Intro to Student Engagement

Student Voice Meaningful Student Involvement Student Engagement Process

Student engagement is any sustained connection a learner has towards any aspect of learning, schools or education.

All schools everywhere, all the time should consider student engagement their ultimate objective for learners. The question of whether students have a sustainable connection to learning, schools and education does not merely affect the economy; it drives democracy and sustains healthy social interdependence for everyone. When schools disengage students, adults must assume responsibility and do something to change the situation.

The term student engagement has been used to depict students’ willingness to participate in routine school activities, such as attending classes, submitting required work, following teachers’ direction in class, and performing well on standardized tests. That includes participating in the activities offered as part of the school program and student participation in school transformation activities.

Understanding Student Engagement

Engagement is used as a synonym or closely aligned concept with the following concepts. However, they are not the same and shouldn’t be used as interchangeable synonyms.

Student Engagement is Not the Same as…

Other definitions usually include a psychological and behavioral component. Student engagement is used to discuss students’ attitudes towards school, while student disengagement identifies withdrawing from school in any significant way.

Indicators of Student Engagement

  • Level of academic challenge
  • Active and collaborative learning
  • Student-adult relationships
  • Enriching education experiences
  • Supportive learning environment

Outcomes from Student Engagement

  • Sustained behavioral involvement
  • Positive emotional tone
  • Positive self-challenge
  • Self-initiated learning and action
  • Exert intense effort
  • Demonstrate deep concentration
  • Ongoing enthusiasm, optimism, curiosity, and interest

Its important to recognize students can be deeply engaged in a topic, activity or outcome and still not succeed in learning assessments or evaluation mechanisms.

Overcoming Student Disengagement

Research shows indicators of the absence of student engagement include unexcused absences from classes, cheating on tests, and damaging school property. SoundOut has found that student disengagement is much more subtle than this, too, as it shows in student-to-student relationships and student-adult relationships in schools and is heavily informed by adult-to-adult relationships throughout education. Student disengagement comes through in school work, classroom climate and the entire environment of school buildings.

Student Disaffection

The opposite of student engagement is student disaffection.  Student disaffection can be what adults have traditionally suspected by looking like…

  • Student passivity
  • Not trying hard
  • Giving up easily in the face of challenges
  • Boredom
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Anger
  • Withdrawal from classroom learning

However, student disaffection can also include…

  • Mock participation, which leads students to pretend to be on-task while they are not really engaged in learning. This can also look like and be called “time-on-task.”
  • Academic achievement, which generally demonstrates how well students perform according to adults’ expectations and not whether they have a sustainable connection to curriculum, instruction or learning.
  • Student leadership, which traditionally does the work adults assign, in the ways adults want, towards the outcomes adults are seeking (Read more: “Adults as Barriers“)

Causes of Student Disengagement

Students can be engaged in one place, at one time, in one activity with one other person; or in several places with many people addressing several issues. What engages one student might cause disaffection in the next, leading to disengagement. Recognizing these variations among activities is essential for any school that seeks to engage learners, since their interests, abilities, desires and affection are as diverse as they are. SoundOut has found student engagement is much broader and has many more indicators than many sources currently recognize.

Requirements to Engage Students

There are five steps for fostering student engagement in any school

  1. Schoolwide shared definition of student engagement, led by both students and adults
  2. Substantive opportunities for every student in the school to inform, motivate, drive, lead and assess learning, teaching and leadership throughout education
  3. Adults—including teachers, principals, and others—clearly sharing learning criteria with students
  4. Student-led assessment with clear, immediate, and constructive feedback from themselves, their peers and educators
  5. Adults and others students in schools showing clear and systematic skills students need to be successful
  6. Adults throughout the students’ life demonstrating engagement in learning as a valuable aspect of their personalities

Relationships between students and adults in schools, and among students themselves, are a critical factor of student engagement. Students know what teachers think of them, and their relationship clearly affects their achievement and behavior in school, especially when they think teachers expect them to fail. This is especially true among students considered to be at-risk and without other positive adult interaction.

Strategies to Increase Student Engagement

SoundOut has found that keys for increasing student engagement include:

  • Substantiating student voice through mutual accountability and demonstrated outcomes
  • Increasing intergenerational equity between students and adults in schools
  • Sustaining Student/Adult Partnerships throughout the learning environment

A variety of teaching approaches can enhance student engagement to varying effects.


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