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.
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.
- From Achievement to Engagement: Two Ages of Educational Change
- Theories of Engagement and Motivation: From Maslow to Flow
- Three Myths of Engagement: Relevance, Technology, and Fun
- The Five Enemies of Engagement: And How to Defeat Them
- Standardized Testing: The Archenemy of Engagement
- 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.
- Collaborative: They work with others, and this collaboration often leads to individual light-bulb moments.
- Inquisitive: They wonder, explore, question, investigate, and challenge.
- Imaginative: They are playful, intuitive, and able to make connections among ideas that may sometimes evade others.
- Persistent: They do not give up easily and move on to something else, even when they are frustrated, unclear, or just plain tired.
- 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
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.
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.