Tuesday / June 25

Classroom Approaches to Student Engagement

Let’s say that we have created a culture for student engagement (See posts #2 and #3 in this series). How do we structure the programmatic aspects of our classrooms? The curriculum? Our instruction? Assessment? The good news is that lots of models have demonstrated enhanced student engagement. One is the Montessori Education model, applied to elementary and middle high schools. Kevin Rathunde (2015, pp. 253-274) describes the key components of this model:

  1. Freedom of choice
  2. Elimination of grades
  3. Learning by doing
  4. Deep concentration
  5. A prepared environment (balance of structure and choice)
  6. Self-regulation of attention
  7. Movement
  8. Aesthetic order (beauty and form in the environment and materials)
  9. The importance of nature

Rathunde found that these qualities had a positive effect on students’ engagement in middle schools.

John V. Antonetti and James R. Garver in a recent ASCD book 17,000 Classroom Visits Can’t Be Wrong: Strategies That Engage Students, Promote Active Learning, and Boost Achievement (2015) declare that eight factors are important for engaging students in their work. This work should

  1. Allow students personal responses
  2. Have clear/modeled expectations
  3. Provide emotional/intellectual safety
  4. Allow students to learn with others
  5. Provide a real audience for the work
  6. Allow for choice
  7. Get attention because it is novel or has variety
  8. Be authentic/real.

Here is another model, from my own experience at Eagle Rock School and Professional Development Center:

  1. Curriculum should be personalized; that is, all students have the same general requirements but they can make choices about specifically what they study and learn within those requirements.
  2. Instructional strategies should include project-based learning, a constructivist approach to learning, learning in groups, learning by teaching others, inquiry or discover learning, service learning, the gradual release of responsibility, scaffolding, differentiation, real and deep dialogue, in-depth reading and writing for a variety of purposes.
  3. Learning from assessing learning: documentations of learning; portfolios; demonstrations or exhibitions of learning; and regular formal presentations of learning.

You can discover more about these strategies for engaging students by reading Engaging the Disengaged: How One School Re-Engages Students in Learning (2015) or Engaging the Disengaged: How Schools Can Help Struggling Students Succeed (2008).

You are probably seeing some commonalities across these models. What can you take from the models and make your own? What changes can you make in curriculum, instruction, and assessment in your own classroom or school that – along with a culture for student engagement – help students engage more completely in their learning?


Antonetti, J. V., & Garer, J. R. (2015).  17,000 classroom visits can’t be wrong:     Strategies that engage students, promote active learning, and boost           achievement.  Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Easton, L. B. (2008).  Engaging the disengaged: How schools can help struggling                students succeed.  Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Easton, L. B., Condon, D., & Soguero, M.  (2015). Engaging the Disengaged: How One      School Re-Engages Students in Learning.  National Society for the Study of          Education, Vol. 113, Issue 1, pp. 375-401.

Glasser, W.  (1965).  Reality therapy: A new approach to psychiatry.  New York:                 Harper and Row, Publishers.

Rathunde, K.  (2015). Understanding optimal school experience: Contributions from       Montessori Education.  National Society for the Study of Education, Vol. 118,        Issue 1, pp. 253-284.

Schlechty, P. C.  (2002).  Working on the work: An action plan for teachers, principals,     and superintendents.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Written by

Lois Easton works as a consultant, coach, and author. She is author of The Other Side of Curriculum: Lessons for Learners (2001, Heinemann), Engaging the Disengaged: How Schools Can Help Struggling Students Succeed (2008, Corwin), Protocols for Professional Learning (2009, ASCD), and Professional Learning Communities by Design: How Schools Can Help All Students Succeed (Corwin, 2011). She is editor of and contributor to 3 editions of Powerful Designs for Professional Learning (Learning Forward, 2004, 2008, 2015).

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