Reviewing #SOL2021

Students wrote reviews today. Some wrote on movies or concerts, some wrote on last night’s dinner or their last date. Laughter filled the room and it seemed like few words landed on the page that day, but I wasn’t worried; they enjoyed the readings and the ideas and the conversation. I didn’t need them to “produce” anything. And I wondered if this is one gap that I’m missing in conceptualizing “engagement” and “measures”. How do you plot the value of an experience with a number? What are the success criteria for “engagement” and are these reliable?

They had just read the latest viral food review in small groups (Bros., Leece: We Eat at The Worst Michelin Starred Restaurant, Ever). I could tell where they were in the reading of this article. I didn’t need to see eyes on the screen scrolling the long essay. I could tell simply and solely based on the amount of laughter or disgust being audibly expressed, and their hollers were infectious. I could see curiosity pique in students who were not actively engaged or reading, could see the quick glance over at the group doubled-over in laughter, pointing at their screens. I watched as some shifted from texting or scrolling on phones to opening tablets and laptops. Some groups shared reading aloud while others sat silently reading alone. Shared reading lead to shared engagement and enjoyment. And this shared joy led to more understanding when we actually analysed the review – which is actually an essay – but I didn’t tell them that, until they were done.

Framing the learning is often complicated. I notice when students feel that something “doesn’t count”, they often opt out, check out, disengage, and check more relevant information on their phones. If I had said “we are reading an essay”, would there be sighs, maybe a few groans, some bodies sliding from upright to the classic backward leaning slouch? Framing the reading as a “recent viral restaurant review” brought contemporary relevance. This is happening in their world and they wanted to know. Even more so when they saw joy in their peers.

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