks a deeper question: “How has your perception of war been affected by the generation in which you were born?” Wow! You can’t just open one file and hand it to the person. Now you’ve got to open up several files. Some files may be related to the various major events that have affected your generation, your generation’s perceptions about war, and your own views about war. You’ll have to make correlations between the different files that you open, draw some conclusions, and maybe even develop new theories to which you hadn’t previously given much thought. This whole process is going to take some time, furrowing of the brows, perhaps a hand to the chin, a far-off gaze, and finally, a brilliant (though slow and perhaps hesitant) response that is uniquely linked to your experiences and the files you’ve opened” (p.82, 2009, ASCD).

As educators, that should be our ultimate goal, to get students to not just be able to regurgitate what we’ve taught, but to experience it in a way that causes them to deeply understand it and its relevance toward life. Our new book, Total Participation Techniques, provides you with real-world classroom examples of how teachers used TPTs to provide cognitively engaging lessons that were fun, but that also caused students to think deeply about the content. The book also includes 37 techniques, most of which are followed by a brief discussion on how to ensure higher-order thinking. Make it a priority this year, to not just engage your students, but to cognitively engage them by really causing them to think deeply about the content you’re teaching.

This post was originally published in ASCDEDge. To learn more, pick up a copy of our new book, Total Participation Techniques: Making every student an active learner, from ASCD.

Check out the ASCD Webinar on Total Participation Techniques for examples of TPTs and ideas & photos showing how to adapt some of the TPTs for younger learners.

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