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Eight Steps to Engage Learning

Peter Felten, author of several books on teaching and learning, recently shared his research on engaged learning on the Teaching in Higher Ed podcast. Felten is the Executive Director of the Center for Engaged Learning, and an Assistant Provost and Professor of History at Elon University.

Felton makes the point that learning results only from what students themselves do and think.  

In other words, we can’t climb inside their heads and pull those levers. All we can really do as instructors is influence them to learn. 

With that in mind, Felton outlines what students must do, think, and feel in order to be engaged, successful learners. 

Five Things Students Must Do

  1. Dedicate time to their studies. This is essential as real learning happens in stages and multiple exposures to a new topic allows the information to stick. 
  1. Dedicate effort to their studies. Students need to know that effort and struggle are a normal part of the learning process.  Effort is a measure of progress, not a sign of weakness.
  1. Get feedback on their work. To be useful, feedback has to be clear (understandable to the student), constructive, and actionable. A student is more likely to read comments on an essay, for instance, if she can revise that essay and improve her score. 
  1. Practice their skills — preferably by applying and using those skills in different contexts. 
  1. Reflect on their learning. In other words, they need to be metacognitive, to think about what they know and how they know it.

Three Things Students Must Think or Feel

  1. I belong here. Students need to believe that they belong in college, in the discipline, and in the classroom. Felton points out that “students who lack a sense of belonging are likely to interpret normal academic struggles as evidence that they can’t succeed,” and are more likely to give up as a result.
  1. I can do this. They need to adopt a growth mindset, to think to themselves, “I am a human who is capable of learning and growing and developing.”
  1. This is meaningful to me. Students are more motivated when they perceive that the work they are doing is relevant and when they can see the value in it. 

A Teacher’s Influence

What if you chose one thing from the list above, and made a small change in your teaching that would influence students to learn? Could you . . .

  • add a mock quiz to give students more opportunities to practice? 
  • allow rewrites of essays so students can use feedback to improve? 
  • teach students about growth mindset?
  • explain the purpose and value of an assignment (sell the benefits)?

You can listen to Peter Felton talk about the research on engaged learners, or read the transcript, on the Teaching In Higher Ed website.  Today’s post was written by guest contributor, Elisabeth Frederickson from Edmonds Community College.