- What is engagement?
- What does engagement look like?
- How do you measure engagement?
- How do you engage students?
- Are compliant students always engaged?
- What sort of engagement is required to prepare students for life after school?
- If students are not engaged but are still succeeding at school, is this OK?
I presented some of my thoughts about engagement in a 7 minute presentation "Engaging 15-19 year olds" at the Opera House Teachmeet (#TMHouse) in December 2015. See my presentation slides here also hear my presentation here at timecode 24.40. Below are some of my thoughts on engagement behind my presentation.
What does engagement look like?
This is a difficult question to answer; often parents, students and the community measure student engagement based on the achievement of good results, such as A’s, high Naplan, HSC and ATAR’s, or getting into the right University course. These are often used because they are easy to measure but I would question whether this is the right way to measure engagement, as many students can still achieve excellent results without being engaged.
Students who are engaged:
- Learn because they want to really find out
- Do deep learning
- Are enthusiastic, passionate and ask lots of questions
- Understand their unique strengths and talents
- Have ownership of their learning and you can’t stop them from getting involved
- Have a twinkle in their eye and a bounce in their step.
I don’t know the best way to measure and identify when students are engaged, but tests on their own don’t always offer a good insight.
What do you think engagement looks like and what ways do you use to identify and measure engagement beyond tests and numbers?
What does not being engaged look like?
When students are not engaged they will:
Compliant students can perform well academically, often these can be top students or perhaps students who do just enough to get through under the radar. They can be very strategic about what they do, often just spending time only on what will get them more marks or on what they think the teacher thinks is important. The learning process or content has less value to these students than the grades. So you will often hear “What do I need to get more marks?” or “Just tell me what I need to do”. These students can be ritual about their compliance, with the importance being on pleasing others, making their parents proud for example, or doing enough not to get into trouble.
These compliant students are not often questioned about their level of engagement because by all regular measures they seem to be performing and behaving well and thus are assumed to be engaged. When you remove the external extrinsic motivation, what is left? When you finally take away the reasons for compliance you are often left with a shell of a young adult, with no passion, no interests or self-belief.
I think we therefore need a balance between providing students with the structure and support to get good marks and giving students the freedom and ownership to discover the reason and motivation to drive their own learning.
This balance is a difficult one to do, often you need to give students the opportunity to discover their own selves, but this takes time to develop and learn and is often high risk if the important measure is the next test or HSC exam.
Retreating students will quietly disappear within a classroom. They are hard to see because they will not disrupt the classroom and will often do enough to make it look like they are engaged, but their minds can be anywhere but in the room. These students will retreat within themselves when the learning does not capture them. Like complying students, these students often slip through because they don’t make a fuss or do just enough to do OK.
Rebelling students are the ones that everyone notices, because when the learning doesn’t interest them they will let you know! They will often do things (such has get into trouble) to avoid doing the work because it does not engage them.
Students who are not engaged tend to have little control over their learning or what they do. Over time this can have a very negative effect on:
- How they see themselves
- Their understanding of what they like, are good at or what engages them
This can cause indifference to their education, learning and to life. It can also increase their anxiety around learning because how they see themselves is based on outcome or marks which they can’t control. This can lead to negative mental health outcomes, which further effects learning and relationships. It can also cause major disruptions to other students' learning, especially if they rebel.
Students who are not engaged are also missing out on skills and knowledge that are important for work and life after school such as:
- Problem solving
- Application of skills to new tasks
- Taking responsibility for their learning and actions
Do we have learning environments and content to engage our students and to prepare them for life after the HSC?
In the next post I will discuss some of the programs we are trying at our school to engage students during the HSC to prepare them for life after school.