Traditional structures of schooling tend to reduce students’ engagement with content to an act of remembering and repeating, rather than designing and applying. This is true even with disciplinary content that is, at its core, intended to be used as a tool. For example, tools for statistical data analysis are intended to be used for the resolution of dilemmas, to find trends in complex information, and to provide support for conclusions and recommendations. However, statistics is usually taught in elementary and middle school as a series of procedures that students must be able to execute, but not necessarily apply. For example, students often become proficient at calculating the median or mean of a distribution, but are rarely are asked to decide which measure they should use to best make sense of a data set, or consider the implications of these different choices on their conclusions.
Related to the work around Transformational Play, my Vanderbilt colleague Melissa Gresalfi and I, have developed a theory of engagement that differentiates among four types.
- Procedural Engagement (using procedures accurately, but without a deeper understanding of why one is performing such procedures)
- Conceptual engagement (understanding why the concept or tool works the way it does, but with little appreciation for its utility in the world)
- Consequential Engagement (connecting solutions with implications, and recognizing the value of disciplinary tools to achieve particular consequences)
- Critical Engagement (reflecting on and even challenging the effectiveness of particular tools for accomplishing desired ends)
While procedural engagement involves knowing how to use procedures accurately, and conceptual engagement involves a deep understanding of the internal meaning of a concept, consequential engagement involves actually being able to use the concepts as disciplinary tools to accomplish meaningful goals in the world. As has been documented in the TIMSS study, procedural engagement is a commonly observed practice in American classrooms (United States Department of Education: National Center for Education Statistics, 2003), with students practicing the accurate use of procedures, often without knowing when to use the procedures, or why one might procedure might be more useful than other.
The emphasis in our work is on consequential and critical engagement, which requires interrogating the usefulness, impact, or consequentiality of particular tools to achieve meaningful goals. This notion of shifting learners, whether students or teachers, from procedural engagement to consequential engagement, is consistent with the belief that the latter is more likely to cultivate the underlying dispositions or “ways of being” necessary to thrive in the real world—not simply on the situation we designed for them during learning. Learning innovator John Seely Brown (2014, March) has argued that we “teach knowledge, mentor skills and literacies, and cultivate dispositions.” With respect to cultivated dispositions, or ways of being in the world, at the core of our work is an engaged and purposeful learner who is open to new experiences, curious how the worlds works, and excited to lean-forward and take on personal, community and even global challenges.
About Sasha A. Barab PhD
Sasha Barab is a Professor in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University, where he co-founded and serves as the Executive Director of the Center for Games and Impact.
Dr. Barab is an internationally recognized Learning Scientist who holds the Pinnacle West Chair of Education, and who has researched, designed, and published extensively on the challenges and opportunities of using games for impact.