No Back Rows in Internships

Student engagement is a challenge today. High Schools and Community Colleges are continually looking for ways to ensure that their students are and continue to be engaged in their learning. Many classes are larger than ever and often students, especially in community colleges, self-select their seating.

The students who are most engaged with the material or the subject will choose to sit toward the front of the classroom. These are the students who readily ask and answer questions, demand more information or seek you out at the end of class. But what of those students who populate the last rows? Often they are quiet, will speak when called upon but do not jump to answer questions. They do their classwork and homework but too often maintain a C average. They do not clown around or disrupt the class. And they get little attention in class.

These back row students may not be engaged in the activities around them. It is hard to know if they are checking their Facebook page, messaging or surfing the net on their smart phones. Or they may simply be staring out of the window or asleep. These are the students we know can do better academically and may indeed have much to offer. But how do we get them engaged, especially today, when both time and resources are limited?

As schools and colleges look to increase their high impact practices to get and keep their students engaged in learning many are including internships as part of this strategy. We see more and more of the most ambitious students seek out internship opportunities and we hear from them about how important their internship has been in their school or college experience.

However, internships can be a critical way to get and keep our back row students engaged. In his blog Andrew Marcinek (Ten simple strategies for re-engaging students 11/21/2010) lists “Learn Beyond the Walls” as the number two strategy for student re-engagement.

First year college students who participate in at least one high impact practice such as an internship report “greater gain in their knowledge, skills and personal development” and were “more satisfied with their educational experience” (National Survey of Student Engagement 2013).

While internships have been shown to be key to student re-engagement, internships must be structured, provide challenging learning, have opportunities for reflection and help the student build those all-important one-to-one adult relationships in the workplace. For internships to be of high value for our back row students they must be an integral part of the school or college curriculum. When making that first step into the adult world of work students need the support of their school or college.

In this time of high pressure in education we must not forget about our back row students. We must find ways to ensure that all our students are able to meet their potential.