Engagement. Teach children how to engage.


I have a view about engagement. My view is that engagement is not something teachers should be amending the learning plan to include. I am sure that adding engagement is not the best way to work with children. I think we may well be missing an opportunity and doing children a disservice for their future learning if we provide the engagement.


Children do need to engage in learning. It is axiomatic that to learn they must engage with the learning. I am saying that the engagement in learning is an internal process for a child. By trying to make a task engaging we are using external, extrinsic, motivation and the evidence is that intrinsic motivation is what we want. That is what will generate life long learners.


I want to distinguish between engaging with the task and engaging with the learning. When teachers add the engagement to make the activities enjoyable that is wrong, for me. When teachers create activities that challenge children and children meet those challenges effective learning can happen. When children know how to engage and how that leads them to learn great things can happen. I wish there was another word for making the activities engaging. I wish that teachers could distinguish between the two versions of engagement. One version is ‘willingly takes part’ and the other is ‘learns’.


Let me digress for a while. Please bear with me. We, my wife and I, have two dogs. Lovely Belgian Shepherds, Carlos and Merlin. As a breed one could say Belgians are enthusiastic, which makes them great dogs to train and very enjoyable to be with. But they are also quite excitable. When it is time to go out their preferred method was to wait for the inner door to be opened and then barge out past, and into, any object or human that was in the way in a rush to get to the door leading to the garden. They would knock over anything. The corridor to the external door was a wreck. If you have dogs you may well know the effect!


My wife was very angry that the dogs knocked everything down. My suggestion for a solution, which did not go down too well, was to say that the corridor should be cleared so that there was nothing to knock down. Seemed sensible to me. But my wife, who is not to be trifled with – let me assure you, said that this was certainly not the solution. She said I must train the dogs to go out sensibly. So, train them I did and we now have a much calmer time instead of the mad rush to exit. Stuff rarely gets knocked down and humans are reasonably safe. She was right. Doing the right thing, training the dogs is a much better solution. Removing stuff is a solution but it is a poor one. Took some time to teach the dogs to walk, calmly behind me to the exit door. Not as quick as just moving the stuff out of the way!


Creating engaging activities will mean that children enjoy their work but, for me, it is the wrong solution. They may not learn as effectively. We need a way of getting children to learn because they have the skills to learn, not because the teacher has managed to create a fireworks lesson which, I believe, might well distract from the learning rather than add to it. The impression is that children are learning when what is really happening is that are just waiting for the next enjoyable bit. Teacher as an entertainer. Or more cuttingly, teacher as a clown.


If we could teach children to engage in learning rather than have to be engaged by the teacher then we might have done them a real, life long favour. Or should we go for just clearing the corridor to the exit so that nothing gets knocked down?

In my next blog I am going to explore how we might teach children to engage. It will rely on the attitude my wife has. Do it properly and have rightly high expectations of behaviours. Perhaps she should write the blog. I love her lots.
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