Transformation in the Classroom: Inspiring Student Engagement

The Common Core State Standards strike fear in the hearts of many teachers.  Can we accomplish the task set before us? Yet we know that no one has greater influence upon learning than the individual student. And no one can influence that student’s learning more directly than the teacher.

The establishment of the Common Core can strengthen this unique relationship between teachers and students as we inspire students to develop curious minds. To do this, we must transform our classrooms from places where teachers work hard to communicate information into dedicated spaces for students to engage in disciplined study. We must empower and inspire students to desire knowledge and skill development. The Common Core sets the foundation to help create paths that go deep into significant learning.

Teachers determine learning paths

The details of these paths are left up to us, the teachers, but we are not alone. We are challenged to gather together in learning communities so we can create significant learning opportunities for students. Communication across grade levels and content areas helps to erase boundaries as well as curricular holes, enabling students to make real-world connections that cross content areas.

As the experts in the field, the CCSS encourage teachers within schools, districts, as well as across the nation to hold discussions about what students are actually learning and mastering and how to better provide mastery opportunities in deeper ways. Together with institutions of higher education, the CCSS encourage educators to share a common language as we strive to promote excellence in learning.

What is dedication to student learning?

Dedication to student learning is not about teaching to a test.  It is about knowing content inside and out and being able to discuss it and apply it in new situations. It is time to move the conversation away from test preparation and focus on student engagement and learning.

Although teachers must be content area experts, the CCSS free them from being the all-knowing “sage on the stage” and encourages them to create dynamic learning activities for students. The focus is not so much on teacher performance as it is on how we encourage students to take an active role in their own learning.

We must move away from lecturing and engage students in their own learning. We want to develop dynamic activities that draw students deeper into content areas. Watch any group of students with the latest smart phone in their hands, and we have proof that students learn when they are allowed to actively explore and examine content.

How should teachers track what students retain?

Collecting evidence of student learning has always been the role of the teacher, but now we need to establish an even clearer focus on what each student is actually retaining. Expectations must remain high for all students.  This requires teachers to learn new ways to track the development of concepts and skills for those who struggle and create paths to help individuals succeed. Learning that endures comes when students are actively engaged with minds-on and hands-on activities.

Working together with other teachers supports our search for successful strategies to help individuals learn content and gain skills. Once students become independent and responsible for their own learning, worlds of opportunities open before them.

The switch from teacher-centered to student-centered classrooms will not be easy, but we can be encouraged knowing that we are not alone in this charge. The CCSS provide only the foundation.  We must work together to transform classrooms and inspire student engagement.

With over 35 years in administration and teaching in K-12 and higher education both in the U.S. and internationally, Dr. Nancy Cardenuto strives to cultivate creative and innovative learning paths. She is an adjunct professor in the master’s program at Concordia University – Portland, where she teaches courses in support of the Common Core State Standards.