Engagement has become a buzz word in education. Teachers face pressure to keep their students active, but bustle and busyness are not the same as engagement. Worksheets and on-line tutorials may keep learners occupied, but not necessarily engaged. Ramona was happy to play math games on her laptop all morning. She enjoyed the novelty while her teacher worked with small groups grappling with new concepts. However, fun and innovative are not the same and instructive and engaging.
Engagement is a predictor of academic success that, in turn, leads to future achievement and well-being. But disengagement increases as students progress through school, resulting in 40% to 60% of high school students being “chronically disengaged” (Klem & Connell, 2004). This necessitates changing passive inertia into purposeful engagement.
Engagement Requires Effort, Interest, and Commitment
What Does Engagement Mean?
Synonyms for engaging include provocative and captivating. On social media, engaging may mean entertaining or attention-getting. In the classroom it is essential that engagement is also relevant and meaningful. It may include ideas or problems that are inspiring or troubling. It’s okay when engagement is challenging and perplexing when accompanied by appropriate support. Whether students are figuring out how many different ways there are to group 100 items or distinguish real from fake news, it is crucial to engage them in learning and assessing
Essential Elements of Engagement
- Engrossing: Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (2008) describes this as “Flow:” Those times when the mind is utterly attentive and absorbed in thinking or doing. Flow includes the experience of being so fully immersed in an activity that time recedes.
- Meaningful: Flow is a good start: It’s easy to become absorbed in a Super Heroes movie and not want to stop. But engagement also requires significance, interest, and perceived value to the learner.
- Motivational: Thomas Edison said “The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time. Edison was known as a persistent person. He learned that small successes encouraged him to pursue bigger goals. He stayed motivated through focus, inspiration, perseverance, passion, and a powerful willingness to try one more time.
- Purposeful: Purpose starts with a visible targets and a clear rationale for learning. It is essential for students to understand whether the botany goal means describing parts of a seed or analyzing abiotic factors in plant ecosystems. Are they going to be tested on their vocabulary skills, applications of learning, analysis of information or original insights?
- Process: Rather than an inflexible lesson design, engagement is strengthened when the learner sees the pathways and connections of learning. Success is supported when assignments begin with clear purposes, provide flexible routes for achieving objectives, and multiple ways to display learning.
- Questioning: Be prepared to respond to these types of questions from students: Is the challenge reasonable, what’s my return on investment, do I have a choice, is it real-world, are divergent perspectives respected, and how about my personal well-being?
Percolator or Drip
Is engagement more like a drip coffee pot or a percolator? I hope you picked percolator. In a drip pot, water passes through the grounds into the cup. It’s like pouring information into student’s brains hoping that some will transfer. Engagement in learning is more like a percolator where, over time, information gradually permeates throughout the process of infusing the learning. With the percolator you can adjust the time as well as the type and amount of ingredients.
A teacher may be the catalyst of engagement, but students must be engaged in the purposeful and relevant infusion of learning. In classrooms, engagement is sustained by these situational and environmental factors:
- A sense of self-efficacy and autonomy in learning.
- Development and affirmation of non-cognitive attributes such as a growth outlook, problem solving, adaptability, persistence, respect, and mutuality.
- Supportive relationships at home and school.
- School culture that encourages personal ownership and responsibility for learning.
Cognitively, engaged students invest their time and energy in planning and monitoring learning. Emotionally, these students feel a connection to school and a belief in self-efficacy. Behaviorally, students put effort into completing assignments and participate constructively in school activities.
When Everyone is Engaged
There are numerous ways to engage multiple constituents including parents, teachers, community, leadership, policy writers, and other stakeholders. When combined with collaboration, problem-solving, and consensus building, all constituents can and should be engaged in education.
It’s easy to hold up bright shiny objects in front of the public. The board of education may show images of abundantly engaging classrooms. The community may hear that their schools are rated the highest in community outreach or cost per pupil, yet they may have difficulty raising graduation rates. Open and honest engagement means that constituents are included, groups and individuals are involved, voices are heard, and diverse perspectives are respected.
Ideas in this blog are from Restorative Assessment: Strength-Based Practices That Support All Learners.
Csikszentmihalyi, M (2008) Flow: The psychology of optimal experience, Harper Perennial Modern Classics.
Klem, A. M., & Connell, J. P. (2004). Relationships matter: Linking teacher support to student engagement and achievement. Journal of School Health, 74, 262–273.