September 21, 2020

Student Engagement

My current reading is Phillip Schlechty’s book EngagingStudents: The Next Level of Working on the Work.I have just finished the first section on engagement.

Schlechty defines student responses to a learning task as: (pg 16)

Engagement: The student is attentive and focuses on the task with commitment and persistence and finds value and meaning in the task. This learner volunteers personal resources of time, effort and attention.

Strategic Engagement: The student is willing to do the work as long as extrinsic rewards are present. Remove the reward (often grades) and the student withdraws effort. This learner invest as much as is need to gain the reward.

Ritual Compliance: This student is compliant without engagement. They want assurance that what they do will payoff in grades and improved chances to enter a college of their choice. This learner generally requires supervision to get work completed. At worst this compliance can devolve into institutional cheating. (A scary consideration with current events)

Retreatism: This student manifests a lack of compliance in passive ways, withdrawing from the work and task. “Do nothing and bother no one”. When confronted by the teacher this learner either moves to ritual compliance or to rebellion. (My personal observation is that this student is often overlooked by teachers. They fly under the radar.)

Rebellion: This student is more active than the retreating student. This student focuses attention on something else and is often seen as disruptive. Interesting that this student may be engaged in learning not connected to a school assignment or assigned by another teacher.

I found Schlechty’s comments about assessing engagement to be particularly thought provoking as many schools build observation of student engagement into walkthroughs and teacher evaluation observations.

  • On task behavior can be confused with engagement. A teacher cannot judge engagement simply through observation. Has the student persisted? How committed is the student? Why is the student investing attention?
  • Conversation with students is critical to uncover the level of engagement. This conversation only can happen if a trusting relationship has been built with students.

Here are some questions he suggests for an engagement conversation: (pg 28)

  • Did you enjoy the class? What made it enjoyable?What would have increased the level of enjoyment?
  • Did you find any part of the work difficult? If so what did you do? How do you feel about what you did?
  • Do you think you learned anything from the work you were assigned that was worth while? What and why? How could I know what you learned?
  • If you were to teach the class what kind of activities would you build in and why?

I think that conversations about engagement can make a great start of the year exploration for faculties, professional learning communities, coaching activities and especially for teachers’ initial discussions with students about the desired classroom environment.

Here is a video clip you may want to kick off a staff conversation.

As school leaders….Are we building sufficient teacher engagement?

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