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Our Human Need to Engage


This week's post builds on last week's, Engaged or Compliant. It intends to move toward what Robert Marzano suggests: "Arguably, keeping students engaged is one of the most important considerations for the classroom teacher."


I refer my readers to a thought-provoking study written by Harvey F. Silver and Matthew J. Perini titled The Eight C's of Engagement: How Learning Styles and Instructional Design Increase Students' Commitment to Learning. In it, they cite four human drives or learning styles that are common among learners and how eight C's, when intentionally applied, can address and motivate students to support these drives.


Drive #1: "Students with a strong drive toward mastery delight in developing new competencies and mastery of skills that will earn the respect of others."

  • Competition - friendly competition through games and cooperative activities, rather than the fierce personal competition that can quickly become divisive and negative.

  • Challenge - Students love a challenge and will rise to the occasion if they can imagine the task is within their grasp. The authors suggest incorporating three levels of challenge into the classroom activity and allowing students to select which level they are most comfortable with, while maintaining a culture of risk taking as a primary way to build confidence as a learner.

Drive #2: "Students with a strong understanding drive are compelled to make sense of things. This drive appears in their tendency to question, their love of puzzles, their passion for new ideas and their sensitivity to flaws and gaps in logic."

  • Curiosity - (As humans, we are innately curious. Students bring their need to satisfy their curiosities with them when they enter school. Their curiosity should be considered an instructional gift, and should be seen as a valuable tool toward meaningful inquiry. Unfortunately, this is frequently not the case. Curiosity will be the subject of future posts.) The authors suggest that teachers provoke students to inquire, investigate and go beyond the obvious, using "Yes, but why?" questions.

  • Controversy - Encourage students to investigate and participate in the controversies and intellectual disagreements that are inherent in every content area or discipline of study.

Drive #3: "Students with a strong drive toward self-expression long to be unique, to have their differences acknowledged and to express those kernels within themselves that belong to them and no one else."

  • Choice - Choice is a powerful motivator. Build opportunities for students to pursue their interests and to make decisions about their learning. Allowing students to choose their pathway not only increases their degree of engagement, it supports their becoming self-regulating and autonomous learners .

  • Creativity - Students need to express themselves. When allowed to do so, they will embrace their creative instincts. Teachers should encourage divergent thinking and unorthodox approaches to tasks. (Anyone who knows me understands that my instructional philosophy holds creativity as a corner stone. Consequently, creativity, and how it should be promoted rather than diminished, will be the feature of many upcoming posts.)

Drive #4: "Students with a strong interpersonal drive long to interact with others. They hope that their work is of value and interest to themselves and others."

  • Cooperation - The ability to cooperate and collaborate are 21st century skills that are expected outcomes of a truly contemporary education. And, children typically enjoy working together; feeling a sense of belonging to a group. Classroom learning activities should not be isolating. Rather, they should invite shared contributions toward common learning goals.

  • Connections - Why is this important? How does this connect to anything else? Providing intentional opportunities for building connections is the foundation of students' abilities to find relevance in what they are doing and are expected to do.


Silver and Perini acknowledge what all experienced teachers know - good ideas are meaningless unless they are intentionally woven into an instructional design that will keep students engaged. They contend that well designed lessons or units of study will have five types of learning experiences in support of students constructing knowledge. They are:

  • Knowledge anticipation: the "hook" to capture students' attention, activate their prior knowledge and preparing them for what is to come,

  • Knowledge acquisition, where students actively make sense of the material that is being presented, in whatever form (print, lecture, projects),

  • Time to practice and process, allowing students to explore the content more deeply and identify the essential learning through modeling and coaching,

  • Knowledge application, where students demonstrate the full scope of their learning through both formative and summative assessments, which may include projects and student designed demonstrations,

  • Reflection, time to step back and consider where they are, what they've learned and set future learning goals.


By now, anyone who has been following my posts is beginning to observe a theme. It is not coincidental that topics like relevance, engagement, curiosity and creativity continue to appear. These topics are central to my effort to influence changes in American public education that will assure all students a contemporary educational experience. These topics are central to my book The Education Kids Deserve: Attaining Relevance and 21st Century Skills through Curiosity, Creativity, Inquiry, Integration and Innovation (available through my website theeducationkidsdeserve.com). I am deeply appreciative that folks care enough about the future of our children to indulge my expressions of concern and suggestions for improvement to our education system.


Join me. It takes a village . . .

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