Reinforcing the ‘Why’ in the Classroom

Ensuring meaningful, engaging student learning.

GUEST COLUMN | by Becca Hughes

Engaging students in their learning is at the core of creating effective instructional experiences that lead to academic achievement. The disruptions to students’ learning environments over the past two years has caused a parallel disruption in student engagement.

The fluctuation between in person and remote learning and the many factors impacting students’ sense of emotional well being have led to many students feeling disconnected from school.

How do we build back that connection?

To be truly engaged, students need to understand the ‘why’ behind their learning experiences. While there are a number of factors contributing to student engagement, understanding the reasons for learning is a crucial factor.

In order to get the most out of their educational experience and the lessons learned inside the classroom, students need to understand and be reminded of their overall purpose as a student and at the same time understand the relevance of specific lessons.

Understanding their Purpose as a Student

In order to understand their purpose as a student, we need to show students the connection between their K-12 learning and their future lives and professions. If we recognize that the ultimate goal of education is to provide students with the tools to be global citizens who positively contribute to our world, we need to create opportunities for students to learn about future ways to fulfill this goal.

‘In order to understand their purpose as a student, we need to show students the connection between their K-12 learning and their future lives and professions.’

That means teaching students about the myriad of professions that exist now and that are predicted to exist in years to come. Students should have opportunities to learn about a broad variety of careers as well as to experience ways to contribute to society.

By using intentional instructional materials and incorporating real life experiences into curriculum, schools can help students identify professions that interest them and build toward continued engagement. When students use texts and digital activities to learn about a diverse group of people’s journeys, challenges and accomplishments in various careers, they discover their own future potential paths.

When students have opportunities to listen to, learn from and interact with local community members or the broader community whether in person or via video calls, they are opened up to possibilities for their own future.

When students have time to be an integral part of taking action to support local or global communities through service-focused or project based learning, they experience how they can effect change and make a difference in the world.

Connecting to the Big Picture

Students also need to understand that their daily school routine and instruction has a meaningful goal, whether in the short term or long term. Not only does understanding the reasons for doing an assignment build engagement, it also builds a feeling of competence.

The reasons for tackling a task or assignment may be related to a larger goal and it can be merely to learn about something they’re interested in. When students are given the choice to read or engage in a topic of interest, it can spark their interest overall in learning.

Likewise ensuring a culturally responsive approach to instruction builds relevance for students. When learning incorporate texts and resources that connect to students’ backgrounds and experiences and when there are opportunities for students to share and learn about each other’s experiences, students feel and understand the value of their own and each other’s cultures and identities. Building knowledgeable and supportive classroom communities leads to a meaningful learning environment.

Relevant and Meaningful

In order to ensure we are engaging students in learning, a focus of 2022 needs to be on building back the connection between students and what they are learning.

When students make connections to the world around them and when they see the relevance and importance of their learning, they will be more likely to continue as active participants in their education. They will be more likely to see how they can be positive contributors to our future world and they will be more likely to work towards that goal.

We need to support districts, schools, and communities to strengthen how we are creating daily and ongoing relevant and meaningful learning experiences for students.

Becca Hughes currently serves as Director of Editorial Development for Learning A-Z, ensuring instructional resources support teachers and in turn lead to student engagement and academic success. During her 20+ years of experience in public education and learning-focused organizations, Becca has been a teacher, instructional coach, academic school director, and curriculum director and editor.


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