Assessment Letter to the Editor

Students Learn Best in an Engaged Classroom

August 04, 2015 2 min read

To the Editor:

American students need to hit the books. The United States ranks 27th among 34 developed countries in math and 20th in science achievement, according to the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, results. America’s performance in math, science, and reading has remained mostly unchanged for over a decade.

That has consequences for our economy. If U.S. students matched Canadians’ test scores, the American economy would generate $10 trillion in additional growth over the next 35 years, according to a study released earlier this year by the Washington Center for Equitable Growth.

To raise our students’ achievement levels, schools must do a better job teaching them. Improving student achievement requires a shift in the way we educate our children. That means continuing to scrap the age-old lecture model for one that engages students directly and allows them to learn by doing. (My company has put countless hours and resources into studying students’ learning environments.)

We can start by abandoning the traditional classroom. Research has demonstrated the importance of an “engaged learning” environment—a classroom that promotes team-based, experiential learning. Students must be free to sit in small groups, collaborate on projects, discuss ideas, and interact with technology. Instead of holding court at the front of the classroom, teachers roam freely, providing individualized coaching.

This approach works. According to one study of North Carolina State University students taking calculus-based introductory physics, failure rates in engaged-learning classes were typically 50 percent lower than in traditional lectures—particularly among women and minorities. Students in these classes ended up understanding key concepts better and posted higher attendance rates.

The approach has also worked in primary and secondary schools. In 2009, the math department at Minnesota’s Byron High School abandoned the traditional lecture setup for the “flipped” classroom—a form of engaged learning. The share of students who passed the state mathematics test rose from 29.9 percent in 2006 to 73.8 percent in 2011, according to a paper published by the Flipped Learning Network in 2013.

Without learning environments that allow students to engage in active, hands-on learning, the achievement gap between our nation and others will widen.

Dick Resch

Chief Executive Officer

KI Furniture

Green Bay, Wis.

A version of this article appeared in the August 05, 2015 edition of Education Week as Students Learn Best In an Engaged Classroom


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Future of Work Webinar
Digital Literacy Strategies to Promote Equity
Our new world has only increased our students’ dependence on technology. This makes digital literacy no longer a “nice to have” but a “need to have.” How do we ensure that every student can navigate
Content provided by Learning.com
Mathematics Online Summit Teaching Math in a Pandemic
Attend this online summit to ask questions about how COVID-19 has affected achievement, instruction, assessment, and engagement in math.
School & District Management Webinar Examining the Evidence: Catching Kids Up at a Distance
As districts, schools, and families navigate a new normal following the abrupt end of in-person schooling this spring, students’ learning opportunities vary enormously across the nation. Access to devices and broadband internet and a secure

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Speech Therapists
Lancaster, PA, US
Lancaster Lebanon IU 13
Elementary Teacher
Madison, Wisconsin
One City Schools

Read Next

Assessment Spotlight Spotlight on Assessment 2021
In this Spotlight, dive into best assessment practices
and more.
Assessment Opinion Testing Students This Spring Would Be a Mistake
High-stakes tests would tell us very little we can't know in other ways, writes a longtime assessment researcher.
Lorrie A. Shepard
5 min read
Illustration of students in virus environment facing wave of test sheets.
Collage by Vanessa Solis/Education Week (Images: iStock/DigitalVision Vectors/Getty)
Assessment Opinion An Open Letter to the NAEP Governing Board
The change under consideration would make the reading test less accurate not more, writes E.D. Hirsch Jr.
E.D. Hirsch Jr.
3 min read
16Hirsch SOC
AscentXmedia/iStock/Getty Images Plus
Assessment It's Official: National Test Is Postponed Due to COVID-19 Concerns
The delay of the 2021 NAEP is a missed opportunity to measure students' pandemic-related learning losses, state by state.
5 min read
Image is teenagers taking a test