Region’s Educators Share Ways to Engage Students with Four Cs – Plus One

Pictured Above: Student Engagement Keynote better: Peter DeWitt, Ed.D., urges educators to create a “climate” for learning in his keynote address at PNW BOCES’ Student Engagement Conference Friday. Pictured Below: Putnam Valley math teacher Joe Mahoney attempts to build a structure from Popsicle sticks and tape that can support 12 pounds at PNW BOCES conference on Student Engagement Through the Four Cs Friday. Eastchester High School science teacher Alex Fletcher leads teachers in an assessment suing the four C’s of student engagement.

To the four Cs of learning – communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking – keynote speaker Peter DeWitt at a Putnam-Northern Westchester BOCES conference Friday added a fifth: Climate.

The conference, Student Engagement Through the Four Cs, was coordinated by the PNW BOCES Curriculum Center, with the support and leadership of the PNW BOCES Curriculum Council. Joe Mannozzi, conference coordinator stated, “It was truly gratifying to have so many educators eager to share their expertise around student engagement.”

Kicking off the conference, DeWitt, an education consultant, stressed that a supportive school atmosphere that engages students is fundamental to success, even if some educators respond by saying there’s no room left on the plate.

“’Climate’ is actually the plate that everything else should be going on,” DeWitt told the gathering of more than 120 educators from Westchester and Putnam counties at the PNW BOCES School Services Building in Yorktown Heights. DeWitt discussed the work of ground-breaking educational researcher John Hattie, who identified and ranked 195 conditions that influence students’ ability to learn, such as teachers’ “self-efficacy,” or feeling that they can make a difference, and their credibility with students.

“When I say it starts with us, I mean, we need to be reflective and say, ‘Are we doing these things properly?’ before we blame the students, the parents and the curriculum.”

Educators came to share and learn new ways to foster students who are authentically engaged, not merely complying with instructions. Allowing students to solve problems creatively was a major theme running through many of the 21 workshops, some of which included problems students are asked to solve in the region’s classrooms.

In “Designing Assessments of the Four Cs,” Eastchester High School science teacher Alex Fletcher poured small piles of iron filings, salt, sand and crumbs of cork into a beaker and asked groups of educators to figure out how to separate out each element from the mix. When groups figured out the basic idea – a magnet and water can help – Fletcher discussed the intricacies of the solutions that students learn the hard way. (Use the magnet before the water, for example.)

“If you find that there’s a flaw in your system, start again,” he said.

Participants in “Teaching ELLs Using Whole Brain Instruction” followed along with hand gestures that Sophie Gourdon from Lakeland schools made as she spoke. The hand movements help students in her English Language Learners classes remember the words. In one “whole brain” exercise, called “silent mirror,” the students imitate the gestures of the speaker while saying nothing, she said. That helps Gourdon see that the students are picking up the lesson.

“It doesn’t matter if I have five kids or thirty-five kids, I can see who’s with me,” she said.

In another session, teams of educators built small structures of wide popsicle sticks and masking tape with the aim of creating a base that could hold 12 pounds.

“Each one of them passed the test, but the structures looked different,” said Don Saldicco, a technology education teacher in the Carmel CSD and one of three Carmel school district presenters who led the session, called “The 21st Century Technology Classrooms: Let’s Talk about Learning, Not Teaching.”

Educators left eager to explore Hattie’s system further, and to try some of the activities and approaches they had learned. Ossining teacher Asuncion Diaz said she plans to incorporate the whole brain teaching approach in her ESL classes.

“It’s not to change what I teach, but to add to it,” she said. “It can enhance what I do.”

For Pelham Middle School Principal Robert Roelle, the popsicle stick exercise reflected the approach his school takes in allowing students to use their creativity in solving problems.

“We had to collaborate,” he said. “We had to be respectful of each other.”

Many said that a major benefit of the session was talking with counterparts in neighboring districts about programs and approaches that they have in common or that they can teach each other. Indeed, many of the educators were presenting at one session and attending others.

“We all have a responsibility to extend that knowledge by coming back here and sharing it,” said Andrew Taylor, director of technology for the Byram Hills schools. “We’re all learning together.