Schlechty’s principal argument is that we spend too much time trying to develop students as learners and teachers as teachers. In his view, time would be better spent by schools and teachers designing and developing excellent ‘work’ for the students to do. I don’t think the evidence backs him up, but creating meaningful, engaging work must be a good thing.
He identifies five different ways that students respond to activities:
Authentic engagement: The outcome of the work is meaningful to the student. It may be a product or performance that the student believes important.
Ritual engagement: The outcome of the work has little meaning for the student. The student is motivated to do the work because of extrinsic factors such as merits, exam results or praise.
Passive compliance: the student will complete the minimum amount of work needed to stay out of trouble.
Retreatism: While the student does not distract anyone else, he or she does little or no work themselves.
Rebellion: The student refuses to do the work and either distracts others or substitutes other work for the work the teacher has set.
I see all of these in my lessons and in lessons I observe. It is natural for most students to respond differently throughout the school day. The challenge is to design “work” that encourages more of the students to engage authentically more of the time. Schlechty maintains that by knowing our students better, we can design better tasks that will encourage authentic engagement and better learning.
To ensure that students are authentically engaged and achieving well, Schlechty identifies several ‘standards’:
Teachers have a clear, shared understanding of what each student is capable of at each stage of their learning.
Teachers present knowledge in a context that appeals to students’ interests.
The ‘work’ is clearly linked to a performance or product.
Students have a clear understanding of how their work will be assessed.
The work is affirmed by parents, siblings, teachers, peers.
Students have the opportunity to work with others who they judge to be of significance. They may include students from other schools, experts, older/younger students, teachers or members of the community.
Work should be novel and be varied.
Students should be given choice in their work.
Work should be ‘authentic.’ The task should be achievable and of genuine value.