Early Thoughts on Student Engagement

It would have been completely unrealistic of me to assume that LAPIS and practomimetic instruction would be the magic elixir for one hundred percent student engagement every time. In some parallel universe I had secretly hoped that it would happen, but the reality of the situation is that some students in any given setting are going to find themselves disengaged at various points for a variety of reasons, many of them not having anything to do with my class or their quest to save the world. I did, however, want to talk about some of the net gain in engagement that I've seen so far and what that means going forward with Operation LAPIS.

The engaged get more engaged. This sounds like something that is not even worth bothering to discuss. In fact one might say, "Well, that's great Kevin, those students who are already plugged in continue to excel, where's the excitement in that?" On the surface, that person would be correct in thinking that it isn't necessarily something to get excited about. However, I'd argue that the very fact that those students then are pushing themselves to go above and beyond the required expectations right out of the gate means that something important is happening in the dynamics as a whole. It is easy to take those students for granted; your A's, your pleasers, the ones with their hands raised for every question. But, when these students then are pushing themselves in the team discussions to not just frame their response in English but instead try phrase every response in Latin, it models the ideal learning environment for the rest of their team. If they are constantly pushing the limits of their Latin knowledge it will force the rest of their teammates to push themselves as well; both to be able to work with and contribute with the team and a bit of peer pressure to produce the same caliber of work in comparison. I firmly believe that if your top performing students are more engaged you will find that it has a snowball effect on everyone else in the class and that very potent effect is magnified in the practomimetic setting.

The moderately engaged step it up. The students that are traditionally the middle of the road have so far shown that they are capable and willing to stretch themselves further inside of the practomimetic setting. As evidenced by the frequency and amount of contribution to the team forums, these students are able to contribute to their team (partially because they are compelled to, partially because they are empowered to, especially as the Lead Operative) and thus feel, I believe, far more accomplished than they would otherwise feel in a traditional classroom setting. I can’t measure this with any rubric, test, or evaluation, but rather by their captive attention and energetic responses while in class. These group, arguably the largest in any class, is in stark contrast to their counterparts in the section that is not partaking in Operation LAPIS. I'll spend more time in a future post talking about the overwhelming difference in the first month between these two sections in terms of their "Engagement Gap."

Some not engaged become engaged. The most compelling aspect of LAPIS so far, to me anyway, has been the effect it has had on a very small minority of students whom I think would otherwise be totally disengaged in a language they care little about. One of the key examples of this is a student who has yet to finish a year in any language. At this point, and I'll admit that I know it is still very early, he's continued to play an active role in his team's decision making process. This particular episode he is acting as his team's Lead Operative, which has put external pressure on him to stay active. Will he continue to stay involved through the entire year? That's certainly yet to be seen, but, if he does make it through the course, I think it certainly could be chalked up to the captivating potential of practomime.

Those disengaged continue to stay disengaged. This is where I give an audible sigh and concede that neither practomime nor the Lapis is truly the silver bullet. At this point, I really only have one student that I'm overly concerned about because of their lack of participation in the team forums and in the collateral activities. I know that internet access and computer familiarity is not a limiting factor on account of initial surveys from the first night. So what could it be that's holding this student back from participation even when their grade depends on? I'm not sure right now what it is. It is my hope that in the next week or so I can figure out if it is something that can be remedied in the current structure or not. The other couple of students who were lagging a bit behind on the participation scale have really started to come around in the last week and they have become a lot more comfortable posting and contributing to their team's discussion.

Overall, the early returns are showing an incredible net gain with regards to participation and engagement both in and out of the classroom. The out of classroom engagement is easy to measure through their discussion posts. The in class engagement? Well, that's a bit more subjective (at this point) from my point of view. However, the ace in the hole on my end is that the two periods that I teach Latin I (both the LAPIS and non-LAPIS section) always fall back-to-back, four days a week. I have instant and direct observations of the performance, behavior, and engagement between the two sections. As noted above, will spend more time on these early observations in the next post.

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