Measuring my Students’ Engagement

In an Edutopia blog ,Ten Steps to Better Student Engagement, Tristan de Frondeville describes the importance of teachers being conscious of their students’ degree of engagement. He suggests cultivating an engagement meter:

“Be acutely aware of when your students are paying strong attention or are deeply engaged in their tasks. Master teachers create an active-learning environment in which students are on task in their thinking and speaking or are collaboratively working close to 100 percent of the time. Such teachers notice and measure not only when students are on task but also the quality of their engagement.
Although it may take years to develop the repertoire of skills and lessons that enable you to permanently create this active-learning environment, you can begin by discerning which activities truly engage your students. The more brutally honest you are with yourself, the faster you will get there.”
I recently spent a day with high school administrators and department chairpersons observing students with a focus on “who was engaged” and “at what level of engagement”. After our observations I asked them to discuss their interpretations using the following continuum.
Fear Attention Comfort Bored
What do you see and hear that would cause you to think students are bored?
What do you consider signs of attention?
I described that the desirable engagement spot is between attention and fear (anxiety)….a very focused, leaned in. purposeful attention. As a teacher I like to maximize the amount of time that I can maintain that focus with students.
What do you see and hear as students move from high focus to comfortable? What are signs that students are too comfortable?
What are signs that students are becoming too anxious?
The indicators of engagement differ among students and among learning activities. That’s why I find engagement to be a great topic for coaching and professional learning.
Here are the next steps I outlined for this high school leadership team:
Department heads will spend a day observing in their own and other departments teamed with administrators.
1. Prior to doing the observations, the group will meet and list the desired student behaviors they believe will increase student achievement. They need to develop an extensive, detailed list. (Admin team may want to do this in advance to prime the thinking.)
Here are starters:
Students questioning
Students researching
Students presenting or teaching
Student risk taking
Students solving real problems
Students writing, producing, creating
Students self assessing and setting goals
2. Complete the observations (in groups of two or three) stopping frequently to discuss observation notes, keeping focused on ALL students.
3. Debrief
Bring the group together and discuss:
How often did we find these behaviors? Where were they most prevalent? Where were they missing?
Did we see things that we thought were interfering with the advancement of student achievement?
How would we describe our observations on the Fear…Attention…Comfort…Bored continuum?
How strongly do leaders feel that change is needed?
How committed are leaders to assisting teachers in developing an “awareness to” and “options for” increasing student engagement along these lines?
At this point the team can identify their desire and commitment to planning for staff learning.
I look forward to my return to the school and a chance to learn about the team’s experiences.
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4 Responses to “ Measuring my Students’ Engagement ”

  1. rhoa Says:

    Thanks for defining specific engagement behaviors and providing a continuum for level of engagement.

    I spent the last few days observing teachers and noticed that some teachers exhibit behaviors that encourage/discourage student engagement. For example, several teachers directed their attention, body position, and eye contact to some students more than others. Another very common mistake that teachers make is not allowing enough time for students to think or process the content. Students need to be expected to interact with the learning on their own before sharing out.

  2. rhoa Says:

    Thanks for defining engagement behaviors and a continuum for assessing the level of engagement.

    I spent the last few days doing observations and noticed that some teachers behave in ways (probably unconsciously) to either encourage/discourage engagement through cues such as proximity, body language, eye contact, and feedback.

    Another common mistake I noticed was that teachers do not allow enough time for students to process information privately before being asked to share.

    Thanks for you blog,
    Leeann

  3. Kathi Says:

    What a great place to ponder! rhoa, I found your comment”Another very common mistake that teachers make is not allowing enough time for students to think or process the content. Students need to be expected to interact with the learning on their own before sharing out.” This definitely puts ownership on teachers’ responsibility to promote engagement rather than complaining that “kids just want to be entertained.”

  4. terri Says:

    Steve, I think your student engagement focus is great. I wonder, tho, about the word “fear.” That seems to smack of going backward in time, with student afraid of the ruler on the knuckles.

    How about “tense” or “apprehensive” or “uneasy” as they begin a new learning experience? Something other than fear. Then they move to attention, then to “okay it’s comfortable (or complacent),” and then they become too complacent, so they go to bored.

    Just wordsmithing here…

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Steve Barkley

For the past 30 years, Steve has served as a consultant to school districts, teacher organizations, state departments of education, and colleges and universities nationally and internationally, facilitating the changes necessary for them to reach students and successfully prepare them for the 21st century. Read more…

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