Student Engagement: Deep involvement in work that produces measurable outcomes aligned to goals.
The Edge on Engagement
Kathleen O’Connell Sauline, Urban Community School (Cleveland, Ohio), Academic Coach
Student engagement is one of those trendy phrases that we hear tossed around often in the education world today. I think the biggest challenge with student engagement is that when we are asked to describe what engagement looks like we may mistake busyness for engagement. If I walk into a classroom as an academic coach I may see many students busily creating charts, posters or role plays. If I saw a student obviously off task in the back of the room or sleeping on her desk, I might think that student was not engaged. Yet, the very busy students may be unengaged as well if I redefine true student engagement as: deep involvement in work that produces measurable outcomes aligned to goals. Whoa, you might say, is that practical? Is that asking too much? Let’s explore one possible learning goal and see what engagement might look like. A learning goal for Jessenia’s grade level might be to reach a reading level at Lexile 880. I might walk into an instructional session and see Jessenia busily studying spelling words with a partner, writing sentences using each word and illustrating each sentence. Yet, we all know as educators that Jessenia may stay productive on the spelling word activity for 15 minutes each day all school year and not have moved toward acquiring the skills she needed to move from Lexile 800 to 880. What processes would result in such an increase? Jessenia reading silently at 780 to 820 Lexile level and creating a brief comprehension check per a rubric at the end of the session. Jessenia at small group table receiving guided reading instruction in decoding and comprehension strategies on text in the 800 to 820 range by a competent reading teacher who regularly assesses growth. Jessenia viewing and reflecting, in writing per a rubric, on scaffolding videos or illustrations to support deeper understanding of the text she is reading. Jessenia partner reading at her Lexile level and completing a partner reading time chart in response to a partner reading checklist on which both partners have been trained. Jessenia making posters, charts or role playing in response to the leveled texts she is reading and per a learning product rubric. We educators learned long ago that sitting still and appearing to listen don’t magically result in student learning. In the same way we must recognize that busy or even productive students are not necessarily engaged and learning. True engagement is deep involvement in work that produces measurable outcomes aligned to goals. Not all goals are this quantifiable of course and strategies and approaches will vary with teacher background, priorities, and skills. What stays constant, however, is that by agreeing on learning goals from the common core and fostering true engagement for each student we can better support each student’s learning growth.