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Engaging Learning Strategies

Learning is active, engaging, and social. Students need to be engaged and motivated in their learning before they can apply higher order, creative thinking skills. They are most engaged when they themselves are part of constructing meaning, not when teachers do it for them. By encouraging students to meet challenges creatively, collaborate, and apply critical thinking skills to real-world, unpredictable situations inside and outside of school, we prepare them for future college, career, and citizenship success.

Effective classroom instruction that embraces both high standards and accountability for students' learning can be project-based, focused on service and the community, experiential, cooperative, expeditionary ... the list goes on. These engaging learning strategies are grounded in instructional objectives, provide clear feedback, and enable students to thrive cognitively, socially, emotionally, and civically.

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We focus extensively on test scores and far too little on the whole child. We often choose one-size-fits-all fixes while ignoring solid research about the infinite ways students learn and children develop. The true measure of students’ proficiency and college-, career-, and citizenship-readiness must be based on more than just their scores on state standardized reading and math assessments.

We shouldn’t simply teach to the test. We need to teach for understanding, and assessments are tools to gauge that understanding. When used effectively, assessments can facilitate high levels of student achievement by providing ongoing information about students’ grasp of key concepts and how to enhance their learning to help them meet or exceed academic requirements. States, districts, and schools should provide a more comprehensive picture of student achievement through multiple assessments of and for learning.

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Integrating Movement

Ensuring for a high quality physical education program is important. Equally important is ensuring that students are active across the school day and not just in gym class. Research shows that kids who are physically active are not only healthier, but are also likely to perform better academically and short activity breaks during the school day can improve concentration, behavior, and enhance learning. In short, school-based physical activity is valuable exercise—it aids cognitive development, increases engagement and motivation, and is essential to a whole child approach to education.

Whether it be extracurricular, cocurricular, or embedded in the academic curriculum itself, integrating movement across the school day in elementary school, the middle grades, and high school can be used to maximize learning and help ensure that students are healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged.

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Professional Learning Communities

Ensuring that all children are healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged is fundamental for students to become college-, career-, and citizenship-ready. Our policies and practices need to be realigned to support the whole child. Professional learning communities (PLCs) have emerged as perhaps the best, most agreed-on means of continual improvement in instruction and student performance. Whether it be in a single school or online, in study groups, action research teams, communities of practice, or conversation circles, educators working together with a shared focus on learning and accountability help all students learn to high levels.

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Parent and Family Engagement

Learning does not begin or end in school. In fact, the learning and development that does—or does not—happen outside of school is often as much or more important than formal learning. Families are a central source of children's learning and development and their influence cannot be ignored. Engaging with families can inform, complement, reinforce, and accelerate educators' efforts to educate the whole child. Without strategic and continuous connections between families and educators, we cannot ensure that students are healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged.

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Special Needs

Creating an inclusive environment where each student feels safe and supported in an engaging and appropriately challenging environment is rarely an easy feat, yet essential to educating the whole child. Regardless of strengths and challenges, each student needs and is deserving of full membership within the classroom and school community. While each student benefits from this inclusive environment, it is critically important and often challenging to ensure for students with special needs.

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School Environments

What kind of school environments optimize the way students learn, teachers teach, and communities interact? Schools that take a whole child approach to education are conscious of the intersection between physical space and the cognitive, social, and emotional development of students, rather than focusing on one element in isolation. The learning environments we create—the physical along with school climate—can either help or hinder learning, development, teaching, and collaboration.

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Community Engagement

There is much talk about the need for community involvement in educating the whole child. However, for many, questions persist about the concept of community:

  • Who is my community?
  • What does community involvement look like?
  • How do we build and sustain community involvement?

When these and other questions remain unanswered, it's difficult to create an active community that is a meaningful part of a whole child approach to education. Every school, community, classroom, educator, student, and family has unique challenges and strengths, and has a role to play in ensuring that each student is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged.

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Middle Grades

Middle grades: A complex, challenging, and confusing time in adolescence. Also a complex, challenging, and confusing age for adults to support and develop! Nonetheless, there is more and more research that points to the critical importance of this stage of childhood. Supporting students as they transition physically, cognitively, emotionally, and socially is key to ensuring that they are successful and healthy in high school and beyond.

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College Career and Citizenship Readiness

The current education climate encourages a tremendous amount of time and energy be spent on preparing students to take exams. But does that strategy actually ensure students are prepared for college, career, and citizenship? Too often, the answer is no. Connecting learning today with students' futures engages and prepares them to take on the challenges and opportunities of tomorrow. Service learning, student voice, debate, early college preparation, and other efforts to meaningfully engage students in the process of learning and leading in and outside of school is critical to preparing young people for the complex futures that lie ahead.

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Connecting Digital Learners

How we can meaningfully connect digital learners to their peers, teachers, and communities; to rich and challenging learning; and to their futures? Unfortunately, unchecked and unfocused use of technology can result in students disconnecting from the "why" of learning and from the real-time relationships that are key to their development and success. Alternatively, high-quality integration of technology has the potential to not only prepare young people for their futures, but enhance and expand learning and connectedness.

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Fast, Free, Online: The ASCD School Improvement Tool

Designed for use in schools and districts, the free ASCD School Improvement Tool offers educators a comprehensive and completely online needs assessment.