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Best Easy Ways to Increase Student Engagement

We can all recall a favorite class or teacher that we had. Did you ever think about what made that teacher or class your favorite? Chances are there was a combination of factors; the student-teacher relationship and mutual respect are important, but how the student feels about the instruction is what ultimately determines the student’s level of engagement in the class.

What is Student Engagement?

Student engagement is a term that refers to how much attention, curiosity, or interest students exhibit during the learning process. Their engagement level gives rise to the level of self-motivation that they then apply to their learning.

Levels of Student Engagement

In Phillip Schlechty’s, Shaking Up the Schoolhouse (2000), he identifies five levels of student engagement, which fall under three main categories:


  1. Authentic Engagement – assigned task, or activity is associated with a result that has a clear meaning, value, and relevancy to student

  2. Ritual Engagement – assigned work has little or no real meaning or immediate value or relevancy to the student, but student associates it with extrinsic results that are of value, i.e. making good grades.


3. Passive Compliance – student is willing to make the

necessary effort to avoid negative consequences, but the student sees little or no meaning or value in the task


4. Retreatism – student is completely disengaged from the

task and expends little or no effort to comply with demands of the task/teacher, but doesn’t disrupt others.

5. Rebellion – student refuses to do task, disrupts others,

and/or tries to substitute other activities in lieu of assigned task.

Unfortunately, far too often in U.S. schools, and increasingly so in schools that place task completion related to standardized test scores above learner engagement, students are operating in the third level of engagement, passive compliance. Passively compliant students are quiet, follow directions, and do their work, but do not reap the benefits of learning associated with authentic engagement.

Optimal Engagement

Robert Marzano gives four questions in Highly Engaged Classroom (2010), that he believes all classroom instruction should focus on, for optimal engagement. The first two relate to the attention level of the student and the second two relate to the energy they will expend to complete the task.

  1. How do I feel about the class/teacher (student-teacher relationship)?

  2. Am I interested in the work/learning?

  3. Is this important?

  4. Can I do it? Do I know how or will I learn how?

Students who can answer these questions in a positive way are much more likely to be highly engaged and motivated.

Active engagement fosters divergent thinking (students learn to look at the big picture and develop creative solutions), where students can apply their knowledge in a variety of ways to a variety of subjects, and recreate the knowledge through a synthesis of their learning. Critical thinking and problem solving skills are a natural outgrowth of active engagement.

Passive engagement fosters convergent thinking (there is only one right answer), focuses on knowledge, comprehension and application, and requires little critical thinking.

Passively engaged students often learn material for a test, and the knowledge is quickly forgotten. Whereas actively engaged learners are empowered to learn. They form deep conceptual connections that they can carryover to later learning.

So, what does active learning look like and how can you achieve it in your classroom? Here are five easy techniques to incorporate to make that happen.

5 Easy Ways to Increase Student Achievement:

  1. Break Down the Learning – Rather than giving notes or delivering instruction for long periods of time, break the instruction into “chunks.” You can use the 10:2 method, 10 minutes of instruction and 2 minutes for students to assimilate it. This can take the form of a “Think, pair, share” activity or the use of shoulder partners. Maintain accountability by having students answer a question that they write, report their partner’s answer, or have a reporter for a small group. It’s critical that the teacher circulates and notes engagement during sharing activities.

  2. Movement and Choice – Movement in the classroom is highly linked to engagement levels, when it is meaningful. Randomly selecting students to share their answers on a white board or smart board is a simple technique to include. Having them move to swap groups is another method. When choices of tasks can be given, student motivation increases, as they choose the task most suited to them and their learning becomes more meaningful.

  3. Random Questioning and Wait Time – One often overlooked method in classrooms is the effective use of wait time when questioning for understanding. Give students a minute to process new information. Randomly call on students to restate the material or ask probing questions. Often, wait time allows students to more deeply process their knowledge. Additionally, routinely using key words or phrases that call for more critical thinking in questioning, fosters deeper thought and acquisition of knowledge. Questioning in a random manner helps to ensure that students stay engaged, rather than just tune out until it’s their turn.

  4. Facilitating Effective and Meaningful Feedback – We all want to know if we are “doing it right” when we learn a new task. Students need effective feedback that is meaningful to their learning. Not just a, “Good job Johnny.” but feedback that takes a response deeper such as, “Why do you think that’s true?” “What evidence can you provide to support your statement?” “Did anyone get a different answer, or arrive at the same answer in a different way?” Each of these examples not only provides deeper feedback, but fosters discussion and collaboration among the students, as they think more deeply about their learning.

  5. Appropriate Pacing, and Summarizing – Classrooms that move at too slow of a pace give rise to a lot of passive engagement and wasted instructional time. Conversely, classrooms in which students rush from one task to the next, do not allow for deep thinking. It is important to monitor the pace in your classroom to fit the majority of your students. Taking a moment to have the students summarize their learning, which works well with the “Think, pair, share” method, as well as providing meaningful feedback, are great methods to use as long as all students are accountable for their learning in some way.

Good teaching is both a science and an art. The best combination of the two, pairs data driven techniques with creative activity for enhanced student engagement. Incorporating these simple techniques in your classroom will result in motivated students, who are empowered to take charge of their own learning, and think critically. As we educate for tomorrow, we must develop more divergent thinkers, ready to take on the challenges of the future.

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