For many years as I taught grade school then transitioned into school administration we always seemed to talk about on and off task behaviour. In fact, I can remember people coming into my classroom with a stop watch and timing the amount of on and off task behaviour a student displayed over a half hour period of time. To this day, when students are off task they often get check marks, they lose privileges or get phone calls home. It was always about the student, and what was wrong with the students and how we could use coercive and persuasive techniques to increase on-task behaviour.
It hasn’t been until now, that a number of pieces of information, a few different books I have read, and the latest Professional Development I have been involved in did it become apparent to me that on or off task behaviour was not necessarily the fault of the child. In fact, off task behaviour in most cases falls directly on the shoulders of teachers. We as teachers cannot make a student be more on task, but we can design tasks that result in an increase in student engagement. In fact, in most cases, when tasks consists of elements that engage students, guess what? Students are engaged.
But why should we hold teachers responsible for designing tasks that result in student engagement? Shouldn’t students be required to complete the work assigned to them? This visual clearly speaks to the role of the teacher and the requirement for effective teaching. I realize there are many qualities that meld together to create a “high-performing” teacher but there is definitely no argument that one of the key qualities is the ability to design tasks that result in student engagement.
So just what are tasks that result in high levels of student engagement? What are the attributes, components of these tasks? To answer these questions, I will include the information the staff at Erin Woods School recently compiled. In a two-hour work session, our staff came together to think, discuss, and synthesize the following information.
Here is the trick to changing off-task behaviour:
Lessons that are designed to engage students do just that! Listed here are the attributes of tasks that result in differing levels of engagement.
Low Level of Engagement
Medium Level of Engagement
High Level of Engagement
Work sheets – pre-made
Yes/no tasks (one right answer)
Fill in the missing word
Write a word 5 times
Any searching, finding, looking for answer
Work with more than one right answer
Games or challenges
Hands on or multi-modal
Solves real life problems (math, social studies)
Experiments (with a hypothesis and solution)
What this information tells us is task design is the key to on-task, high engagement behaviour from students. In the end, it is not the student who is at fault. When those students so many years ago were timed for on or off task behaviour I don’t think we even considered whether or not the task they were being asked to do was appropriate for the learner or had the attributes of a task that often results in engaging behaviour. As educator Phil Schlechty says, There is a 0% chance that children will learn from work they do not do.” And we know they will not do boring, un-engaging, un-related, senseless tasks, would you?
- What Your Rules Say About You (attheprincipalsoffice.com)
- Do Your Rules Lead to Student Engagement and Meaningful Learning? Nine guidelines… (kidsconsortium.org)
- Effective Techniques for Classroom Teaching (podiumproapp.wordpress.com)