The Importance of Engagement in Education

Student engagement involves three factors, and for students to be successful in school, all three need to be activated.

When teachers consider student engagement, they have to factor in more than students paying attention in class. Student engagement involves three factors, and for students to be successful in school, all three need to be activated. 

What Is Engagement?

The three factors for student engagement include behavior, emotions, and thoughts. When teachers engage all three, students participate, build relationships, and learn. While administrators often put the responsibility for engagement on teachers, students need to participate to get the most out of their time in school. 

When administrators evaluate teachers, they often look for student engagement. Administrators look at students’ attention during lessons, participation during a discussion, and interaction with each other. While these behaviors show engagement, the challenge for administrators is accurately assessing them. 

Unfortunately, engagement varies as students go about their days. Students often feel engaged when they enjoy a course, and disengage when they dislike another. Interestingly, liking or disliking a course can be related to how the teacher treats students, and not just the subject of the class. 

Why Engagement Matters

Student engagement matters because students tend to learn when they are engaged. Students who do not feel engaged socially, academically, and behaviorally tend to become dropouts. To engage students, teachers need to move away from lectures and passive learning. Instead, they should focus on student-centered activities where they actively use their skills and knowledge. 

Teachers who use active learning strategies get their students thinking and using their new knowledge and skills. Active learning usually involves talking about novel information, writing about it, and experimenting with it. Students who sit and listen all day do not engage as well as students who interact with their new knowledge. 

Researchers and educators know that the best way to learn something new is to connect it to something they already know. Engagement makes this happen. For example, if students are reading a new story, the best way to engage them is to connect it to a story they already know. Then, they can better engage as they know something about it already. 

Behavioral Engagement

Along with learning engagement, students need to feel like they belong. Students who participate in athletics, social groups, and other extra-curricular activities tend to do better academically than students who do not engage outside of the classroom. Being in a group gives students an immediate peer group, so they feel like they belong. 

Students also need to feel like they belong in the classroom, and teachers can fulfill this need. Students who feel like teachers value them tend to engage more frequently than students who do not feel like they belong. 

Relationships matter most to students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. Teachers need to know their students well to identify which students need relationships more than others. Engagement happens when students see teachers care about them through showing enthusiasm, working one-on-one with them, and treating them fairly. 

Pushing Learning Over Performing

Teachers can engage students by encouraging learning rather than performing. Learning means more than earning a good grade on a test. Teachers should offer various ways for students to learn and show their learning. 

Students enjoy showing that they have learned, especially when they get to be creative in the process. Authentic tasks like presentations and creative processes prepare students for the adult world more so than pencil-and-paper tests. 

Teachers have to establish this mindset in their classes and encourage their students not to worry about grades but to focus on learning. To accomplish this goal, teachers should keep grades private and attach them to improvement and effort rather than scores. 

Emotionally Engaging Students

When students are engaged emotionally, they feel comfortable showing their emotions in class. Teachers can model appropriate emotional behavior, so students can learn how to engage with each other and the teacher during lessons. Teachers can track emotional engagement by appropriate reactions during each lesson. 

Teachers and administrators cannot read their students’ minds, so they cannot always accurately measure classroom engagement. When they see that students are engaged, teachers should do their best teaching so that students pick up as much knowledge as possible. Engagement is fleeting, so teachers need to take advantage of it when it happens. 


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