You have probably heard that teachers are the hardest people to teach. I submit teaching teachers is a lot like teaching younger learners (except that they have more autonomy). More often than not as I am setting up for a training at least one teacher will saunter in with a pile of lamination to cut out or a knitting project (for the grandbaby on the way, of course) to keep them occupied during the training. First of all, let me say, “I get it.” I get that teachers by necessity become excellent multi-taskers. I also understand that if you are doing more than one thing at a time you are not fully engaged in either activity. So how do I react? I take it as a challenge. If the lamination or the knitting needles come out during the training, I feel that I haven’t done enough to keep that particular teacher engaged.
Five Levels of Student Engagement
It should not surprise anyone to know that one of the most consistent findings in educational research demonstrates that the more times students spend engaged during instruction, the more they learn (Gettinger & Ball, 2007). Some researchers even identify differing levels of engagement. Schlechty (2002) defines five levels of student engagement:
- Authentic Engagement—students are immersed in work that has clear meaning and immediate value to them (reading a book on a topic of personal interest)
- Ritual Compliance—the work has little or no immediate meaning to students, but there are extrinsic outcomes of value that keep them engaged (earning grades necessary for college acceptance)
- Passive Compliance—students see little or no meaning in the assigned work but expend effort merely to avoid negative consequences (not having to stay in during recess to complete work)
- Retreatism—students are disengaged from assigned work and make no attempt to comply, but are not disruptive to the learning of others
- Rebellion—students refuse to do the assigned task, act disruptive, and attempt to substitute alternative activities
Measuring Classroom Engagement
The level of student engagement can vary from student to student, and lesson to lesson so it may be difficult to get a general feel for how engaged a class is as a whole. To that end, Schlechty (2002) also outlined three categories that can be used to measure the level of engagement for an entire classroom.
The Engaged Classroom
In the engaged classroom you will observe that all students are authentically engaged at least some of the time or that most students are authentically engaged most of the time. Passive compliance and retreatism is rarely observed and rebellion is non-existent.
The Compliant Classroom
The compliant classroom is the picture of traditional education. This type of classroom is orderly and most students will appear to be working so it would be easy to infer that learning is taking place. However, while there is little evidence of rebellion, retreatism is a very real danger as it is very common in the compliant classroom.
The Off-Task Classroom
Retreatism and rebellion are easily observed in the off-task classroom. This type of classroom is each-student-for-them-self so you will see some degree of authentic and ritual engagement, along with passive compliance as well. Teachers in the off-task classroom spend most of their time dealing with rebelling students rather than teaching lessons that engage.
Seven Ways to Increase Student Engagement
Why do we want learners of all ages to be engaged during instruction? Because involved students learn more efficiently and are more successful at remembering what they learned. In addition, students who are engaged in learning are more likely to become passionate about learning in general. Student engagement is one byproduct of effective instruction that has major pay offs. Now that you know how to measure your students’ level of engagement, how can you increase the amount of time that students in your class are engaged in your instruction? Here are some suggestions:
- Use the 10:2 method. For every 10 minutes of instruction allow the students 2 minutes to process and respond to the instruction. This can be done in various ways by having them write what they have learned, questions they may have, or by discussing the content with a fellow student.
- Incorporate movement into your lessons. Require students to respond to a question by moving to a certain spot in the room, writing on whiteboards, or standing (or sitting) when they are done thinking about the question, etc.
- Pick up the pace. One misconception is that we must go slow for students to really understand and engage in a lesson. There is a lot of evidence that shows that when teaching is at a brisk instructional pace, students have more opportunities to engage, respond, and move on to the next concept (Carnine & Fink, 1978; Williams, 1993; Ernsbarger et al., 2001).
- Provide frequent and effective feedback.
- Allow students 5-7 seconds of ‘think time’ when asking a question. At the end of the time draw a random name to answer the question.
- At the end of a lesson have students use the 3-2-1 method of summarizing by having students record three things they learned, two interesting things, and one question they have about what was taught. Allow time to share their findings with a peer.
- Periodically pause mid-sentence when teaching requiring students to fill in the blanks.
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At the end of one of my recent day-long trainings, a teacher approached me and said, “This was a great training. I know, because I didn’t get my knitting needles out one time.” Whether we are teaching young people or adults, it is important to keep in mind that student engagement is more than just listening. If we are constantly monitoring the level of student engagement in our classroom we can consciously work to increase the amount of time that students are involved in learning and expect greater success in our teaching.
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*Carnine. D., & Fink, W. T. (1978). Increasing the rate of presentation and use of signals in elementary classroom teachers. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 11, 35-46.
*Ernsbarger, S. C., Tincani. M. J., Harrison,T. J., Frazier-Trotman, S., Simmons-Reed, E., & Heward. W. L. (2001, May). Slow teacher/fast teacher: Effects on participation rate, accuracy, and off-task behavior by pre-K students during small-group language lessons. Paper presented at the 27th Annual Convention of the Association for Behavior Analysis. New Orleans. LA
*Gettinger, M., & Ball, C. (2007). Best practices in increasing academic engaged time. In A. Thomas & J. Grimes (Eds.), Best practices in school psychology V (pp. 1043-1075). Bethesda, MD: National Association of School Psychologists.
*Schlechty, P. (2002) Working on the Work. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.