Engagement, graffiti and being an entertainer. . . . .

Over the last three weeks I have been acting TAS co-ordinator as my boss has been on sick leave. . . . he not only left big shoes to fill (funny, because he not only has bigger feet than me, but is also wearing a bootie to protect a broken heel) but at a busy and tiring time of term it was even more challenging. ANYWAY, the point of this reflective post is that we had a TAS meeting on thursday morning, and on my little agenda post-it was the following equation: (ENGAGING ACTIVITIES + RELEVANT ACTIVITIES = HAPPY STUDENTS) HAPPY TEACHER . . . .

After a sad week where one sewing machine was broken (seemingly on purpose) and others were found with scratch marks and graffiti, I started to ponder the CAUSE. We all know that engaged students are “easier to manage”, we have less classroom management issues when students can access work and are interested, however, we have an ongoing issue with this and YEAR 8 TEXTILES. The more I started to think about how the sewing machines were damaged a little scenario started to play in my head. . . . Year 8 student, slouched in their chair, frustrated with the sewing machine because it wont work, it cant be fixed without the teachers help, teacher is busy helping someone else and they are taking AGES, it’s old anyway, and broken too? *FRUSTRATION!!!! *cue pushing/turning all dials until something breaks. . . . 

I don’t think it matters what classroom or subject matter we are talking about, frustrated teenagers are not ideal. Respect for their teacher and environment diminishes when THEY CAN’T DO. . . SIMPLY, IT IS OUR JOB TO TEACH THEM, make work accessible to all and ALLOW THEM TO LEARN AND HAVE A SENSE OF ACHIEVEMENT.

I did loads of reading this week on engagement, and I found an old but interesting article that reiterated EXACTLY what I was thinking “Good teachers are firmly in control, allow discussion and its attendant noise only in so far as it is educational, and direct and shape student learning. The best teachers know how much to talk, when to listen, how to motivate student interest and engagement and at what point to unleash the students, under supervision, as active learners, engaging richly and deeply with the learning material”

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/society-and-culture/why-teachers-need-to-be-entertainers-20110717-1hked.html#ixzz279KX8OpB

In a practical subject, the point at which we UNLEASH THE STUDENTS to use machines, tools and equipment is vital. They need to be confident enough to problem solve and self correct- there is NO WAY a teacher can possibly attend to all the raised hands at once that are calling out “MISSSSSS!!!! SIRRRRRRRR!!!! MY SEWING MACHINE ISNT WORKING?! CAN YOU FIX IT!!??”.

At Thursdays meeting as a faculty we had an excellent discussion based on this article, my thoughts in regards to the cause for the damage to the sewing machines and some practical ways to avoid this in the future. We looked at ways of BALANCING PRAC- so that students were confident in the machine use BEFORE actually using it, buddy systems and also techniques and strategies in managing challenging behaviour that is stemmed from frustration. We mainly see this challenging behaviour from boys- in their gender bias of textiles and battle with the complexity of the sewing machine. BUT, we came to an agreement, which isn’t new –that the TEACHER makes a difference, their enthusiasm, helpfulness and encouragement is what KEEPS STUDENTS motivated AND engaged. And DESPITE the unit of work and a students perception/interest level, a GOOD TEACHER WILL MAKE LEARNING HAPPEN!

I am not avoiding the fact that the broken sewing machine is WRONG, however, we should delve deeper into the cause of student behaviours, be proactive and employ practices that prevent them from happening.

YOUR TURN: Where does student engagement COME FROM? . . .from the content? from you? from your activities? . . . . What does an ENGAGED student look like? how does is affect your class management? how do you plan ENGAGING lessons??


5 thoughts on “Engagement, graffiti and being an entertainer. . . . .

  1. I agree it is important that students are able to operate machinery (or have the cognitive skills for other tasks) before they tackle projects, as a sense of competence and achievement is vital for engagement.
    Engagement comes from interest in my experience. If students have a lot of say in what they are going to do, within the parameters of the projects and outcomes, they will be generally happier and more productive.
    A lot also depends on the make up of the class as well. In some subjects, in some demographic areas, students don’t have much in the way of skills – in numeracy and literacy for example.
    For example there are two schools only 10km apart here, and yet they could be on different planets. A difficult question. A lot does have to do with the enthusiasm and interest of the teacher. A practical application of interest to the student is also likely to be engaging.

  2. Ah! Such a great discussion… and at such an apt time when we are all fearing the increase in classroom size. This is the challenge of a practical classroom…. and the fact that as teacher, while students thing we are super-human, we simply do not have 8 arms like an octopus…
    To combat such issues in my classroom (while I don’t operate heavy machinery like a sewing machine), I ‘train’ or ‘trust’ at least one student as an EXPERT. This student then becomes my rouse-about/lacky…. so while I am busy dealing with the often conceptual questions that students have about the progress of their work, I can get another student to collaborate and problem solve the technical issues the others are having.
    This also gives the students autonomy and independence.
    My favorite class at the moment is my Year 9/10 visual design class. Where the Year 9’s are 100 hours and the Year 10’s are 200 hours. The dynamic here is that the 200 hour kids were taught by me last year and know what I am about… so, I don’t always actively teach them, but they all sit at one table and work together. One girl laughed and said that I ignore them… I said, “No, I know you know what you are doing!” She smiled knowingly – and all these kids have chosen my subject for next year!

    SO while there is no perfect solution in the classroom… and the students can always fix their broken machine, I also think giving the confidence and the tools to try to work around these issues is what they need in the big wide world. Students who look at a problem and maliciously damage it, are not going to get far in the workplace!

    I hope that the kid who did this realizes that if someone did that to their property, they would be mighty upset!

    And I love your approach Mon – very reflective! And very “solve the cause of the problem, rather than the actual problem itself” Much more long term! 🙂

    • Viv, you are so right- it was discussed that our projects (prac work) should be ever-changing to suit the changing students, however, the skills are fundamental and still need to be there no matter what the project is, negotiating changes is a great idea to encourage interest! We are also finding that student learning needs are more diverse, this is another challenge for us as teachers . . .

      Jess- I LOVE YOUR APPROACH, reiterates what Viv was saying , give students more say, control and allows them to be more collaborative too!

      Prac classes can be NUTS!! Sharing ideas during that meeting time was so worthwhile, how do you share what you do with your faculty?

      However, I don’t know how to address the machine damage directly. It cannot be pin pointed, but in future it CAN be avoided 🙂

      • Jess, I do something a little similar with my students. I have a group of keen techie types who I train up to be peer tutors. Hence they can help out in class when other kids need help, which saves me from running around as much and cuts down on waiting time.
        Peer-tutoring is affirming for the tutors, inspiring for the rest of the class and reduces the in class stress for me. If kids know something I always encourage kids to teach each other. Often they know things I don’t 🙂

  3. Leanne Mclean says:

    What a great reflection Monique. I have had similar experiences this week. I think sometimes as teachers get tired at the end of the term they are not focussing on student activities but on survival until the end of term.

    It’s always good to remind our selves that our job is the students and if they don’t like our ideas for projects then we need to rethink them.

    Viviene’s idea of peer tutors has helped me in the textiles room with yr 8 at school. I have a couple of students who can problem solve with the machines.
    In the past I have also given the students a large group activity which requires hand skills only. Meaning that there is never any one with nothing to do while they wait for a teacher. My students made a large patchwork polar fleece blanket, with appliqué blanket stitched.

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