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Engagement, Questioning, And Learning

I spent the weekend learning from educators at the National Council of Teachers of English annual convention; and once again I am reminded that our teaching and learning experiences whether inside the classroom, inside the gym, or sitting on a plane cannot be separated, nor should they be. How we learn is space agnostic; with the right environment and circumstances learning happens. Over and over again, in session after session the importance of curiosity and questioning, and engagement  seemed to resonate throughout the conference.

Engagement- Is it compliance or engagement?

Can you remember a time when you were truly engaged in learning at school?

What were you doing?

What were the kinds of things that engaged you?

What was the environment like?

Engagment is the NPR moment in the driveway.” -Ellin Oliver Keene

Heinemann author Ellin Oliver Keene proposes the conditions for engagement require an intellectual urgency, an emotional response, perspective bending, and are connected to the sense of the aesthetic and can look different in each of us. When I reflect on when I am most engaged I  would have to agree; and I would also have to agree that engagement is what drives us to try over and over again to master tasks and skills we want to improve at, in spite of the effort involved and the amount of attempts it might take.

Other authors emphasized the importance of creating conditions that inspire hope  and the need to connect emotional experiences with the opportunity to reflect. Just by asking, “So how did that go for you today?” can engage the learner and inspire reflection.

Engagement is often a byproduct of curiosity.-Ryan Scala, TCRWP.


Research shows that 3 yr olds ask, on average, 26 questions per hour-curiosity sequences linked inquiries that involve follow up  questions and comments.

In kindergarten that falls to 1 per hour, and by 5th grade many students spend an entire day at school without asking a single question (Harris, 2013, Engel, 2011, Chouinard, 2007) via Stephanie Harvey.

Advice? Model your own curiosity every day. Live a curious life; show that you are awake to new information. “Celebrate the questioning and the learning (process) not the knowing”

Teaching and Learning

Good teaching never looks rushed.”- Tom Newkirk

Why do we read informational texts and non fiction if we forget what we read? Retired UNH English Professor and Heinemann author Tom Newkirk flat out proposed that reading is an act of forgetting. The truth is we remember so little of the detail, why do we even bother reading? He proposes the act of reading alone is transformative and takes us on an emotional journey. In order to do this good writing must surprise us, must have form (form is an embodied sense of forward motion) and must evoke a visual in order for our brain to understand and make sense of it. Writing must tell a story in order to engage us. All good writing is story writing.

So how can we insure the most conducive environment for learning?

  • Slow down- cultivate an environment that inspires curiosity and celebrates the learning rather than the knowing
  • Inspire hope
  • Offer opportunites for reflection
  • Live a curious life
  • Tell your story

There is so much more in my brain than what I shared here, but these are the big ideas. Engagement requires effort on the part of the learner, so it is important to try to create the conditions that inspire learners. Learning happens in spite of our best intentions, but we have the opprotunity and the ability to engage so many more learners if we simply slow down, pay attention and listen with intention, be curious, and share.










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