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Five paths of student engagement

In this book by Andy Hargreaves and  Dennis Shirley, we get advice on how to approve student engagement. When reading about this topic I was reminded of the work I did with my first-year high school class in 2013. Together we wrote the book Connected Learners. The motivation was to write a book for teachers, a book they would find useful. We believed no one had ever done that before. Our goal was to travel to the United States for money we made. We ended up celebrating with a three course dinner at a local restaurant. Here are some of the quotes from the book that I think are related to the work we did writing our book.

Student engagement is a promise and a battle. It is a battle for involved and empowered learning in the face of unnecessary restrictions and endless distractions. Engagement in education is a promise as well—to expect and enable students to undertake something hard, to the best of their ability, in ways that are psychologically and socially meaningful, and to experience fulfillment along the way.

What matters is sparking the learner’s intensity of inquiry into a subject that is inherently fascinating and that all children will become interested in—if it is approached in the right way.

Essentially, motivation sparks our interests and initially moves us. Engagement grabs our attention and sustains our involvement, even in the face of obstacles or difficulties. Achievement reflects the attainment of an essential goal or an aim that is perceived to be beneficial for the individual, the group, or the society as a whole.

I will highlight what I think are the most important parts of the book here. And I highly recommend that you buy and read the book.

Well, despite all the well-founded advice that draws on decades of psychological research on motivation and engagement, levels of student engagement don’t seem to be improving. Indeed, as we show in this book, engagement levels are at best plateauing and at worst plummeting.

There is a missing link in explanations of engagement and disengagement, and of what’s responsible for them. This missing link is the social side of student engagement. This neglect has led to strategies that are insufficient for the scale of the problem. Research on student engagement has been dominated by the discipline of psychology—and especially by what is known as positive psychology. This has promoted individual and small-scale solutions to what are often social and systemic problems of disengagement.

A sociological perspective helps us realize that teachers and school leaders are responsible for increasing student engagement, but also that they are not solely responsible. If student engagement isn’t improving, it’s not only or always the teacher’s fault. It’s often also the fault of misguided testing policies, underfunded public education systems, overloaded reform agendas, distorted power relationships, and hasty introductions of digital technologies.


  1. From Achievement to Engagement: Two Ages of Educational Change
  2. Theories of Engagement and Motivation: From Maslow to Flow
  3. Three Myths of Engagement: Relevance, Technology, and Fun
  4. The Five Enemies of Engagement: And How to Defeat Them
  5. Standardized Testing: The Archenemy of Engagement
  6. The Five Paths of Student Engagement: In Theory and Practice

Can we redesign schools so that no student dreads the daily confrontation with his or her enemies? Can we create safe environments that help all students to engage with their learning without being disrupted by their peers? Can we get all teachers to move beyond arbitrary and insensitive grading practices?

There is a missing link in explanations of engagement and disengagement, and of what’s responsible for them. This missing link is the social side of student engagement. This neglect has led to strategies that are insufficient for the scale of the problem. Research on student engagement has been dominated by the discipline of psychology—and especially by what is known as positive psychology. This has promoted individual and small-scale solutions to what are often social and systemic problems of disengagement. A sociological perspective helps us realize that teachers and school leaders are responsible for increasing student engagement, but also that they are not solely responsible. If student engagement isn’t improving, it’s not only or always the teacher’s fault. It’s often also the fault of misguided testing policies, underfunded public education systems, overloaded reform agendas, distorted power relationships, and hasty introductions of digital technologies.

The key point is that engagement and disengagement are not just inner psychological states. They are results of what our schools are like and what they do to children’s inherent interests in and curiosity about learning. Can we redesign schools so that no student dreads the daily confrontation with his or her enemies? Can we create safe environments that help all students to engage with their learning without being disrupted by their peers? Can we get all teachers to move beyond arbitrary and insensitive grading practices? It’s also a matter of whether they are cognitively connected to their learning—understanding it, being curious about knowledge, and investing in their projects. Then, “there’s the emotional part. How much do they actually care about what they’re doing? How invested are they?” For these reasons, getting to grips with engagement means making learning interesting and accessible, as well as working hard to develop senses of emotional attachment to the school as a community through things like extracurricular activities.

Engagement is closely connected to motivation. There are more classic and long-standing theories of motivation than there are of engagement, but the two are tightly connected nonetheless. The consensus is that “motivation can be seen as the underlying psychological state that sets the stage for engagement.

“For artists, scientists, inventors, schoolchildren, and the rest of us,” he says, “intrinsic motivation—the drive to do something because it is interesting, challenging and absorbing—is essential for high levels of creativity. But,” he continues, “the ‘if-then’ motivators that are the staple of most businesses often stifle rather than stir creative thinking.” One of the most important things to cultivate in students, therefore, is being able to know and articulate what they are learning and why they are learning it. This means that educators need to take the time to get to know all their students well, so they can help them develop that indispensable sense of meaning and purpose. As Daniel Pink points out, mastery and flow are closely interconnected. Mastery is the capacity to prevail over setbacks, disappointments, frustration, and adversity, in order to achieve a higher standard and greater purpose. Part of the problem of disengagement is being without meaning and purpose. Personal mastery is about recovering and developing that purpose and both pursuing and fulfilling your personal vision of who you want to be.

Attainment value: An activity is seen by students as being important or not in terms of whether it encourages them to stick with it in order “to feel that they are doing well on the task.

Intrinsic value: The activity is chosen for its inherent interest or worth.

Opportunity cost: This is a question of whether engaging in something is worth the effort or the tradeoff compared to the other available opportunities for engaging in something else—doing homework versus holding down a part-time job,

The big takeaway from Eccles’s research is that teachers and counselors should get their students explicitly engaged in discussing both their expectations for success and the things that have value for them. These kinds of explicit self-reflection will help students to understand themselves more deeply, and learn just why they are or can become driven to excel in activities that are of paramount importance to them.
What’s relevant isn’t always relevant to student engagement, though. Automatically associating relevance with engagement can turn out to be quite misleading sometimes. This has become an issue with the popular rebranding of an older concept known as deep learning. Many of the modern uses of deep learning do not merely argue that students need deeper experiences of learning at school, but assume that this kind of depth is only found in relevant, real-world problems. Deep learning is valuable learning that sticks…. It situates the learner as someone who acts upon the world (usually with others), thereby transforming her- or himself and the world itself. Engage the world, change the world is fundamentally a learning proposition. It excites students; it excites teachers and parents; and it is the future. But does all learning that engages students need to be immediately relevant to their lives?

For Hargreaves and Sims, deep learning involves three principles.

1.  Student voice: Actively involving students in creating their learning with their teacher
2. Assessment for learning: Moving away from tests and examinations after the fact of learning, to provide continuous feedback from teachers, peers, and students’ own self-assessments to enhance the process of learning, and the success that springs from it
3.  Learning how to learn: Helping students understand the ways they are learning, and how they might best improve how they learn in general, as a deliberate process—otherwise known as metacognition

Each child is given a topic he or she will study for part of every week for the rest of his or her school life. The subject of dust, for example, can be studied in physics, astronomy, literature, theology, mythology, and geology. Egan describes a girl whose inquiry subject was apples and who was fascinated to discover that there are over 7,500 varieties of this fruit and that people began cultivating apples in Kazakhstan at least four thousand years ago. Such deep learning, Egan says, is student-directed, teacher-supported, and driven by the advancing levels of expertise and mastery that children acquire.

“The more you know about something, the more interesting it becomes,” When it comes to engagement, what’s relevant isn’t always deep, and what’s deep isn’t always immediately relevant, either. As a source of student engagement, technology is as complicated and counterintuitive as deep learning and relevance. Technology does not improve learning by itself. When it is implemented carelessly, it can actually make learning worse by distracting students and their teachers with gimmicks and gadgetry at the expense of truly deep, challenging, and all-engrossing learning. Enriching good teaching: Educational technology can enrich good teaching, but can’t replace poor teaching. Teaching and learning are first and foremost about relationships. The most important relationships are between teachers and students. These relationships cannot be replaced with technological solutions. So, technological innovation must be guided by pedagogical expertise. Disciplined innovation: Technology use should be evidence-informed, inquiry-driven, and impact-assessed. A new innovation paradigm must include, engage, and empower teachers and students as design drivers of learning. Before schools adopt digital tools, all designers and developers must show evidence of impact, established through rigorous, impartial research and inquiry that includes honest assessments of both students’ and teachers’ needs. Technology designers must be aware not only of digital technology’s desired effects but also of its negative side effects, such as the time and resources it redirects from other priorities.

Teacher professionalism: Educational technology should value, include, and enrich teachers’ professional judgment. Digital technology cannot and should not replace teachers or bypass their professional judgment, expertise, and skill. Algorithms can provide useful digital feedback for some kinds of skills or tasks, but few learners will pour their hearts out for writing assignments that will never be read by another human being, for example.

Creative individuals, they argue, have five characteristics.

  1. Collaborative: They work with others, and this collaboration often leads to individual light-bulb moments.
  2. Inquisitive: They wonder, explore, question, investigate, and challenge.
  3.  Imaginative: They are playful, intuitive, and able to make connections among ideas that may sometimes evade others.
  4. Persistent: They do not give up easily and move on to something else, even when they are frustrated, unclear, or just plain tired.
  5. Disciplined: They develop knowledge and techniques in crafting, not merely polishing up, improvements.

Teachers still have vital roles to play in making students redo something that is not yet their best effort. They should also acknowledge that different groups of students confront all kinds of obstacles on the path to engagement, and they need extra attention to help them negotiate and overcome them.

Alienated or disconnected learning occurs when:
•  It has no personal meaning or purpose
•  It is produced for someone else, not oneself
•  It has no use value but is undertaken in exchange for grades, marks, or stars
•  It is mainly performed in isolation rather than in cooperation with others
•  It consists of soulless, standardized, and disaggregated tasks

The antidote to alienated learning is learning that has meaning and purpose. It is learning that has use in the real world and not just as a credential or accountability requirement. It connects the learning task to the result through timely and meaningful assessments. It is creative and fulfilling in its production. Last, it occurs in an environment where cooperation among students is frequent and encouraged.
Michael Fielding—one of the first academics to write about student voice—argued that students should be empowered to address their needs and advance their interests in their schools. Student voice, he says, should be “emancipatory in both process and outcome.”
Empowerment should not just be a reward for older or well-behaved students. It is something to be experienced and learned from the very moment a child begins school.
Student voices should be heard everywhere. Educators must be constantly alert to the possibilities and necessities for their inclusion.
“Because I said so” disempowers students rather than helping them understand and do better next time.
Like any other aspect of human development, empowerment cannot simply be given to students. It has to be deliberately structured so it can be experienced and learned.
Like trust, responsibility, or self-assessment, empowerment is not a thing that teachers give or take away in an instant. It is something that students themselves are responsible for building over time.
teachers must ask how they can deliberately develop empowerment and responsibility among their students, even in difficult conditions, for without genuine empowerment, true responsibility will never be learned at all.
Distraction occurs when the mind initially sets out to focus on one object of attention but is turned away from it by something more compelling. Pleasant distractions redirect the mind away from what is boring or irrelevant. Unhelpful distractions prevent us from achieving goals that are essential to our fulfillment and well-being.
TED Talk called “Distraction Is Literally Killing Us.”
principal, professional development of the staff in how to use new technologies was equated with deeper learning, rather than in terms of learning how to solve complex problems or moral dilemmas, for example. Deeper learning here meant skill in using new technologies.
Using the best of modern technology, this can combine shared digital feedback and more flexible systems of certification with collective professional judgment about student learning and performance. This transformational alliance of digital sophistication and collaborative professionalism will protect certification of standards while sustaining the joy of learning. These changes will enable creativity and magic to be injected back into schools to ignite all students’ intrinsic motivation for learning.
If disengagement is the consequence of alienated and disconnected teaching that makes students feel estranged from their schoolwork and its relationship to their own lives, then systemic, sustained efforts must be made to connect the curriculum and students’ work assignments more closely to their interests, identities, and cultures. Above all, students need to find some deep personal sense of meaning and purpose in what they are learning and why.
we must expand the rights of students while also developing their capabilities and responsibility to express their voice and involvement in the classroom, the school, and the system’s policymaking processes.
then we need to develop strategies for more ethical and targeted uses of digital technologies on educational grounds instead. These will strengthen students’ concentration and focus on their learning and, with patience and relentless persistence, they will also build students’ capacities for true mastery of knowledge, expertise, and themselves.
Imagine how much more engaged children and teenagers could be if they had a voice in their learning and their schools and all of them felt like they truly belonged there. Imagine if we used digital technology more thoughtfully and critically so that it enhanced great teaching and learning, instead of being adopted overzealously and distracting everyone from the quality of their educational experience. How much more engaging our schools would become for all our students then! As Freddie Mercury once sang, it would, indeed, be “a kind of magic.
High-stakes tests disconnect or alienate students from any sense of meaning or purpose as their only value is to exchange what is learned in order to hit a target, get a grade, or pass a course—and often, the tests don’t even provide that.
High-stress and time-consuming tests distract students from other kinds of engaging learning, and they produce outcomes of no real value for students and their teachers who normally don’t receive the results until months after the tests have been taken.
The 2020s are going to see a monumental global battle over the future of standardized testing between educational interests in students’ learning, engagement, and well-being, on the one hand, and political and business interests in top-down accountability on the other.
Use large-scale assessments to inform teachers’ collective professional judgments as a basis for improvement at the school level, while still monitoring overall performance at the system level, as is done in Scotland.
Explore the power of technology to transform student assessment, not by moving high-stakes testing online, but by developing, expanding, and sharing continuous assessments and self-assessments.
Rising generations of teachers and leaders will use digital technologies to effortlessly share information and ideas about students’ work and give more voice to their students in the process.
continuous flows of news and updates about what students are learning and doing in real time.
There is a host of books on assessment for learning—using formative assessment strategies like peer assessment, self-assessment, and real-time feedback that actually enhance students’ learning.
Dylan Wiliam. He argues that formative assessment can increase student achievement via pedagogies of engagement,
  Provide tools, not just encouragement, for self-assessment.
  Eliminate fear of making mistakes by employing the language and strategy of growth mindsets. These point out that something has not been learned yet
  Use technology to share classroom learning. Technology, and its capacity to provide feedback in real time, is bringing us to a point where we can totally transform how we understand and display student assessment.
Provide written feedback or “live marking” during the lesson.

Develop assessment rubrics with students by providing various ungraded exemplars of work for them to consider as they do so.

 Present oral feedback in real time, especially if it is precise and offers just the right amount of challenge. Not all assessments have to be written down.

 Use self-assessment for students to find and fix specific things that can be improved relatively swiftly, overwhelming.
 Adopt self-assessment and peer-assessment routines as foundations for learning, not as add-ons to other assessments, or breaks from them. This can help ensure that the process
You can thrive in a learning environment where you have made assessment, and even marking or grading, an engaging and uplifting experience for everyone.
Wiliam and McGill are just two of the many assessment experts who remind us of the power of formative assessments and assessment for learning, as opposed to relying too much on summative assessments or high-stakes tests as ways to measure achievement or drive improvement.
We can now appreciate that students must be engaged psychologically in terms of their emotions, cognition, and behavior. Engagement may involve transcendence in committing to something greater than oneself. It can and should harness the motivational power of flow.
Engagement, we have argued, has sociological as well as psychological dimensions.
Association is about learning cooperatively with others in a group, network, or team that confers senses of attachment, belonging, and solidarity. It cultivates mutual obligations in a shared community.
Empowerment concerns developing students’ confidence and capacity to acquire the skills and dispositions to shape their own futures and participate in the broader society.
Mastery involves pursuing excellence and high performance to a degree that involves intense focus, concentration, discipline, persistence, stretching, struggle, and sometimes even suffering to become
supremely competent in a new area of knowledge or skill. It is the obverse of transient distraction, and part of the quest to dedicate oneself to producing work or performances of the highest quality.
Engagement is the new frontier of student achievement.

from the Age of Achievement and Effort to the Age of Engagement, Well-Being, and it also needs to win young people’s hearts and minds, and acknowledge their own aspiration, too.

psychological perspective helps identify problems and specify solutions that can be addressed by individuals and school teams to bring about positive change.

improving motivation, attention, focus, and interest in conventional classrooms.

Sociological perspectives raise additional questions of what needs to change in the culture, curriculum, testing regimes, and power dynamics of existing school systems.

Similarly, while digital technology opens up important new avenues for learning and engagement, it is not a silicon bullet that can eliminate every problem of disengagement by itself.

argues in favor of schools and school systems that value teachers’ collective judgment based on their professional knowledge and on the students they know best. It proposes that, as certified professionals, teachers are allowed and empowered to be the first responders to their students’ needs when there is a crisis.

Second, our approach asks for the curriculum and for teachers’ pedagogies to be less alienating and disconnected from students’ everyday experience, more responsive to young people’s cultures and identities, and more connected to topics that cultivate a sense of importance in students’ lives.

students should, from their very first years in school, be able to explain what they are learning and why they are learning it.

They should be given and also take responsibility to become self-determined learners.

Third, our integrated perspective advocates for students to have stronger senses of association with their schools, with each other in their learning communities, and with a sense of moral order, purpose, and direction in society.

so that mixed-ability classes can be both inclusive and effective.

Fourth, our perspective promotes the empowerment of student voice, so students can have more influence over their own learning and become knowledgeable, well-informed, and actively engaged citizens within their 

This includes developing their own realistic assessments about their work rather than waiting to accept or reject the assessments that adults make of them.

It means actively participating in setting the rules for group work, for their classroom, and for their entire school—then taking responsibility for ensuring they and their peers stick to those 

distinctive approach issues warnings about distractions, such as excessive screen time and evanescent entertainment, that draw young people away from the focus and persistence that are necessary if they are to achieve true mastery in their learning and well-being.

transferring more power over learning from the teacher to the student

Building schools as communities that develop senses of belonging among the diverse students and families

Ultimately, transforming the very nature of public education itself so that learning, well-being, and quality of life for all students become the drivers of educational improvement—not data, testing, technology, and accountability

The quality of the interactions between teachers and students that support and stimulate engagement with learning.





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