Engagement and Adolescent Learners

It goes without saying that students who are engaged in the learning process are more likely to experience success. But students who do not participate fully in this process - situation frequently encountered with adolescents - present significant challenges to teachers. There are no easy answers or quick fixes to the problem of disengaged youth; however, by keeping in mind the developmental needs of this age group, as well as the general principles of learner engagement, there are some strategies for supporting disengaged students:

  • Make the learning relevant.Adolescents need learning to connect to their lives and interests, to ignite their curiosity and sense of wonder, and to be relevant.
    In Live Ink: Module topics and texts have been chosen for their relevance to students. Inquiry questions create curiosity, and authentic culminating tasks require students to make meaningful use of the skills and knowledge they have developed.
  • Provide appropriate challenge.The number of hours that students spend mastering complex video games proves how engaging challenge can be. The secret is to determine the appropriate degree of challenge.
    In Live Ink: Assessments for learning (both pre-assessments and formative assessments) provide you and your students with useful information about starting points and next steps. Differentiated structures allow you to support students at different points of readiness.
  • Attend to relationships.Adolescents crave connections with peers and positive adult role models.
    In Live Ink: Students have frequent opportunities to develop positive relationships with fellow students through pair and small-group activities. Assessments for learning, particularly feedback, allow you to build connection with students by recognizing their strengths.
  • Provide choice.Adolescents thrive on choice.
    In Live Ink: Differentiated structures allow you to provide students with meaningful choices related to their interests or learning preferences.

Planning with the End in Mind

Planning with the end in mind (also known as backward design or design-down planning) has three stages:

1. Clearly identify learning goals.
  • What are the big ideas of this unit of study? What skills, key concepts, and understandings do students need to develop or acquire?
  • What essential questions will engage students in discussing, exploring, and debating the big ideas?
2. Clearly identify appropriate evidence of learning.
  • What assessments of learning (summative assessments) will take students learning preferences into account and allow me to obtain a full picture of the degree of student understanding and skill?
  • What assessments for learning (preassessment and formative assessment) will help me determine students prior knowledge and appropriate next steps?
3. Locate or create lessons and activities.
  • How will I sequence and differentiate instruction so that students are supported according to their individual needs?
  • Which instructional strategies will be most helpful to students?
In Live Ink: All modules have been created by using the principles of backward design. The benefits of this approach are evident in the ease with which you will be able to ascertain degrees of student understanding.

Essential Questions in the Inquiry Classroom

An inquiry classroom is one in which students are actively engaged in constructing new understandings. This approach is valuable in any classroom where we want students to acquire particular attitudes, skills, and new understandings. Essential questions:

  • Do not have obvious right answers
  • Connect to students‚' lives and to the world around them
  • Are worded to engage students‚' interests
  • Are central to the big ideas of a discipline or a unit of study
  • Foster higher-order thinking skills
In Live Ink: Essential questions are the backbone of the resource. A single overarching question for each module is broken down into specific questions, one for each cluster of selections. Students are provided with opportunities to engage with these questions in a variety of activities throughout the module. In the Checkpoint activities at the end of each cluster of texts, students revisit the overarching question. The culminating task at the end of each module provides students with an opportunity to formulate their final responses to the overarching question.
The texts in Live Ink can also be used to expand the exploration of inquiry questions begun with other texts, such as novels, plays, or short stories. Linking Live Ink texts to inquiry-related texts that have local or regional relevance, or that deal with topics of particular interest to adolescents, can further enhance student engagement.

Assessment and Evaluation

There are three components of assessment and evaluation:

Assessment for learning
  • To determine students‚' prior knowledge, skills, misconceptions, interests, and learning preferences
  • To determine the next steps in learning
Assessment as learning
  • To determine the next steps in learning
Assessment of learning
  • To judge what students have learned and to use several of these judgments to arrive at a grade on a report card

A variety of assessment and evaluation tasks allows students to demonstrate their understanding and skills in ways that are comfortable for them. Along with traditional paper-and-pencil types of assessment, it is important to include such assessment techniques as effective feedback, graphic organizers, observation, and authentic culminating tasks.

In Live Ink: A wide variety of assessment techniques are used. Task-specific and generic rubrics match provincial requirements. Differentiated "next steps" are based on the results of assessments for learning.

Students with Literacy Difficulties

There are a number of actions that are beneficial to all students and essential to struggling students. These include:

  • Read aloud to students so they are provided with models of fluent reading.
  • Balance class time among opportunities for reading, writing, listening, speaking, viewing (understanding media), and representing (creating media).
  • Work with a wide variety of text forms (including oral, written, visual, digital, and multimedia texts) so students are familiar and comfortable with the text forms they encounter outside of school.
  • Ensure that students have opportunities to engage with texts that address their interests.
  • Use a variety of simple assessments to determine students‚' starting points for learning and your next steps in instruction
  • Demonstrate how to use a strategy.
  • Scaffold student learning through the gradual release of responsibility

In Live Ink: The texts, activities, and instructional support provided in Live Ink offer balanced, comprehensive, and effective literacy instruction appropriate for all students. Targeted support for students with literacy difficulties is offered throughout the Teacher‚'s Handbooks.

English Language Learners (ELLs)

Students in our classrooms use social language (the language of interaction) and academic language (the language of conceptual understanding). English Language Learners (ELLs) acquire social language skills quickly, often within a year, but require anywhere from five to seven years to develop the academic language skills required in the classroom. This is hardly surprising; all students, including native English speakers, are on a developmental continuum of academic language proficiency in secondary school and beyond.
The following tips will help you assist ELL students:

  • Preview texts for potentially challenging vocabulary.
  • Explicitly teach content-specific vocabulary and complex grammatical structures.
  • Allow students to build on prior knowledge and experiences by sometimes working with others who share their first language (where possible).
  • Invite students to prepare notes and outlines in their first language.
  • Make extensive use of visual cues, diagrams, and graphic organizers.
  • Simplify the language used in instruction.

In Live Ink: The online versions of the Teacher‚'s Handbooks (the eHandbooks) offer specific teaching tips to support ELL students. The ELL logo (shown in the margin) is used in the print version of the Teacher‚'s Handbooks to indicate when ELL support is available in the eHandbooks. Working in pairs or small groups is beneficial for ELL students, and Live Ink offers frequent opportunities for students to work together (see Grouping for Learning on p. 16 of this handbook). For Live Ink features that support acquisition of new vocabulary, see Vocabulary Development on p. 22 of this handbook.

Effective Literacy Instruction

Research has shown that the most effective teaching includes explicit instruction in the use of literacy strategies within learning situations that are scaffolded and differentiated.

Literacy Strategies
Strategies are mental plans of action that are transferable from one situation or subject to another. The goal is for students to use strategies automatically. Before this can happen, students need to use a strategy repeatedly and develop metacognitive awareness of how they can apply the strategy in a variety of situations.

In Live Ink: The Student Books and the Teacher‚'s Handbooks provide instructional support for the full range of strategies for reading, writing, listening, and speaking, as well as for viewing (understanding media) and representing (creating media).

Explicit Instruction
For students to acquire the powerful literacy strategies, they need explicit instruction that makes the use of strategies procedural rather than "magical." Modelling the use of a strategy by using a think-aloud process (verbalizing thoughts while working through a text) allows teachers to share connections, clarify confusions, and demonstrate to students the strategies they might use to interact with a text.

In Live Ink: The Student Books include Strategy Spotlight features that offer explicit instruction in reading, writing, listening, speaking, viewing (understanding media), and representing (creating media) strategies. Teaching notes in the handbooks include support for strategy instruction.

Scaffolded Teaching
Students will develop independence at different times, so they should be supported through teaching that follows the gradual release of responsibility model. It is important to note that scaffolding occurs in whole-class or small-group settings; it does not require one-on-one teaching.

In Live Ink: Teaching notes for Strategy Spotlights are organized according to the gradual release of responsibility model. Teaching notes for all Live Ink texts make frequent use of pair and small-group activities so that students are provided with opportunities for collaboration before being required to work independently.

Differentiated Instruction

Differentiated instruction is effective instruction that is responsive to the readiness, interests, and learning preferences of an individual. Gathering this information may seem a daunting challenge, but it does not need to be. Having casual conversations with students will help identify interests, while observing students as you use a range of instructional approaches will help you determine their learning preferences. Readiness is always determined through assessments for learning (pre-assessments and formative assessments).
Key principles of effective differentiation:

  • Differentiation takes place with short-term, flexible groupings of students, not with individual learners.
  • All students work to the same high standard on the same expectation or outcome. The differentiation is in how students reach the target, not in the target itself.
  • Because all students are working on the same expectation or outcome, they are assessed using a single, common assessment structure.
  • Differentiated activities all need to take the same amount of time, be of the same degree of complexity, and be equally engaging and respectful.
  • Choice is a foundational concept in a differentiated classroom.

In Live Ink: Manageable and meaningful differentiated instruction is based on simple assessments for learning. Each module in Live Ink models and provides full support, including assessments, for a particular differentiation structure.


Being metacognitive means being reflective and "thinking about our thinking." Metacognitive skill give students greater control over their learning because they understand who they are as learners and what to do to be successful. Examples of what a metacognitive learner might do include:

  • Establishing and clarifying criteria for a task, monitoring progress toward successful completion, and self-assessing the final results
  • Making conscious and deliberate use of powerful strategies
  • Identifying and self-correcting points of confusion
  • Appraising strengths and challenges as a learner
  • Personalizing learning goals based on knowledge of learning strengths and challenges
  • Explaining how the skills developed in one situation can be applied to another

In Live Ink: Learning goals are provided at the beginning of each module in the SBs and are written in student-friendly language. Metacognitive questions and activities featured throughout the SBs and the Teacher‚'s Handbooks provide students with opportunities to revisit these goals and consider their strengths and needs as learners.

Critical Literacy

Critical literacy requires students to question and sometimes challenge a text (whether spoken, written, or visual). It can also encourage them to take social action to redress injustices. Critical-literacy questions students might ask include the following:

  • Who wrote/created this text? What does the author/creator want me to think or feel?
  • What genre is this text? Why did the author/creator choose this genre?
  • Who is the intended audience? How do I know?
  • Who is quoted in this text? Whose views are not represented?
  • What action could I take based on what I have learned from this text?

In Live Ink: Texts have been chosen to provide students with a variety of viewpoints on relevant issues. Critical-literacy activities are provided in the Student Books and the Teacher‚'s Handbooks.

Web 2.0

With the growing interest in the use of digital and online tools in the classroom, it is important to have a common understanding of what we mean when we talk about Web 2.0. Traditional text and media forms, such as books, newspapers, television, radio, and film, communicate in one direction. The audience is broad, and there are relatively few creators. Like traditional text and media forms, many websites and other online resources communicate in only one direction. In contrast, Web 2.0 refers to the group of online and digital tools that allow the user to receive, create, and change content.
Before Web 2.0, users of the Internet were able only to read and receive information. With the advent of email and early social networking tools, they could also write and send information. As the technology improved, the online world became one in which users could share and contribute, collaborate and interact, personalize and accessorize, publish and remix, read and comment, and stream and tag.
Today‚'s students can navigate an online world of wikis, video, and text posts, along with follow-up comments and tags, and Nings and other types of social networking tools. They can bookmark (metadata) and stream web feeds (RSS); share, edit, and manipulate photos; customize web pages and maps; and make use of digital storytelling software and podcasts.
Students are writing and reading full-length novels online, while at the same time constantly communicating in text bites through chat rooms, Twitter, and their cellphones. They can be themselves; they can be anonymous; and they can even reinvent themselves, literally, as an avatar. Web 2.0 represents the opportunity for students to be part of the process; they can be creators, not just consumers.

In Live Ink: The eHandbooks include a wide variety of suggestions for easy ways to incorporate Web 2.0 in the classroom. (The print versions of the Teacher‚'s Handbooks use the logo shown in the margin to indicate when these suggestions are available in the eHandbooks.) Support for Web 2.0 includes suggestions and helpful links for getting students involved with, for example, creating their own blogs and wikis; interacting with other students and teachers through collaborative tools such as backchannel sites; using online animation, audio recording, and presentation tools; and designing web-based slideshows that combine images, text, and video.
The Live Ink Online eKits make use of Web 2.0 to support and engage students through such interactive tools as practice literacy tests and vocabulary games and activities, as well as streaming audio and video. (See for further information.)