Engagement in Schooling v. Engagement in Learning

Sara Briggs wrote a piece (2/7/15) for InformED titled: 12 Myths About Student Engagement. [Find it here: http://bit.ly/engagemyths ]  The article does a nice job of providing background on engagement and identifying common myths. Teachers have these misperceptions because that’s the way they were taught, or it’s how they learn best, or from anecdotal evidence. Identifying the myths is valuable. But without strategies to supplant the misplaced beliefs, engagement and learning won’t be enhanced. This post and the next few will discuss the engagement myths and provide practical strategies and alternative perspectives.

To start, here are the 12 myths:

  1. Engagement in schooling is the same as engagement in learning.
  2. Participation should be graded.
  3. Personal relevance is just a cute theory.
  4. Pop quizzes motivate studying.
  5. Group projects enhance learning.
  6. Group discussions increase participation.
  7. If no one responds to your questions, no one is interested.
  8. Course size has an inverse affect on student engagement.
  9. If their performance suffers, they aren’t interested.
  10. Disengagement signifies disinterest.
  11. Incorporating the interests of 30+ individuals into your course material is impossible.
  12. Learning necessitates engagement.

Today’s post considers #1: Engagement in schooling is the same as engagement in learning.

For the folks who haven’t gotten on the active learning / engagement bandwagon yet, this misperception may be a primary cause. I suspect there’s a significant cohort of faculty in higher-ed who mistakenly believe the focus of engagement is akin to Kumbaya around the campfire. Kumbaya is engagement in schooling, not engagement in learning. A schooling emphasis centers on showing up, talking for points, and surface intellectual activity. Engagement in learning goes much deeper.

What teachers really need to focus on is fostering a context-relevant climate that fosters engagement. That’s not easy or straightforward. Fortunately, Zepke & Leach (2010) identify ten strategies that promote engagement in learning. Their recommendations are derived from single- and multi-institution studies, qualitative research, and quantitative research with large sample sizes. Each recommendation is supported by numerous references to the literature.

  • Enhance students’ self-belief. Students with fixed theory of self or ability adopt performance goals for their learning and lose motivation when those goals aren’t achieved. Developing students’ confidence in their own competence is a key motivator for engagement. One strategy would be to incorporate student goal setting and self-monitoring of performance.
  • Enable students to work autonomously and with others. This fosters intrinsic motivation and develops students’ sense of competence and self-efficacy. Examples of strategies include choice in assignments, topics, shared decision-making, and collaboration.
  • Teachers and teaching are central to engagement. Teacher attitudes and behaviors are central to fostering engagement. Being approachable, well prepared, and sensitive to students’ needs are all associated with students working harder, getting more from lessons and an increased willingness to express opinions.
  • Create learning that is active, collaborative and fosters relationships. Strategies include learning in groups, fostering peer relationships, and developing social skills.
  • Create experiences that are challenging, enriching and extend abilities. This means setting high expectations, supporting students to achieve high standards, and challenging students to stretch. Students who “reflect, question, conjecture, evaluate and make connections” across ideas are most deeply engaged (p.172).
  • Welcome students from diverse backgrounds. It should not be left to students to develop a sense of belonging. Instead, institutions, programs and teachers need to develop and maintain a culture that is welcoming to all students.
  • Emphasize support services. Teachers should be intentional about incorporating learning and social resources in their courses in order to enhance engagement. Strategies include matching novice learners with more senior students, assigning library-based assignments, and informing students of available resources.
  • Adapt to changing student expectations. This is not about watering down, but rather a recognition that our student bodies have and are changing; “… students expect study to fit into their lives; they do not want to fit their lives into institutional expectations” (p.173). Learning goals (learning focus) are not the same as performance goals (grade focus). Understanding the socio-cultural context of our students is necessary for setting realistic learning goals and enhancing engagement.
  • Enable students to become active citizens. This means a shift in focus from professional development and career-readiness to a more holistic view of student development as citizens. The literature suggests helping students learn to make and defend claims in an uncertain world, act constructively in the political process, and develop awareness of themselves as agents of change increases engagement in learning.
  • Enable development of students’ social and cultural capital. This can be done by providing opportunities to develop a sense of belonging, establishing active relationships with others, and gaining understanding of “how things work around here” (p.173).

Most of the strategies relate to climate and can be implemented across disciplines and institutional contexts. As Briggs notes, “If we keep in mind that environment and engagement are inextricably intertwined, we’ll start to see “student engagement” as a context-dependent quality rather than some ideal state of being that only we, as teachers, can magically and permanently affect with an exciting lesson plan.”

Zepke, N. & Leach, L. 2010. Improving student engagement: Ten proposals for action. Active Learning in Higher Education, 11(3): 167-177.


About Lolita Paff

Educator. Wife. Mother. Amateur chef. Wine lover.

Posted on June 22, 2015, in Learning, Students, Teaching and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Hmmm sounds like some interesting food for thought items here. Thanks

    Date: Mon, 22 Jun 2015 11:07:02 +0000 To: bobpaff@hotmail.com

  1. Pingback: Resources, Strategies & Advice | Guide on the Side

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