Are You Really Engaging Your Students?

I’ve been pushing a lot of people’s button lately because they keep throwing around this buzz word “engagement”.  For example, we need to increase student engagement!  We need to promote student engagement!  We need to provide teaching that will develop student engagement!

The problem I have with this is that it seems to me that many people confused the word “engagement” for “entertainment”.  If kids are having fun then they must be engaged right?  And what concerns me more is the people who have taken the message about “increasing engagement” and translated that into a hidden mandate to “increase test scores”.

Well, when you ask people to define engagement you get responses like these (taken from my own staff discussion experience):

  • quiet and working
  • noisy but working
  • discussion of the topic
  • take their learning into the hallway
  • ask good questions
  • focused discussion
  • full class participation

And I’ve seen mottos that say, “We will seek to engage 100% of students, 100% of the time.”  Doesn’t that sound daunting?  It is…..

The problem is that many people have conflicting definitions of the word “engagement”.   There is a wonderful document created be a set of three people that I admire very much.  “What Did You Do in School Today: Transforming Classes Through Social, Academic, and Intellectual Engagement” created in May 2009 by J. Douglas Williams, Sharon Friesen, and Penny Milton focuses on three areas of engagement and what they mean to the students we teach.

To begin with, there are three ways that students engage within school.

Social Engagement:  These are the kids that come to school for the social aspect.  They hang out with their friends, they are part of the drama club, they play a few school sports, they sign up for every option class.  Their interest in academic subjects is not a guarantee.  It is possible they are also academic but on the whole, they are in school because it’s where their friends are.

These are the kids that I worry about the most when we start cutting back on “special” days within our schools (the full day drama camp day, the anti-bullying presentation, the anything non-academic related).  Many times this is a high school issue where they say they are losing too much class time to non-academic pursuits and how can they now possibly get through their curriculum?  They have finals to get the kids ready for!  There are diploma exams!  And we’re going to sacrifice yet another set of classes for a school wide pep rally?  I think not!

But this is where the kids who are socially engaged in school really begin to check out.  If school isn’t “fun” they’re outta there.  As class loads increase and academics become the main (if not only) goal, these kids begin to give up.  In short….many of them will drop out.      What do we do to make sure we are providing an avenue for these kids to stay in school?  If getting a high school diploma isn’t their primary goal, how do we convince them we are worth their time?

Academic Engagement: These are the kids who know what’s at stake.  They need the good grades, they want the good grades, and they have figured out what they need to do to get the good grades.  In other words, they have figured out how to play the game.  They also tend to be very independent.  They don’t like group projects because their mark could be impacted by someone else and that’s just not acceptable.  They spend hours on homework, come to your optional after school tutorials, and study like crazy for exams because they crave the bliss that getting a good grade brings them.  Are they actually interested in anything you’re teaching?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  You’ll never know because they put on a pretty good poker face.

These are the kids most often targeted in school.  When we say school is a place for “academics”, these are the kids that we’re talking about.  The problem is in some schools (although I don’t have stats on this I think it’s likely a strong rural issue) they make up a very small percentage of the class population.  I myself graduated in a class of 34.  Only 5 of us went on to post secondary and only 3 of us would successfully obtain a University level undergraduate degree.  Is it fair to make school decisions based on the minority of the population?  What does that mean for the kids that will not be going past the high school diploma?  Are they no longer as valuable?  Are we making decisions about the way we teach and operate our schools based on the minority of kids it will impact?

Intellectual Engagement:  Ah, the kids who learn for the sake of learning…..the kids who go home and build model rockets just to see how high they can make them go, or research disgusting diseases because they have a fascination for how the body works, or (if you’re my Grade 8s) those kids who go home and look up Spanish Inquisition torture techniques because your Renaissance history teacher mentioned it in passing and it just sounded too cool to resist.

Ultimately you see these kids entering science fairs, historica fairs, and anything else that peaks their curiosity.  The grade matters less to them then the academic student because the true joy was in learning about the topic.  These kids will become our doctors, lawyers, authors, etc because they have found a passion that needed developing.

And as teachers, THIS is what we truly want.  When you have achieved this in your classroom you feel a sense of pride and accomplishment.  When they run up to you and tell you about what they found out last night on the internet, or they correct something you said in class the previous day, or they have a video on the topic they think would be good to show the class….you want to jump and scream Hallelujah!  And it’s the more sweeter when it isn’t the “academic” kid because this really means that you got them.

Unfortunately, too often the description of what engagement looks like tends towards the list that I spoke about at the beginning of the post.  And if you look closely at it, it’s related to “on task” behaviour.  We tend to think that if kids are “on task” they are engaged.  And for the most part they are…..but what kind of engagement have you achieved?

Social Engagement?  It was an excuse for them to hang out with their peer group and talk about something that held their interest for the ten minutes you needed it for? Did they find it “entertaining” enough to engage in it?

Intellectual Engagement?  Which is what you are hoping for…..or is it more likely Academic Engagement?  The teacher pleasing, I need to get this assignment done to get the good grade, if I look like I’m working she won’t get me into any trouble…..engagement?

I attended a PD session with Sharon Friesen where she flat out admitted that it’s very hard to achieve Intellectual Engagement with kids.  Mostly because it all comes down to two major factors:  The challenge of the work and the perceived confidence in skill level.

It comes down to this:

  • Low skills, low challenge = apathetic learners
  • High skills, low challenge = bored learners
  • Low skill, high challenge = apprehensive learners
  • High skills, high challenge = interested and successful learners

Friesen describes the ideal situation of high skill and high challenge as a feeling of “flow” – that is kids are working on something they feel so engaged in that they don’t notice the passage of time.  The bell has no significance to them.  They may even fail to notice when the bell goes!  Or they will groan and ask if they really have to stop.  Or they will ask to stay in at recess and just keep working.

These students also report a high percentage of participation, a feeling of belonging, consistent attendance, and feelings of intellectual engagement.

The trick to all this, as I see it, comes down to the skill level.  So our challenge as teachers becomes, what do we do to make sure that the students have skills that will be required to be successful?  If they are lacking in these skills, what do we do about that?

The answer I’ve come up with is difficult to manage because it ultimately involves a strong notion of differentiated learning.  Matching the challenge of an assignment with the skill set of the student.  At the end of the day it will come down to how successful your student feels in class.  The more success they experience, they more they will crave.

But the next time you start talking about “needing more engagement” from your students or making “student engagement” part of your team goals, I encourage you to have the difficult conversation about what kind of engagement you are really talking about.  Uncover the hidden goals.

I found it so encouraging to be having frank staff room discussions around student engagement only to find that the sad truth is (after listening to many conversation around student achievement) I find what most people are talking about is how to increase academic engagement in order to better test scores on standardized exams.  And this makes me shake my head.  Shouldn’t our real goal be to increase intellectual engagement so that we are developing kids with a love or learning?  And if we are really targeting academic engagement, what about our socially engaged learners who are on the bubble and considering dropping out of school?

We talk often about teaching “the whole child” and then we turn around and say, “But school is a place of learning.  Academics are the focus!”

Is academic learning the only learning that takes place in school?  People get mad at me when I ask that question.  They say I’m detracting from the real issue. I say it’s an issue of perception.  If everyone is looking at a box sitting on the table they can tell you exactly what they see and they can guess at what everyone else is seeing.  The problem is that no one sees the bottom of the box unless someone stands up and flips it over.

And once you’ve come up with the difficult notion that really it’s the intellectual engagement we need to strive for you can have the super, exciting, everyone wants to have their say conversations around really tough questions such as giving out zeros, the purpose of homework, the role of assessment and grading, and lots of others things that will cause people to get their backs up.

Ask the tough questions that need asking.  Push people’s buttons.  Flip over the box.  Point at the elephant in the room and make everyone stare at it.

Stand at the front of your staff meeting and say, “What do we REALLY mean when we say we want to increase student engagement?”


About Cherra-Lynne Olthof

I've been a middle school teacher for my entire career (which began in 2001). Like my students, I too am a life long learner. My goals include helping my students to achieve their goals, support them in their learning, and to encourage them to think "beyond the grade".
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

43 Responses to Are You Really Engaging Your Students?

  1. largerama says:

    A good piece and some really good points made to discuss here. To my mind, I want students with an environment where all these come together. What is wrong with being an entertainer at times and an intellect the next? Trying to bring out the best in all students both at what they are good at and challenging them to come out of their comfort zone can only lead to students with a more open mind and in turn a greater learning scape.
    Your piece is valuable because, in my opinion, it is important to understand that engagement comes in many guises and these all need to be considered as do the various student mindsets in your classroom. Are these sub-groups all catered for and how are their needs going to be met in terms of the environment I describe above.?

  2. Pingback: What Stops Engagement Before it Begins… | 21st Century Musings

  3. Peter Tompkins says:

    A great conversation that needs to be had. In my experience many schools claiming to engage do not come close to intellectual engagement in any sense. “Engagement” needs greater discussion and refined definition. Thank you for raising this issues.

  4. I appreciate articles like this that challenge the mot-de-jour. At some point these words lose their meaning, or at least we tend not to be as thoughtful about what they mean over time. Stepping back to consider the larger picture and deeper meaning refreshes our understanding and encourages more purposeful actions related to the concept.
    Manitoba created a support document for student engagement and requires assessment and reporting of engagement in grade 7. The core competences are: demonstrating interest, self-assessment, goal setting, participation, and responsibility.
    It appears that the focus here is almost entirely on academic engagement which, I suspect they would argue, is the point of schools. The broader picture is much more nebulous and harder to measure, but no less critical. As we shift from concept learning to process development, we nurture skills that enable to experience more fully that with which they are engaging.
    Largerama above has a point about entertainment – the value of an effective hook to engagement shouldn’t be dismissed, nor should it be the sole purpose.

  5. Mike says:

    This is great. I love the notion that intellectual stimulation is what we should really strive for. Engagement means getting totally lost in a challenge and becoming lifelong learners. Great article.

  6. Interesting article. I teach in Adult Education, and when students aren’t engaged they simply don’t come to school. No one requires them to come, so if we aren’t doing anything for them, they stay home. As you suggested, we in Adult Ed often find ourselves taking advantage of the social engagement to get students in the door when they aren’t ready for the other two. Does anyone have any suggestions for applying technology to any of these three types of engagement? I would be interested to hear them.

  7. This is something that has frustrated me also. I’ve heard the term ‘engagement’ used by many people in education and I’m convinced that most of them had a different definition as to what engagement is to the others. Having been researching this topic this year for my thesis, I’ve discovered that often the term is used without explaining what is meant. It often seems to be assumed that all educators know what it is, however I think it is something that should not be assumed especially due to the many understandings of the term around. I’ve written a post about this same issue before – thanks for bringing it to our attention again.

  8. born1963 says:

    I agree with the above discussion. This term I have had the opportunity to put some of these ideas into practice and thought it might be of interest to share the result.
    I am a computer or IT teacher of year 8 in rural Australia. I have a class either side of recess at 11am. It is such a joy to constantly be asked “can we stay in over recess and keep working?”. They are “flowing” as mentioned above. Due to the nature of the group, I have 4 different work tasks happening at once. Building and programming Lego Mindstorm robots, C++ programming tutorials on the Khan Academy, web site development (wordpress) and an online text book, question and answer activity. Each task has deadlines and will be assessed next week. All tasks are uploaded on Edmodo (LMS) and my room is buzzing with what I call “visceral learning”. You can feel it.
    Students are bouncing from one side of the room to the other, commenting on other people’s posts and animations on the programming site. The other question I often hear is “Hey, How did you do that?” “How did you make your robot spin?” In amongst this chaos is a handful of students with headphones on listening to the Khan Academy videos and Tutorials. Still others are reading the textbook, answering the questions and posting them on Edmodo for me to assess. They are all self directed. Some will achieve more than others I know, but those who are engaged are already writing programming code better than me. My role at the start of term was to point out a direction we could all head and then give then the vehicles to travel in. “Don’t wait for me, move through as fast as you want, find your own path.” Some students were unsure of this approach and asked “Which one do I do first?” “It doesn’t matter, just get going. We have 8 weeks” I said.
    Immediately I had 70% of the students self directing their learning and not taking recess. This allowed me to spend time with the other 30% who needed extra help. The term is nearly over and next week will tell how much they can recall in a structured assessment. To my mind the assessment is irrelevant because both the students and I can see what we have learn by what we have created.
    I would call this engagement.
    David Forrest
    Sapphire Coast Anglican College,
    NSW Australia.

  9. Good call Will, but when you talk about students lacking in the skills, I’m far more concerned about some teachers lacking the skills to push beyond staffroom discussions into transforming their skills toward becoming lifelong learners themselves. You also talk about kids developing a love of learning, I’m also wondering where the love of teaching has gone? I’m positive it still exists deep down, but maybe more of us in the profession need to have our buttons pushed to help us realise that we are part of the missing component toward discovering others engagement needs, that is…what do we need to do to become more engaged when engaging others! Thanks again for your articles.

  10. Iris says:

    What about teacher engagenent? When we have teachers that are intellectualy engaged or socially engageg?.. Could we ask ourselves as teachers are we 100% always engaged in all 3 areas? Why we go to school every day? What motivates us or better yet how we keep our motivation up so our students are fully engaged.? Why we can’t have fun teaching even if we are being observed by others?

  11. Pingback: OTR Links 11/13/2012 « doug – off the record

  12. Nancy Blair says:

    I wish more teachers would think about this issue of “engagement.” Too many teachers I encounter seem to believe engagement is synonymous with compliance–if the students are quiet and look busy, they consider them to be “engaged” in the learning. Uh, no–not so much. The term “engagement” doesn’t bother me so much as the lack of consensus of what engaged students look like and how to achieve the “flow” you mentioned. Often, when I talk to teachers about the types of engagement you’ve presented, they look at me like I’m a bit nuts. More of theses types of conversations need to happen in schools. Thanks for the thought-provoking post.

  13. msagostino says:

    I really enjoyed this post Cherra-Lynne. It was extremely interesting and thought provoking. It will certainly force me to take a look at my own methods of engagement. I start every new topic in a unit with an “engage” activity that could be anything from a diagnostic clicker-quiz, a video clip, a Ted talk, a simulation etc…I think what I am looking for in that respect is not academic engagement, but intellectual engagement. I want the students to be inspired to explore more after they leave class that period. I consider it successful if we spend the entire class discussing the activity and going on wild tangents about biology and science. At the end of the unit when I ask students to write a reflection, if they mention they enjoyed that activity, I feel like it has truly engaged them if they can still remember it specifically. As you said, if they come to class the next day with more questions or information regarding the activity, I feel like it has worked. I also think academic engagement is significant and try to differentiate as much as possible so that students can choose activities that will challenge yet also interest them. Thank you for giving me even more to think about!

  14. Terry Nichols says:

    I especially enjoy the continuum in regards to the skill and challenge issue. Dr Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi refers to this as a challenge for the tacher to constantly strive to provide the learning environment where skills and “appropriate” challenge are constantly adjusted to ensure an optimum learning experience or “flow” . “Flow” in the classroom could be more of the norm with lesson design and not just lesson planning. Ther are too many times in the classroom where the learning is based on “one skill and one challenge” = no learning.

  15. Terry Nichols says:

    One additional comment. Schletchy work on lesson design provides a vocabulary,if for nothing else, allows for discussion. WHY kids do the work is a very important question to be asked and can be addressed in the lesson design not just lesson planning. What are we being deliberate and intentional about in our lesson design around student learning.

  16. Pingback: The Most Important Thing, II « Joyful Latin Learning — Tres Columnae

  17. Pingback: Are You Really Engaging Your Students? | Teaching on Purpose « The Sharing Tree

  18. I am really interested in the concept of engagement and more specifically, how to engage my students so that they are actively immersed and completely absorbed in their learning; so they are taking charge and directing their own learning; so they are inspiring others with their passion and enthusiasm and creative ideas; so that they want to learn more; so they can reflect on and specifically explain what it is they are learning about or have learnt.

    We all know it when we see it! And then so often we wonder – how did this happen? And more importantly, how can we make it happen again? How can we provide more opportunities like this to create the best learning environment and obtain the best learning outcomes for my students?

    It was interesting to read how Cherra-Lynne mentioned we need ‘high skills and high challenge’ in a lesson or activity to engage students at the highest level. It would be good for teachers when planning learning experiences for their students to evaluate these in terms of this description. Have my students got adequate skills to be able to independently (of the teacher) engage in the activity? Are my students being given a challenge that is attainable (not too easy, not too hard) and one that they will be interested in? This is a significant part of the discussion because we want our students to buy in, we need our students to buy in to what we are providing.

    I agree with what Terry Nichols said above about how the challenge for teachers is “to constantly strive to provide the learning environment where skills and “appropriate” challenge are constantly adjusted to ensure an optimum learning experience or “flow”.

    I’ve found some answers for my year 6 students, but I’m still searching. One thing that I know is that they want to be part of the learning process. They don’t want to be told ‘how’ to do it, they want to make their own choices and figure that part out for themselves.

    This is an excellent discussion to have. So many people have so many creative inspiring ideas. I learn so much from sharing with others and listening to others and it inspires me to think in ways that I never would have considered before.

  19. Pingback: Monday Mentions–19 November 2012

  20. Pingback: LibraryChat | Wonderful Wednesday Weblinks

  21. Pingback: Are You Really Engaging Your Students? | dennisowen1's Blog

  22. I like the distinction here between academic and intellectual engagement. Increasing the academic self-esteem to coax the apprehensive learner I think is mostly about emotional engagement and helping them find authentic and purposeful work. I see that as project based learning done well.

  23. I really enjoyed that you are willing to “push” buttons. I like to be challenged and I believe your article did challenge what I thought engagement is. I agree that there are different kinds of engagement for different students but I believe the reason students have these different kinds of engagement is because of their perceived success as an intellectual learner. I think some students are socially engaged because they don’t think they can be successful as an intellectual learner. You touch on this when you focused on high skill and high challenge is our focus. This is definitely where differentiation comes in. Changing materials to match up with a student. So that a student can feel challenged but still having success in something they believe really matters. I really enjoyed your piece and it definitely got me thinking.

  24. I think it’s exactly right to talk about how not every educator has the same concept in mind when talking about “engagement”. Our school is currently working on better engagement for the upper years, but I find the process confusing, probably because we are not all working with the same understanding of the term. Our staff team seems to be focused only on social engagement as a reward for academic engagement, but there is no mention of any form of intellectual engagement! And while I can see the value of all forms of engagement, I can’t see the value of placing some so much higher than others.

  25. Jolene B. says:

    I like the different groups that you have pointed out and the different levels of engagement. It would be amazing to have a classroom full of students who were all intellectually engaged. I think these learners are the ones that not only go onto these great professions but go onto something that they are truly interested in and inspired by. This should be the goal for students- to equip them with the skills and abilities to do something they are passionate about.
    I think this is where ideas like Genius Hour and Project Based Learning are really useful. They truly allow students to engage intellectually with a topic that they choose and that they find interesting. These teaching styles allow that level of intellectual engagement.
    I also agree that people find restraints when it comes to student ability level. The quote:
    “…involves a strong notion of differentiated learning. Matching the challenge of an assignment with the skill set of the student. At the end of the day it will come down to how successful your student feels in class. The more success they experience, they more they will crave.” sums this up quite well. Students need to feel success in order to be engaged as well as have a say in their own learning. They need a voice within the classroom.

  26. Kent Carlson says:

    Certainly I can see the different types of engagement happening in my classes on a daily basis. I think the majority of engagement is Social and/or Academic and the small minority is Intellectual engagement. Especially at the middle years/high school level, fostering intellectual engagement is really important, but also very tricky. The catch is that once students reach those ages, it is generally not “cool” to show interest in school (especially subjects like Math). This makes it hard for a teacher to truly see how engaged a student is or is not.

    I propose this as food for thought:

    Do you think that if a critical percentage of students (40 – 60% maybe?) are intellectually engaged in a class, their engagement may cause others to allow themselves to be engaged?

    Or does it matter at all? If students are truly intellectually engaged it will shine through the darkness of “uncoolness”?

    Just some thoughts I had while reading this post.

    Thanks for the ideas.

    • I do think there is something of an effect. I’ve seen classes such as those you’ve described where learning isn’t “cool” and so the effect is that no one wants to learn anything, and everything is boring, and everything is dumb. Then you have classes like the one I have this year where questions are constantly flying and they are ready to dig into everything and everything. Perhaps their level of engagement shows through best in what they produce in class? You can always see who cares about what they are doing.

  27. Dana Adams says:

    As I was reading this article on the different types of engaged learners I was thinking of my girl, who is in grade 8. She was once an intellectual type of engaged learner. She was the girl who was planning for next years science fair before the present one was even over. She had a list of her topics for research projects she wanted to learn about on the cork board behind her bedroom door. It was pretty cool to see. Now as I read your observations and thoughts I think that she was once what we might all want to see from the kids in our room. However, over the past two years, my girl has lost that passion and is becoming an academically engaged learner. She sees the learning outcomes ahead of her and is doing her best to get top marks for them and get them done. This is a shame. I want her to be passionate and driven, but she is now feeling the stress of having to get things done. Too bad. Life is short, she is only 13 and may miss all the fun that can be had when being engaged and challenged.

    • Hopefully she finds her spark again later in life. I often think that in school our kids get so bogged down by the endless outcomes in our curriculum that there simply isn’t time for them to explore their passions anymore. I think back on that myself and remember hitting my stride in University after learning how to play the game in highschool. Grade 8 is such a tough year. If anyone knows, it’s me. After 13 years of teaching Grade 8 I cam to understand what a hard couple of years it is for those kids.

  28. Ellyse Theede says:

    This post struck a chord with me. We often say that schools are the places you go to get ready for “real life” and where you learn the skills you will need to succeed, no matter what you choose to do. However, I’m not sure that this is a reality. We too often think that academic engagement is the only type of engagement a school should have, and that achieving and assessing curricular outcomes is the sole purpose of our time in the classroom. I like that standards-based reporting allows everyone to better understand a student’s learning and that specific skills and knowledge can be targeted, but when you must operate solely within the bounds of your curricular outcomes I think that we lose something important. I know there are teachers who have great ideas for learning activities in their classrooms that aren’t done because they “don’t fit curricular outcomes”. If it is an engaging learning opportunity, why shouldn’t it happen?

    Your question “Is academic learning the only learning that takes place in school?” is also really important. Young people learn so much from their peers and their teachers that isn’t academic – every day, teachers model not only academic skills, but also the social, behavioural, and emotional skills needed to be successful.

    If we truly do believe that it is important to educate the whole child, I think our educational systems need a major shift away from emphasizing only academic learning.

  29. Ruth Wilson says:

    Wouldn’t it be great if we could find a way to encourage development of all three types of engagement for our students? To me, the ideal student would be intellectually engaged which would lead to a deeper understanding of a topic. The deeper understanding would lead to greater achievement on assessments. And the social engagement would make the intellectual engagement even better when it could be shared. I think we want to encourage the engagement that each student is ‘best’ at and help them to further develop the other types of engagement.

  30. Jackie Zagoruy says:

    This is an interesting article that brings up topics that I hadn’t given much thought to. In particular I hadn’t thought there was a difference between academic engagement and intellectual engagement. We have all types of engagement happening and for the most part I think our idea is that social engagement will encourage and possibly result in academic engagement. So I found it interesting to read about the students that are socially engaged and only socially engaged. We have those discussions in our staff room about time factor and curriculum and cutting out the fun days. Those days are super important to the students too.

  31. Amy Lafontaine says:

    I think you raise some valid points in your article; thanks for sharing! I hadn’t really ever thought about social engagement in the whole school as I am mainly focused on engagement within my classroom. Being a senior high school science teacher, I tend to see a lot of academic engagement as opposed to social engagement. Most of the students I teach are planning to go on to post-secondary of some kind (most of the time it is some sort of university). They are engaged in the work to get the grades they need to apply for their chosen programs and scholarships. That being said, I think this has to do with motivation. Alberta Education talks about how engagement, which you call intellectual engagement, occurs when students are motivated intrinsically. “Commitment to think deeply and critically, to grapple with ideas, and to make connections in information happens when motivation is intrinsic” ( I think this idea connects with your statement that high skills and high challenge leads to interested and successful learners. However, some students struggle with meeting the curricular demands of a senior science class (let’s say grade 12 Chemistry). I agree that we may see more authentic engagement in our classrooms if we challenge students at their level, but how can I do this at the senior science level without compromising the academic integrity of the course for those who need the skills for their post-secondary goals?

  32. Helena O says:

    My school also has an engagement goal in upper years and I didn’t realize until now how broad it was. I appreciate the distinction between the different types of engagement and I think it’s great to open up the discussion as to what are we really looking for when we say engagement? It’s made me think about what kind of engagement is going on in my classes. I recently started a PBL with my grade six math class and I think I’m witnessing much more intellectual engagement in the first week of the project than I ever see with my older ‘academic’ learners. Lot’s to think about, thanks!

  33. Natasha Olivier says:

    This article made me sit back and look at my students in respect to the three types of engagement. Being an elementary teacher, I definitely find the social engagement is very important to all of my students. You can see pieces of the intellectual engagement in most of their work as they are still intrigued by how things work. Unfortunately I am starting to see the academic engagement occurring in some of my students which concerns me at this level. The question that popped into my head is at this age why are they so concerned about the marks? Is this something that they are learning in our school, or is this something that is being learned from home? Anyways it is always good to read an article that makes you take another look at how you are doing things.

  34. Ashley Greschner says:

    I love when I can do projects that the students are engaged with. I am currently doing a design workshop on complex machines with my grade 5-7 science class and all the students are totally engrossed with the topic.They have been cornering me and asking questions or showing me things that they have brought to add to their projects.Today they were all collaborating, creating, and sharing. They even asked if we could keep working! On this occasion I would say that they are fostering intellectual engagement. Is it possible to only have this some of the time?

  35. Amber Ivy says:

    Great read! I particlularly like how you break down the different ways a student can be engaged. It really helps to try to impact students on each level in different ways. It is very clear that as students gain each step of engagement they are able to reach the next level. Seeing as you wrote this article in 2012, and so much of it is still very applicable – I am wondering if reaching 100% engagement, like you alluded to, is ever even a possibility or goal we should be striving for?! Such a lofty goals that leave us as teachers feeling like we aren’t fulfilling our roles completely.

  36. Shauna Vick says:

    I agree with your assessment of differing types of engagement. I tend to focus on how interconnected they all are and how important the social realm is. A sense of belonging and community is really essential in order for other types of engagement to happen. And social skills are real world skills that every person needs to some extent.

    Your writing made me think of a particular student who loves learning, which is wonderful, but he tends to be an expert on everything other than what we are talking about in class and can come off as arrogant to his classmates and teachers. He misses a lot of social cues and I fear his struggles with social engagement might effect his academic future. As his teacher, I struggle to challenge him appropriately and help him maintain friendships with his peers. There is so much potential in the person… we just need to make sure it’s used appropriately.

  37. Colleen R says:

    I really enjoyed this post Cherra-Lynne. I think you really hit the nail on the head when you spoke about the difference between engagement and entertainment. I agree that there is a huge misconception at play – having fun and being intellectually or even academically engaged are not always a guarantee. As a middle years teacher, I think it is especially hard to foster engagement in students when they have so many new social and developmental issues entering the fray. As you well know, middle years kiddos are a rare breed 🙂 I agree with Jolene regarding Genius Hour and Project Based Learning as tools to boost engagement in the middle years. I have found it to be quite successful in giving students an opportunity to take some control over their learning and really explore something that speaks to or challenges them. Differentiation is also key, we have to provide students with multiple opportunities/ways to demonstrate success. I also agree with the idea of a school wide focussed definition/goal regarding engagement. I can’t imagine how any learning community could ever be successful if they are not all on the same page and moving towards a common goal.

  38. Kristin Blomert says:

    This was definitely thought provoking… I’m a first year teacher. Everything they tell you in University, of course, doesn’t quite prepare you for the classroom and it can’t. The notion of defining “student engagement” was one I didn’t really think about before this article. I’m glad I had the opportunity to read this and have the inner struggle of what kind of engagement my students are classified as. Right away it was easy to see that I have a lot of socially engaged students but the difficult thing will be taking this and getting them intellectually engaged. I definitely have some work ahead of me. Thanks for the thoughts!

  39. Very thought-provoking. For years, differentiated instruction has been a part of teacher’s conventions and professional development opportunities. It is right that the students need to be challenged at their own level in order to be motivated to explore further. My goal is to turn the apprehensive learners into risk-takers in a caring environment in order to have them become more interested and successful.

  40. Stephanie I says:

    I really enjoyed your post because it made me think back to when I was in school myself, as well as about my own teaching practice. A piece that really stood out to me was where you pointed out the discrepancy between talking about teaching the whole child but then putting such an emphasis on academics as the central focus in practice. I think a major contributing factor to this separation is the transition between the familiar and “traditional” models of education, and the new shifts in understandings about child and youth development and redefinition of the whole concept of learning. I think all stakeholders in education (teachers, administrators, parents, boards, students) are still trying to figure out how to effectively provide the education that the theory is supporting, and as we move through the learning curve and continually adapt and change, hopefully people will continue to ask the important questions, such as those that you have raised about engagement. I think through continued questioning and looking for answers as well as further questions, we as an educational system will eventually get there.

  41. Tanya Sampson says:

    This is a great read! I like that you separated the different types of engagement; it helped me to better understand what it means. I’ve had those experiences where my students have been so engaged in what they’re doing that they want to keep working on it at noon or after school and they moan and groan when the bell rings and I have to say, I enjoy those moments way more than when I have a lesson that just struggles and drags. It’s no fun for anyone when the students are not loving what they’re learning.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s