What Does Student Engagement Look Like in the Average Classroom?

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As teachers, so often we are trying to find the latest gimmick to get our students involved in the classroom. But it seems to be a very difficult task to determine whether or not a student is truly engaged in the classroom. The definition of student engagement varies not only from state to state, but school district to school district, and sometimes even teacher to teacher. So, what does student engagement look like? There are some very telltale signs to know whether or not your students are engaged in the classroom.

Ultimately, and if any teacher in the classroom will tell you, there are three different ways that students can be engaged in the classroom and tangibly answering what does student engagement look like. They can be engaged behaviorally, emotionally, and/or cognitively. It is important for students to be encouraged to not just “be engaged”, but you have meaningful experiences within each of those three areas to keep their learning, behavior, and class demeanor on point and advancing their educational goals.

what does student engagement look like

Surely that seems like it’s easier said than done. If you are wondering, “what does student engagement look like?”, this seems like a monumental task at hand to be able to balance all three of these areas for every single student in the classroom.

Here’s the good news though, it’s not.

What do you have a system in play, like a student engagement formula, the opportunities for students to flourish under each of these circumstances becomes commonplace in the classroom. Yes, even for “that kid”.

So, what does student engagement look like, then?

Think of it this way: you know how many rubrics, the standard is “meets expectations”, but everyone should be striving for “exceeds expectations”? That is the concept behind student engagement.

While yes, as a teacher you can craft the life out of your lesson to try and have activities planned so each student is “doing” them, the doing is meeting expectations: you created an activity for them to accomplish and they are doing it.

Would you call this “engaging” though or just doing?

Student engagement is when the student not only does the bare minimum, but has the innate drive to do more. They are excited when they get to your classroom each day and hang on your every word. They want to know what activity is planned or want to dig deeper into conversation to help answer questions that are starting to burn inside of them. They want to not only understand, but know more. They learn to appropriately challenge their peers and, on the flip side, also collaborate on their theories.

…and why is this so important? Because these are soft skills that, for whatever reason (and we can debate this another day), are not being subconsciously taught anymore. As a matter of fact, the New York Times published an article titled, “An Adult’s Guide to Social Skills, for Those Who Were Never Taught” and yes, all of these concepts and those that naturally follow are ones that adults (not children, adults) in our society are missing.

What does student engagement look like? It looks like a combination of all these factors and the ability of you, as the teacher, to diagnose where students may be disengaging (and I promise you…when you have a system in place, this is not any more work than you are doing now. As a matter of fact, with that set system in place, some argue that it’s even less).

…but what about the disengaged student?

But I want to be clear about something….you need to break all of this down by student. If you have a particular child in your class who seems to do nothing, and then you can get them to do the bare minimum, then that is exceeding expectations for that specific student, now isn’t it?

Whereas I just suggested thinking in terms of a rubric, there is no “set” rubric that shows whether or not your students are engaged. This breaks down for each individual member of your class in terms of their behavior, emotions, and cognitive ability.

That doesn’t mean that crafting a lesson that you think truly answers, “what does student engagement look like” is harder or even more work. You’re just taking what you have and giving options, student choice if you will, in a way that will spark even the most reluctant learners.

I see you rolling your eyes behind your screen. It makes me sad that so many teachers have become so jaded over this subject.

I say this because, while it is impossible to have a perfect day each and every day in the classroom (we are dealing with children, for goodness sake), when you find a student engagement formula that works for YOU, it is consistent day in and day out.

It’s about what works for YOU, not the students

Notice I emphasized “you” in that last sentence. You are the ringleader of your classroom. Though I am walking the line explaining that you can do things a little differently to get your Generation Z students excited, the most important person to keep happy in the classroom is YOU. If you are happy, less stressed, have more time on your hands (yes, outside of the classroom, too), then that will trickle down to the students who are in your classroom, leading to their ultimate success.

I’m going to bet that very few people (if any) have ever explained this in this way to you. Somewhere along the line, we transformed our classrooms into this idea that “the customer is always right”, and we take time out of our own personal lives to try and right the ship. This is why teachers are so stinking tired.

Again, teaching isn’t perfect, but there are ways to reorganize how we do things in the classroom. It took me five years to figure it out, but once I came up with my own student engagement formula, it worked again and again. The teachers I have trained in this method also agree that once it is narrowed down and put into play, it makes a difference they never thought was possible.

If you’re wondering if this is possible for you (hint: it is), and you want to see where you already are on this path to true student engagement, take the quiz here to find out not only where you stand, but what some next steps are that you can take in developing your own student engagement formula.

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