Some Reflections on Engagement...
Thursday, January 24, 2013 at 07:04AM
Elizabeth Eastman

A Gallup Poll The School Cliff [Student Engagement Drops with Each School Year] found recently that student engagement slides progressively downward as students move through school.

These poll results raise questions for reflection because engagement is so complex and multi-faceted. Definitions of engagement vary. What do we look for when we gauge levels of it in our students? Language commonly used to describe it usually includes words like--investment, connection, involvement, attention, participation, and motivation. What learning conditions should we create to foster it? What instructional approaches support and sustain it? 

The Gallup poll has a strengths-based approach to measurement, with the underlying idea that engagement stems from identifying and building on students' strengths. It used a 5-point scale for students' responses to 1) I have a best friend in this school. 2) I feel safe in this school. 3) My teacher makes me feel my school work is important. 4) I have an opportunity to do what I do best every day. 5) In the last 7 days, I have received recognition. This Gallup Poll then focuses on students' sense of safety, awareness of strengths, personal connections and recognition, and how their teacher makes them feel about learning. 

There are a range of other things I look at & think about when I gauge students' levels of engagement, which are a combination of students' opinions and perceptions as well as their observable behaviors. How do kids respond and express themselves to a task, a question or problem posed by me, another teacher, or by a classmate? This could be spoken, written, or digital expression and also be observable in non-verbal body language. What additional new questions do they have? Instead of how I make them feel about learning, what do they think about the quality of what & how they are learning? What does the actual evidence of learning--process or product--indicate about the degree of engagement? How do students experience feedback? In what ways does it validate and recognize their attempts or prompt them to try again and consider other ways to do that? To what extent is this feedback personal and individualized so they can make necessary corrections or adjustments at point of need? Can students move forward in their process at a customized pace? Do they feel invested and see relevance in what they are learning? Do they have some sense of ownership over the efforts they are asked to make?

To my experience, adding technology into the learning equation fuels engagement of kids' minds. It provides tools for powerful creative expression and transformation of learning. Students find an audience and a sense of relevant purpose for their work that is unparallelled. It can differentiate and accelerate the pace of learning in contexts across the curriculum. It can provide individualized feedback and validation of students' successes and provide specifics on how to get better. It motivates and engages kids in varied multisensory ways and provides opportunities for students to draw on strengths and modalities that learning without it in more traditional ways does not.

More on Engagement...

Engagement: Lexipedia word Map

Why So Many Schools Remain Penitentiaries of Boredom via Elizabeth English @HuffPostEdu

'Our schools and teaching have to be worthy of a student's attention. I talk to students about what it means to be fully present-- to "attend," which comes from the Latin attendere, meaning to take care or take charge, to bend toward. Attending means so much more than merely showing up and yet when we utter the word in the context of school, it evokes passivity. Likewise, learning has become synonymous with collecting information or possessing the kind of knowledge that can be readily measured on a test. For those who are college bound, that means a standardized test like the S.A.T. But the true test of knowledge and understanding is applicability. Students want and deserve knowledge which they can apply to an authentic experience. Don't get me wrong, facts and content matter. But deep and enduring learning is always about more than mnemonics, and it's time our schools and curricula reflect this.'

Everything I Know About Engagement I Learned in Kindergarten via @BlueSkunkBlog

Choices--Creativity--Care--Social Engagement Through Collaboration

Ways to Go From On-Task to Engaged via @eyeoneducation

'Ask questions that don’t have right or wrong answers. Seek student opinions, allow argumentation, encourage persuasion, and teach students how to disagree and debate in a positive way.'

'Stress process over product. Some of our most disengaged and bored students care little about grades, points, or other “motivators” we tend to use in school. Instead of focusing on the outcome of the work (which is typically a grade), focus on the process of learning, the experiences students will have, and the personal connections they can make to ideas and content.'

Using Ed.Tech To Support the Learning Process via Sylvia Martinez @EdWeekTeacher

'And if you are thinking, "Who has time to teach my students something complicated?" - I will suggest to you that complexity is different than depth. Sure there are tools that are not age-appropriate or just plain overkill. But educators often overestimate the extra time it takes to learn a new tool. Don't try to front-load too much information about the tool to the students. Instead, introduce a small project for the students, give them the tool and let them work. Allow collaboration between students to share new discoveries. Encourage home-grown student experts who can answer other students' questions. Time spent becoming fluent with a tool that has depth is time well-spent.'

Article originally appeared on edtechreflections (
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