Student Engagement

December 28th, 2015 by Ken Traupmann, Ph.D.

Ken Traupmann, Ph.D.
TIEE Executive Director

“Student engagement” has to do with the student’s involvement in a lesson or learning task. Essentially, the more a student in engaged in the lesson the more the student learns.

Because engagement has been measured by the amount of time a student appears to be engaged in learning, “time on task” is often used to speak of engagement. More recently, the measurement of engagement has shifted to student behaviors specifically related to the lesson. So, engagement is sometimes called “opportunities to respond.” Providing students with many opportunities to respond during a lesson is solidly established as effective teaching practice.

It is interesting that “opportunities to respond” seems to imply that the teacher must provide students with opportunities to respond through lesson design and lesson delivery. Hence, “opportunities to respond” is both a measure of how much students are likely to have learned and one measure of the teacher’s teaching method.

Lecturing is known to be a lousy teaching method. No wonder; during a lecture, students are seldom required to respond. Some do, of course. But, many students are often found to be doodling, texting, and even sleeping during lectures. Few opportunities to respond and very little is learned.

Another common teaching method that deprives students of opportunities to respond is to pose a question and then call on one of the students whose hand is raised. As soon as one student is called on, many others tune out. For them, there is no opportunity to respond.

Fortunately, there are numerous ways for a successful teacher to provide opportunities for all students to respond, and that’s the ideal. The teacher could have all students speak an answer at the same time (called unison choral responding), the students could write an answer on a slate and then show their answers, they could be asked to put thumbs up or thumbs down to signify their choice among two alternatives, they could confer with their assigned partner before being called on by the teacher, and so on.

Because of the availability of computers, including hand-held devices, like iPads and iPods, the teacher can have students respond in any of a variety of ways through the student controlled devices. Claire Dumlao of Mt. Helix Academy’s Jr. High faculty has had great success using “clickers” to encourage all students to respond in her lessons. Her comments will be the next article in this series.