What Does Learning Engagement Look Like?

Many of the discussions taking place in our schools these days are focused on the goal of engaging all students in their learning. Sure seems like a great thing to be talking about. The research is clear that all of us – children, teenagers, young adults, and adults – are more productive and achieve more when we’re engaged … whatever the endeavor. For our students, this means being actively involved in, committed to, and excited about their school experience.

The growing body of research surrounding learning engagement generally is categorized in four ways: (1) behavioral, (2) emotional, (3) academic, and (4) cognitive. As you would expect, behavioral engagement involves how people act, while emotional engagement involves how people feel. Academic and cognitive engagement tend to be more difficult “to see” … more difficult to measure. Perhaps the easiest way to think about these final two categories is to combine them to mean, a person’s investment in his learning, a desire to work beyond basic requirements, and a preference for challenge.

While defining engagement, determining what it looks like, and quantifying it are all somewhat complex tasks, one belief is almost universally and simplistically accepted among educators: You know it when you see it. Within minutes of entering almost any space – an office, a park, a classroom – an observer can tell whether participants are engaged.

Our teachers are working tirelessly, creatively, and together to engage students in their learning. They’re designing lessons that are hands-on in nature. They’re designing lessons that challenge students to think. They’re asking students to build, create, make connections, and apply their understanding. And our students are responding.

What’s clear when you see these lessons delivered in our schools is that it all hinges on the designer and the design. Rather than traditional note-taking in a fourth grade science class, students are learning about density by reporting the characteristics of their waterlogged gummy bears. Rather than relying solely on paper-pencil problem solving, middle school math students are designing and building structures as they reinforce measurement.

When we’re deliberate about engagement as we design and deliver instruction, magic can happen in the classroom.

You can find an electronic copy of our winter instructional newsletter here. Paper copies are available in our schools and in businesses throughout our community.

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