The research literature shows that if you do not engage a student in school, the likelihood that he or she will drop out is very, very high. Engaged students succeed academically. Thus, student engagement is one of the four critical school system indicators for success that are identified in IDRA’s Quality Schools Action Framework, meaning it is a crucial element on which to focus. At the systems change level, student engagement refers to a school environment and activities that value students and incorporate them in learning and co-curricular school activities resulting in academic achievement.
A Snapshot of What IDRA is Doing
Developing leaders – Through IDRA’s Math Smart! professional development high school teachers are transforming their practice, which is impacting student learning. This transformation has moved learning from being teacher-dependent for answers and guidance to student-centered with peer-exchange and problem solving. IDRA consultants facilitate this transformation through on-site assistance that includes coaching and mentoring, co-planning and co-development of activities, co-teaching and debriefing, an element of IDRA’s Math Smart! One key component is the peer-exchange of strategies and activities that have worked in colleagues’ classes. Another key element is having the freedom to take risks in the classroom.
Conducting research – IDRA’s Student Engagement Observation Tool includes a unique feature for recognizing evidence of student engagement. Observable student behaviors can be noted as evidence of student engagement. These have been organized into the following evidence categories: sense of community; use of language; concentration and focus; confidence in performance; and active involvement and independence. These behaviors are included in a set of indicators and are one part of the Student Engagement Observation Tool. Observing for teachers making engagement happen is a second part of the tool. IDRA has organized the sound pedagogy predictive of English language learner engagement into dimensions containing specific indicators that can be observed as evidence of engagement-based instruction.
Informing policy – Members of the Little Rock community came together during a Brown and Mendez Community Blueprint Dialogue event held by IDRA. Afterwards, IDRA published, A Community Speaks – A Report on Little Rock’s Coalition-Building for Education: Blueprint Dialogues for Action, that describes the Little Rock community’s plan for improving educational opportunities for all children, particularly minority children. One of the school districts has used this publication to help in creating and informing a special task force to help reduce its student achievement gap. The publication and related resources are available free online at http://www.idra.org/mendezbrown/promise.html.
Engaging communities – Students participating in IDRA’s Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program in an Arizona school district recently participated in a leadership day event. Students discussed their hopes and dreams for the future. Students reported that they learned that by being leaders in their school and role models for the children they tutor, they will be able to accomplish their dreams for the future. That evening, students and their families gathered for IDRA’s Pathways to College presentation that informed parents and students on how to plan together for college.
What You Can Do
Get informed. The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count online database now features child well-being measures for the 50 largest U.S. cities. This informative tool contains more than 100 indicators of child well-being. This unique system allows users to access state-specific inventories of data from local sources, such as health departments, human services agencies, and schools. For county and other community-level data, visit the Community-Level Information on Kids (CLIKS) database at http://www.kidscount.org/cgi-bin/cliks.cgi.
Get involved. What Kids Can Do, a national non-profit group, promotes perceptions of young people as valued resources and advocates for learning that engages students as knowledge creators and not simply test takers. What Kids Can Do has an excellent resource "Tips on Helping Us Learn: from Binders to Homework" where middle school students provide tips to teachers for helping them grow into confident learners. To view this resource and many others, visit http://www.whatkidscando.org/specialcollections/voices_middle_grades/voices_helping.html.
Get results. Texas Guaranteed Student Loan Corporation has set up a free public service, Adventures in Education, that offers college planning advice, financial aid information and career guidance. Adventures in Education provides information for students and parents to help them make decisions for the future. Visit http://www.aie.org/index.cfm.
[©2008, IDRA. The following article originally appeared in the IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Every effort has been made to maintain the content in its original form. However, accompanying charts and graphs may not be provided here. To receive a copy of the original article by mail or fax, please fill out our information request and feedback form. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]