Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Reflecting on Student Engagement in my Class

Through the power of twitter I volunteered to help Amy Cosgrove (@Teacher_Chic) with an assignment for her Master’s program.  Amy sent me a series of questions about student engagement.  This self-reflection was very beneficial because it prodded me to contemplate what works and what I would improve in my own practice.  Below are some of the questions with my responses.

1.       What is your definition of engagement? 
I googled student engagement to make my personal definition is in sync with what the pedagogical pros are saying and I found that technically ‘engagement’ is about being on-task. And while that may be true to an extent, I think it should be more than that.  When students are thinking and feeling and questioning the subject- that’s engagement!  To me engagement is about students taking ownership of their learning- no matter how big or small that learning goal is. If they are the one in charge of making sure they’re getting it and are striving toward the goal- that’s engagement, to me.

2.       What are some of your practices that you find most engaging for students in your class?
That’s a tough question I think because it’s so subjective.  My students did a lot of inquiry based learning.  I found that they understood the content so much more when it was approached this way and they developed the skills they needed to be successful with the curriculum. Another practice is that my students sat in group of four and used mini-white boards to answer questions that were dispersed throughout a traditional lesson.  I found that they were more successful with this approach, partly because their level of engagement was much higher when they were expected to interact with their peers within the context of the lesson.

3.       What methods do you use to encourage disengaged students to become engaged?
I break one larger task into smaller more manageable task with check-in points along the way.  I found much more success with projects when I started chunking the process and having brainstorming session and peer reviews along the way.  I also really encourage small successes so that the students know what praise and responsibility feel like so they’ll want more.

4.       What questions (if any) do you encourage outside of the curriculum for students who are either disengaged (and need connection to class work) or engaged (where they’d benefit or enjoy new knowledge or skills beyond provincial/state requirements)?
I think that if our classroom lessons are centered around the skills of the standards and we use the knowledge to give context to those skills then we can make small adjustments to meet the needs of our students.   When we are asking our students to make connections between two or three big ideas and relate them to their own reality, it helps meet the needs of both groups of students.

So... How are you reflecting on your own practice to become better at engaging students? What is your definition of engagement? How do you encourage it? 


  1. Sorry for the late post, Deana - we had a late night class. Overly engaged on the topic of engagement! :)

    Definitions of engagement...such a huge, huge definition for me. I think this is a term that goes beyond students being busy in the topic or work that's presented to them. I believe that if students are authentically engaged, they'll be talking about the class topics outside of class time (at home, with peers, etc.), they'll be motivated to "dig deeper" - whether it be on their own time or working alongside another student or teacher to explore a topic beyond what the standards require of them. On the other side of that, though, is the teacher. I think that for authentic, genuine engagement to happen at the student level, it needs to be initiated (or reciprocated) from their facilitator (teacher). This doesn't necessarily mean the teacher has to be a true archaeologist to capture students' interests on dinosaurs, but instead to find things/ways that are exciting to teach AND bridge the students' social context/interests/abilities to allow for enthusiasm to grow on both sides. Whew - that was long winded. I'm going to stop there - for now - before this turns into its own blog post.

  2. Amy-
    I like how you talk about the teacher being the bridge... I think that explains a lot about why it's not always about how much we know about the content, we also need to sharpen our teaching skills in order to make the maximum impact in our classes!
    Thanks for the comment!