Engagement is a prerequisite for learning, although it is important to bear in mind that engagement does not necessarily equal learning.
Engagement means students directing their attention and energy ‘in the moment’ towards a particular task or activity. Engagement is critical for learning. However, it is important to remember that engaged students are not necessarily learning, or learning what you are intending them to learn.
Engagement can be broken down into four interrelated types:
- behavioural engagement— the amount of effort and involvementthe student is directing towards the activity in terms of attention, effort and persistence
- emotional engagement— the presence of positive emotions, such as enjoyment, and the absence of negative emotions, such as anxiety, during task involvement
- cognitive engagement— the sophistication of strategiesused by the student; for example using active strategiesfor understanding (such as elaboration and organisation) rather than superficial or more passive strategies (such as memorisation)
- agentic engagement— the extent of the student’s proactive role in instruction; for example, in terms of expressing preferences and needs.
Engagement with learning is essential to academic progress. It is most likely to occur when students are motivated, interested, and socially interactive. It is also most often associated with other characteristics in students, such as self-regulation or self-directedness, conscientiousness, and drive. Student outcomes are affected by the extent to which students display all four aspects of engagement listed above; that is, to the extent that they exert effort, demonstrate enthusiasm, think strategically, and constructively contribute to learning plans.
There is a considerable body of evidence on engagement in education, including quantitative evidence determining the link between student engagement and learning. The evidence base is complicated as engagement is a multi-faceted concept, which is not only connected to a number of other aspects of students and learning but also impacted by context.
High levels of engagement are supported by:
- Students’ interest in a task or in a particular subject
- Meaningful, authentic, challenging (yet achievable) tasks
- A classroom context where individual students’ are catered for
- Providing opportunities to learn using a variety of techniques
- Actively involving students in the teaching and learning process
- Providing feedback that focuses on comprehension, mastery and strategies, rather than feedback which defines competence in comparison to class performance
- Providing opportunities for groupwork in which students can work with their peers
- How do you respond when you recognise that students in my class have disengaged?
- How do you create conditions in your classroom to promote high levels of engagement?
- How do you ensure that students who are highly engaged in a task are actually learning what you are intending for them to learn?
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