Connect Facilitate Change
Intellectual Engagment: Hearts, Hands and Minds

Posted on: May 10th, 2012 by Stephen Hurley  2 Comments »

Here’s just one story from a school in Eastern Canada that has intentionally attempted to do things differently. The focus on intellectual engagement is compelling for me and, although the video is not splashy or “over-the-top”, it does speak volumes about the ability of teachers and students at the grassroots level to change the dynamic of the school. This is hopeful, and worth watching. There are a few threads that I would like to pick up a little later but, for now, here’s the story:


2 Responses to “Intellectual Engagment: Hearts, Hands and Minds”

  1. Michael Harding says:

    Watching this video took me back to 1967. Believe it or not we had this in our grasp and we let it go. It wasn’t called “inquiry-based learning” but it was, essentially, inquiry-based learning. I look at all of the elements and I am amazed that so many of those facets were part of the fabric of our initiative simply dubbed “open education”.
    By 1978 it was almost totally abandoned in favour of a return to the traditional methodologies with which previous generations of learners had become so comfortable. Teachers, parents, universities, industry and society in general, were threatened by any notion of children having a say in what they learn and how they learn it.

    I honestly believe that had we slowly introduced these initiatives into our established schools and classrooms we would have evolved into a system where inquiry-based learning became the norm. Instead, we made a big splash by designating two schools to be the pilots for a total educational makeover called “open education”. They constructed two buildings that resembled warehouses and called them “open concept”. They appointed principals with a vision of “open education” attained through visits to a school in Florida called The Nova School and a ministry-mandated report on the state of education in Ontario called “Living and Learning”. The principals recruited teachers who craved change in the worst way. Thus was born “open concept learning” which closely resembled “inquiry-based learning”.

    To say the least, it struggled valiantly for acceptance. Then we threw it all away because our communities were intimidated by it; because our school board didn’t “market” the idea; because our teachers were not in-serviced (the available in-service was called “fly by the seat of your pants”); because parents believed that their children weren’t learning; because the buildings were designed by architects, not educators; because nobody asked the kids who were saying, “I love going to school”.

    I am preparing, for, a more in-depth description of open concept learning through my own experience as teacher, vice principal and principal in the pilot schools. I enjoyed this video but I wonder if anyone took the time to see if there was any historical precedence from which they might draw some inspiration. I’m guessing not but I hope I’m wrong.

  2. Nancy says:

    It certainly speak volumes on speaking about the ‘processes’ and being ‘myopic’ on the outcomes for students. Inquiry-based learning, should it not be interwoven within the instruction and curriculum, to strike a balance between the foundation knowledge and learning knowledge, making the connections beyond the foundation knowledge? No matter how engaged the students are, if the foundation knowledge is lacking, the inquiry based learning and its quality will suffer, and in the end it will show in the final grade averages of students.

    It struck me, as I was watching the video, no mentioned of outcomes of students as this junior high school moved into more inquiry based learning, the emphasis became what the students wanted to learn, and not necessarily what is the best interests for students and their futures. Learning about the Power of Food, I questioned the monies and efforts being put out, to increased intellectual engagement of students in the last two weeks of schools, to increase student engagement on students who are not engaged. The high school, I recognized the name, and Paul Bennett articles and discussions on his blog, on a junior high school where the academic outcomes of students are nothing to raved about, in the light of increased funding and attention being put towards this junior high school.

    ” Today, after a major turn-around project, SRB is recognized as a rare success story. Out of some 160 schools in a nation-wide school improvement initiative, SRB has just been hailed as the school which has, over the past three years, scored the highest increase in “student intellectual engagement.”

    In the school report – welcome to the language of edubabble, all dressed up emphasizing intellectual engagement as the key to achievement.

    “We believe all students can learn, yet we continuously ask ourselves the question: “What
    do we do when Students Aren’t Learning? ” In addition to extra help, offered by all teachers and
    student services staff, we have several supports available to students. These include Resource
    and Learning Centre Teachers, Student Support Teachers, a Guidance Counsellor and an African Nova Scotian Student Support Worker. This year we also provided a literacy intervention
    program to students identified as struggling greatly. Weekly school program planning meetings are held to ensure student requiring interventions are identified quickly, grade level meetings are
    held three times a year, and an in-school suspension system is in place, as an alternative to the
    traditional out of school suspension model. These supports are making a difference in improved
    student achievement and student feeling that support is available when and if needed.”

    Shouldn’t inquiry-based learning / intellectual engagement go hand in hand as part of the daily classroom, that includes the day to day supports of individual student’s learning? Why leave it to the least experience people, the students to decide what will be learn? Should it not be the teachers to effectively engaged their students, and at the same time, safeguard their academic futures.

    An article I read yesterday, certainly showed improved student engagement, as well as improved reading and writing,

    ““I used to have to beat these guys over the head to get them to finish an assignment,” said the boys’ English teacher, Rich McCaskill “Now they’re (often) the first ones finished.”
    In addition to seeing a “massive jump” in his students’ reading levels, McCaskill said the technology, whether it’s a smartphone, tablet or e-reader, has helped restore students’ confidence and self-esteem.
    Just the look of the technology, he said, has helped.
    It doesn’t stand out as much as some of the more traditional tools once used in assistive technology programs — like clunky tape recorders or books on tape.

    Read more here:

    Isn’t student engagement, simply the outcome of students being eager to learn, after mastering the foundation knowledge? It certainly shows in my child, high engagement but not necessarily the reasons that are purported by the educators in the school report.

    “Intellectual engagement is at the heart of our Plan for Improvement. A key strategy to intellectually engage students is writing to learn. Writing to learn is a reflective learning strategy which is based on educational research. Learners improve their reading comprehension through
    meta-cognitive processes, such as writing to learn. By implementing writing to learn strategies we will also engage our students in deeper learning. The National Council of Teachers of Math (NCTM) recommends that math teachers incorporate reflective thinking and writing activities in order to deepen their students’ math understanding. This type of writing also provides teachers with valuable formative information that will lead to instruction targeted to the areas of greatest need and most significant impact. These are the conditions for learning that lead to intellectual engagement.”

    Hard to do when students have weaknesses in the basic foundations of writing, reading and numeracy, and where none have mastery of the basic foundations. I really do question the monies and funding being put in intellectual engagement, and expect achievement to dramatically change for all students.

    Let’s face it, students are legally required to go to school, up to age of 16 to 18 years of age depending on the province. The public education system has a captive market, a steady supply of students, but the one thing that the schools cannot do is to transformed all students into lovers of learning, when the education model is loath to spend time on the reasons why students are not learning. And not the shallow reasons of the video, and in the school report…….

Leave a Reply