In the Classroom

How to Easily Spot Bonus Behavioral Engagement in the K-12 Classroom

Click above to listen to this podcast episode. Below is the transcript for Student-Centered World Podcast Episode 56: “How to Spot Behavioral Engagement in the Classroom“

When you are looking for behavioral engagement in the classroom, you are trying to observe students being actively involved in the learning process. Commonly deemed “participation”, behavioral engagement flourishes with routines, assignments, activities, and cues that help students know not only what is expected of them but is also conducive to learning overall.

Students who are engaged in a learning process, are usually actively listening and paying attention. They understand the direction and are doing their best to follow it. If you notice students starting or joining group work very quickly this is an indicator of behavioral engagement.

Another way to look for behavioral engagement is to see if students continue on with something when they finish early. For example, if you assign students to groups to work on a project and give them all 5 minutes to get together, this is an easy way to spot engagement. If they are engaged in the assignment, they will continue working even after they finish early because they want to get as much done as possible.

Another indicator of behavioral engagement is the fact that students are going above and beyond the requirements. If you tell students to color between the lines, but they start adding little doodles to make the picture more lively, this is behavioral engagement.

If you have already taught something and then ask students how they will apply what was previously learned in a new situation, behavioral engagement will be evidenced in their responses. For example, if you have asked students how the math skills that they learned can be applied to real-life and they start answering questions like “How much would this cost at the store?”, this is behavioral engagement because they are using what was previously taught to answer a new question.

Motivation in Behavioral Engagement

Motivation is key to making sure students stay interested in the material being learned. Motivating students can involve using different strategies and techniques that you find will help motivate them, or it could be ensuring that there is a balance between learning and fun in-class activities.

There are many ways to keep students engaged in the class. Some of these ways include, but are not limited to:

  • Fun classroom activities (e.g., games, quizzes, etc.)
  • Bringing in guest speakers that can tie into the subject and/or field being taught at school (e.g., scientists, engineers, etc.)
  • Incorporating work experience programs that gives students a feel of what the job will be like after high school or college
  • Teaching in a way that is interactive and involves students as much as possible (e.g., debates, discussions, role-playing situations)

When it comes to making sure that students are engaged during class, one of the best things to do is make sure they know you are interested in their education as well. Students tend to learn much more when teachers show that they care about them and want them to succeed just as much as everyone else does. Getting to know your students on a personal level can help connect with each student and will allow them to feel more comfortable with asking questions if they need help.

It is also important for teachers to have school rules and consequences in place so that students know what the expected behavior is and what will happen if they are not following the rules. Having a set of classroom rules at the beginning of each year can ensure everyone knows what is expected of them.

The following techniques are a few ways to measure student engagement, but there’s a much better way to do it than using just one, and that’s by including all 12 techniques listed here:

Keep an attendance record

Every teacher will have students who miss class for whatever reason. Some may miss because they’re sick, others might not feel like going, or they might be on a vacation. Whatever the reason, you’ll need to keep track of how often your students miss class so you can identify how much this is affecting their performance in any possible way.

But how would you go about keeping track of this? Sure, there are various apps and programs to help monitor student attendance, but who wants to rely on third-party services when we can just as easily create our own custom solution using Google Sheets? Don’t worry — this is really easy.

First, you’ll need to create a new Google Sheet. In this sheet, we’ll create two columns: one for the date/time and another column that tracks how many times each student has attended class.

You can name these columns whatever you want; I chose “Date”, “Time”, and “Attendance”. The first task is to copy the column headers across to the next row — this is where we’ll start entering data.

Once you’ve done that, you can start typing dates and times, with the name of your students in the attendance column underneath.

Next, you’ll need to update this data daily. With Google Sheets, all you have to do is enter a date and time on one of the days listed in your spreadsheet, clicking on that cell after entering a new value. This way you can quickly see which students attended what class each day.

Also, if your students are on different schedules — perhaps they start at 8:00 AM one week and 10:00 AM another — you can create a formula that automatically adjusts the times to reflect this. For example, if my first class begins at 10:00 AM, and I want to enter another class that’s at 1:00 PM, all I have to do is select the cell where my attendance data appears and add this formula:

=1/(24*60) ; highlight cell – then press CMD+SHIFT+ENTER on Mac or CTRL+SHIFT+ENTER on Windows

This will automatically update the time to 1:00 PM, and you’ll be able to keep track of students that way. If your school runs a shorter or longer schedule during certain weeks (perhaps classes are shorter one week), I’d recommend creating a separate sheet for those dates so you can adjust accordingly.

Finally, it’s a good idea to save this spreadsheet as a template. This way, you won’t have to continually recreate the same spreadsheet over and over again. All you’ll need to do is update your attendance data once a month or so and only create new sheets when the old ones are full.

This system can be used for so many things, and it’s a really useful way to keep track of what your students are up to. It’ll also provide vital data that you can use when it comes time for report cards or standardized testing.

Using this system, teachers will no longer have to rely on apps or other third-party solutions for basic tasks like student attendance tracking — they can get all the data they need from Google Sheets, which can be made available to students and parents when needed.

Conduct unique assessments

Asking questions that help determine how well students are learning can be a great tool for measuring how engaged they are in the class. Conducting tests throughout the teaching material helps determine how well your students learned everything you covered and how much of it they remembered. It also gives an insight into how engaged your students are, as a low pass or fail grade might indicate that you may need to re-teach or revise some parts of your lesson again in order to reinforce the material.

The act of conducting a test will also get you to go back over the material yourself as well and ensure that you are not missing out on something important in how you explain it.

Taking fun quizzes is a great way to get your students involved in your class, and make them feel more personally invested. Giving out prizes such as extra credit or gift cards for those who do well on the quiz can be an excellent motivator if you are trying to encourage student involvement without any other major incentives.

Teaching is not a one-way street, and learning should never be that way either. Asking questions in class helps your students get involved with the material and teaches them to think critically. Also, making sure you have a well-thought-out structure for each lesson will help you know in advance where you should pause or repeat information if necessary.

A great teaching tool is to utilize current events or news stories in your lessons. Making the material relevant and relatable to them will help students remember it better when it’s exam time.

According to recent research, asking questions during class can improve your student’s retention of information by up to 30-40%. According to an article by Sage Publishing Ltd, “when we seek answers to questions, we generate connections between the new information and existing knowledge. This encoding strengthens memory during initial learning, but also makes it more durable over time.”

Asking questions in class can be a great way to get students involved and engaged in your lessons. If you create active class sessions where everyone is engaged and contributes with their own insights, students will be more likely to participate in class and remember what you say.

Ask how they feel

Asking how students are feeling can be a great way to see how much they are engaged in what’s going on in the classroom. It can give you an insight into how they feel about what is being taught, how they are feeling about studying in general, how well they think they will do on future tests or assignments, and how much of an effort they are putting in to get the better grades.

When asking students how they are feeling, they will have a lot of different feelings to choose from. They might even be confused about what to answer because there are so many things going on with them every day that can affect their moods. An example list of questions for them is below and you can personalize this list however you like:

  • How are you feeling right now?
  • Good or bad? __________________________
  • What would make you feel better if anything at all? _________________________________

When trying to figure out what students might be feeling during class, one of the first things that should really pop into your head is any kind of pressure they may have because of upcoming assignments. If they are stressed out about a paper or project, they might not be able to focus on what you are teaching.

If you aren’t sure why a student is feeling a certain way and you have asked them why that might be, then asking how this relates to class time can help. For example, if the student is sad about something at home, then asking how that is affecting the student’s studying and learning in class can help you figure out a way to help them.

An example of this could be: “Are you feeling sad about not getting an A on your last assignment? Do you worry that you will fail my class because of it?” When asking this question, make sure not to make the student feel bad at all. Let them know that failing is okay and remember to use words such as just or maybe when asking questions about their feelings. This will help your students to be more open and honest with what they are feeling.

Track grades

Once assignments are completed, how students performed on those assessments as well as how they have been doing with past assignments will tell you how engaged they are. If their grades and test scores go down, when compared to how well they were performing before, it is most likely a sign that something has changed in how they are feeling about the class.

This can be anything from how you teach to how much they enjoy what you’re teaching. If grades start going down even though how well students have been performing on tests and assignments, in general, has been stable, then you can be sure how engaged they are is a factor.

If they very slowly start going down, then it’s time to have a conversation about why that may be happening and what you can do to help them achieve the results they want.

You don’t want to wait for it to progress so far that grades become alarmingly low, which means they are not able to achieve the results they need.

The important thing is not only grading and testing but how you look at those scores as well as what students do in class and on their assignments. How much time students spend on an assignment is a good way to tell how invested they are.

How you structure your class in terms of assignments and due dates can also give you an idea of how engaged students are with the coursework. If grades or test scores go down, there may be some underlying issue as to why that’s happening.

Ask how much effort they look to be putting in

It’s hard to tell how engaged your students are by how much effort they put into assignments and tests if you’re not sure how hard they should be working in the first place. It can also help give you some idea of how much effort students are putting in, and how engaged they are. It can be anything how often they’re completing work or how much time they spend on that work when compared to how hard you yourself think the task should be.

You may need to weigh this out with what is officially required of them, but if you notice a change in how much how they report how engaged they are, then this could be something you need to keep an eye on.

You’ll also need to keep in mind that sometimes, students just aren’t paying attention and think a task is harder than it should be. You might want to ask those who are immersed the most how much effort they’re putting into it.

If you’re going to ask students how engaged they are, it’s probably best to ask them at the beginning and end of a unit or project, so you can see how their level of engagement changes over time.

If you combine this with a progress report, you have a clearer picture of whether they’re engaged or not, which is helpful if you’d like to determine if your students need help in getting themselves more involved, or if perhaps there’s something about the way you’re teaching that makes it hard for them.

If their engagement changes drastically, this could be a sign of deeper problems in your class. If they were engaged at first but then began to lose interest towards the end of the unit or project, then there may be an issue with the subject material, or perhaps their motivation was doused by a frustrating assignment.

If engagement increases over time, this could be a sign that the class is more engaging and that you’re doing a better job of teaching. It could also mean that you’ve got students who at first were uninterested but have gotten more engaged the further they go into the class.

Listen for what students say

Aside from how hard students work or how well they do in-class assignments or tests, you can tell how engaged your students are by how often they speak up during class. Students who are now engaged in class will speak up to ask questions, voice how they feel about a topic, or give examples of how what you’re teaching applies to real life.

It can also be how often students answer questions during class and how much effort students put into giving insightful answers once asked. Listening to what your students have to say can also give you a how well how they understand the material.

When it comes to classroom engagement, however, listening to your students is only part of the battle. Since you’re the adult in the room and they’re not speaking directly with each other about what’s going on in class, it helps if some of them are making attempts at trying to encourage their classmates to get involved as well.

If they’re trying to get their classmates to speak up, then you know they’re engaged – even if what they are encouraging them to do is simply raise your hand, which is more than likely why the other student hasn’t spoken up yet.

If a student has never spoken in class before and one of their peers encourages them to do so (whether it’s by raising their hand or simply speaking up themselves), then that’s a sign your students are engaged, and it shows they’re trying to make an effort in learning.

If everyone is silent during one of your classes, this tells you the class isn’t engaged – but if there are one or two students who are making some sort of effort with their classmates to get them engaged, this tells you the class is trying.

Watch how much students participate in class / how much effort they put into assignments and tests

Taking notice of how much time your students spend on each assignment and test can also give you a good idea of how engaged they are. If class participation goes up, because of how they answer questions or how much their participation actually affects how you teach the class, it is a positive sign that students are engaged. The effort put into assignments can also be a good way to tell how engaged your students are in what’s going on in class.

If all of their work looks sloppy and they don’t what you want them to give you, then they are likely not putting as much effort into the work as they should be. This can be a red flag.

Look at the change in grades from when they began to when you first notice a problem It’s important to take into account the prior grades of each student before relying on their current grades as an accurate indicator of engagement. Even if they didn’t have high grades when they started class, though, don’t let that fool you into thinking that nothing has changed. If students have lower grades now than they did before, it could be because they have something is going on at home or something is going on that is changing the dynamic of their attitude in their classroom.

Watch out for changes that students expect from the class

Whether it is how you teach or how well students like what they’re learning, expectations for both sides should not change. Students who are satisfied with how much of an effort is being put in and interested in how well assignments and tests go will keep studying, working hard on projects, and asking how they did on assignments.

Look back at how well each student has been doing work before and during any changes to see if how they feel has changed how much effort they are putting in if this is the case.

If this is not the case, keep these things in mind: how much effort they are putting in and how well they have been doing work.

Check if there has been any change on their part that could explain why this may be happening like a parent’s new job, moving (a farther drive to school), family issues, personal problems, etc.

If they are trying to make up for a bad grade, encourage them that it’s okay and just keep on doing the best they can. Explain how getting better grades is not a one-way street, but rather a system with many variables like effort, time management skills, and determination all being taken into account.

If they are uninterested in the material, encourage them to stay with it and figure out why by asking questions or going over basic concepts again to see if it makes sense to them now, especially because what might seem like a simple concept on day one can turn into something huge later on.

behavioral engagement

Do the frequency of assignments and tests change?

If you notice a change in the number of times each student has to do an assignment or test, this can also indicate that something isn’t quite right. Most students don’t like having to redo work even if they haven’t asked questions or how much they actually understand the content. However, if they are getting more and more work to do because of poor performance (or lack of understanding), this might be an indication that the teacher isn’t grading appropriately or just isn’t conveying the material in a way that students can learn it.

In this case, you might do an investigation to see if the students are indeed getting these questions wrong or not understanding them. Since most classes require multiple types of assessments in order to grade and evaluate a student’s learning, you’ll want to look for these patterns in multiple places. For example test scores, homework assignments, quizzes/answers/tests, essays.

If you see a pattern of poor performance across all of these things, then it’s more likely that the student is in need of some extra help than it is due to animosity between teacher and student.

If there are any patterns to this poor performance or lack of effort put forth by the student (i.e. they’re often late for class, always have excuses as to why they haven’t done their work, etc.) then you’re dealing with something more than just a one-off issue. This is where you want to sit down and talk with the student about what’s going on.

Look into how well students participate in class participation/answer questions

Being able to listen to your students speak can give you a better idea of not only their level of engagement but also what type of personality they have and how interested in that material they are. Some students will show how interested they are in the material by how much they like to talk about it, others by their level of engagement and attentiveness when working on assignments or tests, and still others may prefer to work alone instead of answering questions with the class.

The best way to engage these students is by interacting with them and asking questions that make them think about the material. This will not only show to your students that you are listening but it will also give you insight into what types of assignments they may prefer, how good they are at communicating their thoughts and ideas verbally vs in writing.

If you have students who do not participate in class, it is up to you as the teacher to find ways of engaging them so that they are no longer silent members of the classroom. You can involve them with small group activities, pair work, or even solo projects. All of these methods work well for some students but can also increase their levels of anxiety. As a result, you may want to take note of how your students react as they become more engaged in class discussions and then think about what types of assignments would make those same students feel most comfortable.

Look into how well they get along with each other outside of class

Whether it’s after a test is over or during a lecture, watching students interact with each other in social situations can give you an idea of how engaged they are and whether or not anything about the class is affecting their ability to work together. If students start interacting more with people outside of class or being mean, bullying, or harassing the other students in their group instead of helping them study, this could be a symptom of problems between them that extend to the rest of their lives.

If you aren’t sure what the cause of the behavior is, ask if something happened between them and try to get to the bottom of it. If the issue is that one person just doesn’t want to do their work or study, they could be a bad influence on the rest of the group. You can talk to them about trying harder and encourage them not to drag the rest of the group down with them. If it’s a problem between two people, in particular, you might need to have a conversation with both of them to see what’s going on and get them working together again.

If the issue is specifically in class, you might try having a group project instead of individual assignments to help people work together and learn how they do best when collaborating.

If it isn’t related to school at all, it might be a personal problem that’s affecting them in class. If you notice that one or more of your students tends to isolate themselves from the rest of the group, they could be struggling with their mental health.  

If this is the case, you should talk to them about it and ask how you can help. You can encourage them to reach out to a counselor, or they could check out some of the resources at school for students with mental health. If this is common behavior, you can also try talking to your department about bringing in guest speakers or training for faculty members so that they know how to recognize symptoms and support their students.

Stop Driving the Teacher Struggle Bus

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After moving from a teacher-dominated classroom to a truly student-centered one, Jenn found herself helping colleagues who wanted to follow her lead.  In 2018 she decided to expand outside of her school walls and help those out there who were also trying to figure out this fantastic method of instruction to ignite intrinsic motivation in their students.  Read more about her journey with Student-Centered World at

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