I’ve been thinking a lot about student engagement and what it should look like in the classroom. I recently had my formal observation and saw that I received high marks for student engagement but mid-marks for critical thinking. This got me thinking: if students weren’t engaged in critical thinking then what WERE they engaged in? What factors did my Principal consider to determine that my students were “fully” engaged? I started exploring the dictionary for a definition first. The dictionary states:
So, in a nutshell, engagement means the act of DOING something or something that holds your attention. In other words, if my students are busy doing something educational or are paying attention and remaining on-task, then they are “engaged” in the lesson. This is easy enough to do as a teacher, but it’s not how I want my Principal to view my classroom. I don’t believe that engagement is the same as “attentive” or “on-task.” I don’t believe that a teacher should get high marks for student engagement without also receiving high marks for critical thinking. My definition of engagement looks more like this (taken from Wikipedia):
Student engagement occurs when “students make a psychological investment in learning. They try hard to learn what school offers. They take pride not simply in earning the formal indicators of success (grades), but in understanding the material and incorporating or internalizing it in their lives.”
In looking at this definition, I’m not so sure that student engagement can be gleaned from a single walk through or formal observation. True engagement has to be observed over time. So what does this look like in the classroom? We need to see students questioning, creating, exploring, and defining learning objectives. Simply sitting at their desks “doing” something is called “playing school” and I think a lot of teachers and students become really good at that, especially when Principals are giving high marks for such behavior. We need to re-think how we engage students and how we evaluate that engagement. Simply handing a student a worksheet and having them sit quietly working on it does not mean they are engaged in their learning. Even “fun” PBL assignments don’t necessarily bring about student engagement. Students laughing at your jokes and enjoying the classroom environment also does not directly define engagement. Ultimately the product students create will be the biggest indicator of their engagement.
In my opinion, critical thinking and engagement go hand in hand. We want students to invest themselves, own their learning, and internalize valuable skills in order to apply them to a variety of situations. We don’t want them to simply be “on-task” or “attentive.” While I think the teacher should be evaluated on student participation (keeping a class on-task and attentive throughout a 90-minute course is no small feat); however, we need to label this something other than “engagement”.
What are your thoughts on student engagement? What should it look like?