Take a moment to reflect on your schooling experience. Does any activity, in particular, stick out as a special one?
Whether you were homeschooled or attended a traditional school, you can probably recall at least one lesson that captivated your interest. Perhaps you had to act out a part of a story, build something using mathematics principles, or perform a series of science experiments to identify an unknown substance. Whatever that lesson is for you, it’s likely that the reason you remember it so fondly is because you were highly engaged.
Student engagement has a powerful influence on learning. Therefore, as an instructor, it’s essential to ensure your students are as engaged as possible in their educational journey. To help, we’ve compiled a list of engagement strategies for students that you can use to enhance your lessons. But before we get to that, let’s take a deeper look at what student engagement is and why it’s so important.
What is Student Engagement?
According to the Glossary of Education Reform, student engagement is “the degree of attention, curiosity, interest, optimism, and passion that students show as they are learning or being taught.” In other words, it measures how attentive and enthusiastic a student is in school.
It’s important not to confuse compliance for engagement. A compliant student may do exactly what they’re asked to and listen actively, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re engaged in the lesson. On the other hand, a student who’s fully engaged in a lesson will ask questions, eagerly contribute to the activity or discussion, and likely show their interest through facial expressions and body language.
Why is Student Engagement Important?
Researchers have studied student engagement and its impacts for decades. Their vast studies found that engaged students often see higher levels of motivation and achievement than their disengaged peers.
In fact, a Gallup study conducted in 2018 revealed that engaged students are 2.5 times more likely to say they get excellent grades and do well in school, and they’re 4.5 times more likely to be hopeful about the future than their disengaged peers.
So, why is student engagement important? Well, students who are curious, passionate, and genuinely interested in what they’re being taught are likely to become motivated, lifelong learners.
How to Measure Student Engagement
Okay, so now that you know what engagement is and why it’s important, you probably want to know how to tell if your student is engaged. Unfortunately, measuring student engagement can be pretty tricky.
Research in this area has primarily been based on observation and self-reported information. The catch here is that self-reported data is relative. For example, imagine two people are asked, “On a scale of 1–5, how much did you enjoy learning about this topic?” If they both choose 4, it doesn’t necessarily mean that their actual level of engagement is the same.
Attempting to measure student engagement is complicated because it’s influenced by situational, cultural, and individual factors. Let’s look at this further.
1. Student Engagement is Situational
Factors such as type of school, resources available to the teacher and student, instructional style, teacher-student relationships, home environment, and classroom management all influence student engagement.
2. Student Engagement is Cultural
Each student lives surrounded by a set of cultural expectations for themselves and others. For example, research has shown that female students’ math achievement is positively affected by having female role models in STEM fields.
3. Student Engagement is Unique to the Student
Every student is intrigued by different topics, questions, and approaches. For example, some students may enjoy analytical projects, while others might be more invested in artistic pursuits.
Also, interests and preferences develop over time. The tactics used to engage a six-year-old student in learning addition facts will unlikely work when that student is sixteen and tackling geometric proofs.
So, how do you measure student engagement effectively? You must take the time to understand your student’s unique interests as well as the situational and cultural factors that impact their learning.
How to Engage Students While Homeschooling
While planning your lessons and activities, it’s important to consider whether or not your student will be engaged while they’re learning. The more tuned in they are to what you’re teaching, the more likely they’ll master the material. Need some help getting started? Here are four engagement strategies for students that you can incorporate into your homeschool lessons.
1. Include Their Interests
When students are interested in what’s happening in a lesson, they’re going to pay attention. So, as much as possible, adapt your instruction plans to your student’s interests.
Perhaps your child really likes Star Wars. How can you incorporate Star Wars into a topic that you plan on teaching? For example, if you’re covering poetry, ask them to write a cinquain poem about Yoda. If your little one is into football and you’re teaching basic addition, make the lesson more interesting by having them calculate the score based on different plays.
With a bit of creativity and planning, you can really bring a lesson to life by incorporating your student’s interests.
2. Make Lessons Meaningful
When you were in school, you probably asked yourself the following questions at least once: “When will I ever use this information? Why do I need to know this? What’s the point?” Whatever you were learning at the time probably didn’t seem meaningful to you.
Students want to know that the lesson is worth their time and effort. If they don’t see the value in what they’re learning, they’ll likely disengage.
To combat this, be sure to choose meaningful work for your students and communicate relevance. Try to connect topics to their personal experiences whenever possible. Additionally, explain to them when and how the topic will be applicable in their life. The more aware your student is of the personal benefit of what they’re learning, the more likely they’ll be engaged.
3. Encourage Autonomy
Students typically become more engaged when they have a say in what and how they’re learning. Give your students the freedom to take ownership of their education by providing them with opportunities to make their own choices.
Here are a few examples of simple ways that you can empower your student through choice:
- Let them choose what subject they want to start with that day.
- Have them do their schoolwork wherever they want to within your home.
- Provide them with three different project or activity options, and let them pick which one they want to do.
While these choices may seem rather insignificant, providing your child with options to forge their own learning path ensures they’re engaged in the process.
4. Challenge Them—But Not Too Much
Oftentimes the reason children aren’t engaged in a lesson or activity is that it’s either too easy or too difficult for them.
Children like a healthy challenge, but too much of a challenge can cause them to disengage. If a concept is too difficult, a student will throw their hands up and say they can’t do it. That said, if a lesson topic is below your student’s learning level, they might find it too easy and become bored.
The magic happens once you find that sweet spot in the middle. When you design an activity for your students that’s interesting and challenges them appropriately, learning becomes fun!
We hope that these engagement strategies for students will help you see a difference in your homeschool classroom! For more helpful homeschooling insights, sign up to receive our weekly newsletter.
This post was updated on August 12, 2022.