By: Danielle Venanzi, Professional Learning Content
“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”- William Butler Yeats
Cognitive engagement is deep learning; it requires analysis, critical thought, and a challenge. So, how do we light that fire of cognitive engagement? Too often we see compliant learners in our classrooms, masquerading as engaged learners. The standard shifts call for our students to “productively struggle.” Thus, for students to be cognitively engaged, we must reevaluate the usual negative connotation associated with the idea of struggle.
In Text Complexity: Stretching Readers with Texts and Tasks, the authors highlight the idea that “Productive failure provides students the opportunity to struggle with something and learn from the mistakes that are made along the way” (Fisher, Frey, Lapp). Our 21st century learners need to be thinking, analyzing, synthesizing and exploring. Students need to be given the time and space to productively struggle in an effort to construct meaning and learn from those failures…otherwise they will be quietly cooperating, yet truly disengaged.
So how do we create a culture of cognitive engagement in the classroom? Jackson and Zmuda offer four keys to designing classroom practices that foster cognitive engagement.
Students need to understand the why behind the what. When we fail to share the purpose with our students, we are neglecting a clear focus. However, when we propose essential questions, and share the “big picture”, we enable our students to go beyond the surface; teacher clarity encourages higher-level thinking. Purposeful planning tied to learning goals clarifies the importance of students’ own learning, resulting in higher levels of engagement.
Offer a Relevant Context
How many times have you been satisfied by the answer, “Just because”? Related to the purpose, we need to explain why student work is important while connecting that importance to their lives. By doing so, we provide relevancy which in turn deepens student understanding of and engagement with the concept.
Create a Supportive Classroom Culture
When there is no risk, there will be little cognitive engagement. However, there cannot be too much risk devoid of support. Scaffolding students and showing them that they can achieve success encourages cognitive engagement with the material. When we anticipate the common mistakes or misconceptions that learners may have ahead of time, we eliminate potential roadblocks in engagement.
Provide the Appropriate Challenge
Deep learning consists of problem solving. When we give students a “non-problem” they are unable to play with ideas and dig deeper. We need to craft lessons that ask students to grapple with perspectives, frame questions, make predictions, and solve complex problems. Challenging our students engages our students.
When we clarify, provide context, scaffold, and challenge, we “light the fire” for cognitive engagement.