As instructors, we know that the level to which our students engage in our courses will determine their overall success. For this reason, we dedicate vast amounts of time to preparing engaging learning activities for our students.
We use active learning strategies to prompt students to fully participate in the learning process. We implement technology tools that serve to facilitate engagement both in person and online.
But what if student engagement is also about something deeper? What if it’s also about the way that students feel in our classes? What if it’s also about how they relate to our course content and instructional setting? What if it’s also about the ways in which our students see themselves reflected in our course content and materials?
A Deeper Look at Student Engagement
If we look below the surface, the roots of student engagement are centered around the notion that all students need a safe learning environment, where they have the knowledge and resources to participate in meaningful learning activities that reflect their realities and expose them to new viewpoints.
Through the lens of inclusive teaching practices, we can dig below the surface and nurture these roots.
Emily Style, the founding co-director of the National SEED Project (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity), explains that “education needs to enable the student to look through window frames in order to see the realities of others and into mirrors in order to see her/his own reality reflected.
Knowledge of both types of framing is basic to a balanced education which is committed to affirming the essential dialectic between the self and the world.” (Style, 1996).
The Windows and Mirrors of Inclusive Teaching
Style’s concept of windows and mirrors is the perfect analogy to directly inform our practices around inclusive teaching, course content creation and instructional strategies for student engagement. When our students have too many windows or too many mirrors, they are likely to become disengaged.
For students with too many mirrors in our courses, they are lacking valuable opportunities to be challenged by new perspectives and ways of approaching the course content. For students with too many windows in our courses, they may feel that the course isn’t meaningful for them because it doesn’t relate to their lived experiences.
Through the careful balancing of mirrors and windows, we can create an inclusive learning environment where all students feel validated in their background experiences and also challenged to embrace new realities and perspectives.
As we develop course content and design learning activities, we can nurture the roots of student engagement by considering the following questions:
Am I providing mirrors for all of my students? How does my course content and instruction reflect the lived experience of the diversity of students in my class?
Am I providing windows for all of my students? In what ways does my course content and instruction prompt students to appreciate the lived experience of others?
When our students experience the balance of mirrors and windows in our courses, both seeing themselves reflected in our courses and also being challenged to consider new perspectives, they will be more likely to stay engaged.
By Kate Grovergrys, Spanish Professor, Madison College
Style, E. (1996, Fall). Curriculum as Window and Mirror. Social Science Record. First published in Listening for All Voices, Oak Knoll School Monograph (Summit, NJ, 1988)
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