- Students engaged in their learning tend to perform better, but few consistently get grade-appropriate assignments, and a new report released Thursday by The Education Trust zeroes in on two factors — choice and relevance — and how educators can use them to increase students' motivation and engagement in school assignments.
- The report's authors say teachers can provide choice through content, product and process by presenting broad topics but letting students narrow their tasks to smaller slices, letting students choose how they present what they've learned, and embracing the reality that everyone learns differently.
- Educators can also make assignments more relevant by teaching "rigorous content using themes across disciplines, cultures, and generations," using real-world examples, and connecting with their students' values and interests.
Time and again, student success and successful schools have been linked to engagement and motivation in the classroom. Successfully completing assignments isn't cutting it. Students who aren't able to stretch their knowledge and face rigorous lessons won't be prepared to succeed in college and beyond, and it's often low-income students, English learners, students of color and those with disabilities who don't have access to grade-appropriate work.
Choice and relevance are two of the many factors that make up engagement and motivation. As the authors write, motivation leads to students putting in more effort to understand problems and solve them, and when students have a vested interest in what they're learning, they'll take more time to grasp concepts. Each student is different, and by letting different classmates pursue their interests and showcase their learning in the way that fits them best, each will likely take more of an interest in their work and, by extension, be higher-achieving. And by incorporating real-world examples, not only will students be more informed of what's going on around them, but they could also help students see that what they're doing has bigger implications than just a grade in a class.
In the end, these results have big implications for the future: As the authors wrote, "with current college- and career-ready standards demanding more rigor, collaboration, critical thinking, and problem solving, students — now perhaps more than ever — need to stay positively engaged with and socially and emotionally connected to their learning."
Reforming lesson plans and assignments won't take a one-size-fits-all solution, as every student learns and interacts with problems differently. One way schools can look to address this problem is through more professional development opportunities. Giving teachers more time to work on their curricula and lesson plans, talk to parents and students about goals, and create grade-appropriate assignments for their students could go a long way in challenging them to achieve at higher levels and strive for success.