Engaged Learning in Sunnyvale ISD

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    FAQs . . . from our Engaged Learning comment cards

    What type of classrooms do you envision in SISD?

    We, as a district, value balanced classrooms, where teachers vary classroom instruction through the use of interactive discussions, workstations, cooperative learning, direct teaching, “flipped” instruction, and engaged learning units. We seek to create student-centered learning experiences which enhance students academically and socially.  

    Why the push toward student engagement?

    As we have talked with business professionals, colleges, and networked with other districts, the message has been consistent – we must make changes in order to meet the needs of our current learners. Students of today learn differently and are faced with a future that will require them to think independently, communicate effectively, work collaboratively, and have mental flexibility.

    Also, review the links associated with the "Engaged" graphic above, as well as the blog below. 

    Stop Talking…Start DOING! Tony Gurr, All Things Learning Blog

    Engaged learning and traditional methods have very similar results in short-term retention, as measured on multiple-choice exams. However, engaged learning has significantly better results in long-term retention and soft skills acquisition. This article offers some key research showing the long-term retention benefits of engaged learning vs. traditional models of learning.

     Are staff members, parents, and community members involved in decisions regarding school transformation?

    Yes, following community summits, 3 action teams were formed: technology integration team; 4 C’s team (collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and creativity); and local accountability team. Our teams were comprised of teachers, parents, community members, and administrators. These teams made recommendations to campus teams, the Superintendent’s Roundtable, and administration. Following recommendations, presentations were then made to the school board in public sessions and workshops. Staff, parents, and community members were and continue to be involved throughout this process.  We also welcome any questions, resources, and/or feedback that is shared, as we are a team in educating Sunnyvale students.

    Engaged Learning Units (ELUs) 

    Does this strategy of using ELUs benefit students with differing learning styles?

    ELUs offer a varied approach to instruction and allow for even more differentiation than a traditional approach (small-group workshops and resources, leveled approach to checkpoints). Students are able to listen to information provided through workshops, gain/organize knowledge from visual information, actively participate in finding solutions, and have access to varied materials/resources.

    How can children “lead” others in projects if they are learning themselves?

    The role of the project leader is not to “be the expert” on the team. Rather, they assist in making sure the work is divided and everyone has the necessary resources. They assist their team-mates by following the steps in the project plan. If a child has a question, they may direct it to the project lead, other group members, and/or the teacher.

    What is the teacher’s role in an ELU?

    The teacher plays a number of roles as they facilitate the learning process. They are designing the learning experiences, assessing individual students, teaching small groups, circulating to answer questions, asking clarifying questions to make sure groups are on the right track, and providing feedback to assist students in completing the tasks assigned.

    Does everyone within an ELU team receive the same grade?

    No, the students are graded on individual mastery throughout each unit using skills checks, workshops, DIYs, and a teacher-created rubric. As the teacher circulates between groups, engages in learning discussions, has students complete skills-based tasks, and teaches lessons to small groups of students, the teacher is assessing each individual student’s need for further instruction and/or mastery of the material. The ELU team may present the product/solution as a whole, but the grades and progress are determined based upon individual performance. An individual summative evaluation or unit test is then completed at the conclusion of each unit.


    If my child has difficulty working in groups, how can this be a positive experience?

    For students with difficulties in social situations, this type of engaging, supported learning is a natural, risk-free way for them to develop collaborative skills. When students are placed in collaborative learning situations, they are able to gain experience in communicating their thoughts, asking questions, and resolving conflict. General and special education teachers support students more heavily as they are learning the process, then they slowly step back and allow for individual success.

    How are we making sure our kids are learning what they should be?

    When teachers design these units, they begin with the state TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills), which list the required content that must be taught for each grade level/subject. Each unit covers 5-7 of TEKS, and there are checkpoints along the way that cover vocabulary and content.  Note that the students are assessed in various ways through quizzes, written assignments, verbal questioning, and paper-pencil assessments - which require studying/review of the course content. Teachers post their challenge briefs and rubrics as they launch their units.

    In contrast to previously assigned “projects,” a majority of the learning takes place as students are in the research/work phase. Their presentation and/or product then provides an opportunity for them to apply the knowledge they have gained, and it often provides a real-world audience for them as motivation.