Typhani Harris | March 2017

Defining Engagement through STEAM: Emotional/Intellectual Safety

We are continuing our Defining Engagement through STEAM series based on the research of John Antonetti and Phillip Schlechty.  Each session will share strategies, provide templates and rubrics to self-assess, and/or offer downloadable resources to ultimately define student engagement in an actionable way.  Check out the introduction to this series.

So far we have defined engagement through STEAM by assessing the use of Personal Response in Session 1, and how introducing the arts via Variety and Novelty in Session 2This week we are embracing safety.  Emotional and Intellectual Safety is a foundation for engagement, especially in STEAM when we are asking a student to step outside of the traditional education box and push students to create, design, and engineer.

Emotional and Intellectual Safety

In order to create a space that is emotionally and intellectually safe for our students, we must first build a community of trust.  It is imperative that we lay this foundation at the beginning of the year and cultivate it throughout the year in order to create a safe space for our students.  Continue to build trust by strengthening the relationships and community within the classroom, encouraging respect and listing, and sharing openly and honestly.  Once this mutual community respect is established, our students can feel comfortable sharing within the community, and this comfort will increase student engagement because now we can push students into higher levels of thinking. 

Once you have created the safe community within the classroom you can embark on some of the following ways to increase student engagement.

Have students explain how/why their answer is plausible

Having students defend or justify their answers will increase engagement,  especially in some of our STEAM subjects like science and math where there are traditionally convergent answersWhen students feel safe intellectually they will be more willing to share their rationale.

Encourage students to take risks with unpopular more subtle answers

When students feel safe we can push them a little more out of their comfort zones and use various levels of questioning that will help them take risks with their understanding and their knowledge.

Help students to reason first and answer the second

Grappling with information, reasoning and deducing, and potentially determining answers that might be wrong can put students into a very vulnerable place.  However, if we have strengthened the foundation of the “community” within the classroom, and our students feel intellectually safe, we can help them develop their reasoning skills and make those hold more importance than just an answer.

Ultimately, if you students feel intellectually and emotionally safe within our classroom communities then they will take the risks needed for them to become authentically engaged.

Check out Session 4 & 5 in our new article format beginning in April!
Session 4 pulls the curtains back on the importance of audience and Session 5 offers clarity through expectations as means of defining student engagement in STEAM.

About the Author

Dr. Typhani Harris, author of Putting the Performance in Performance Task and Stop Teaching, brings over 2 decades of educational experience to The Institute. Originally a high school English Language Arts teacher, Dr. Harris transitioned into a dance educator who cultivated an award-winning collegiate style dance education program at a public school in California. Prior to joining the Institute, she was an educational leader and instructional coach specializing in preparing new teachers in secondary urban schools.  As the Executive Director of Academic Affairs, Dr. Harris maintains courses, conferences, and the accredited certification program at The Institute.