What is Student Engagement?
The conversation about student engagement revolves around a seemingly simple, common-sense belief: when a student is invested in the learning process, they learn more. Teachers, parents, and coaches can tell countless anecdotes about the change in skill performance after a student’s motivation to learn the skill increased or intensified.
Why is Student Engagement Important?
It could be surmised that if educators were able to distill student engagement into discrete principles and apply them across multiple students regardless of setting, the elusive “secret to academic performance” would be cracked. As one scholar writes, “The attractiveness of studying engagement as a useful factor in school improvement lies in the fact that it is an alterable variable, in contrast to (relatively) fixed variables such as socioeconomic status and intelligence.” In theory, should student engagement improve, academic self-confidence would grow, formerly struggling and misbehaving students would stay in school, and test scores would improve. Learning – and indeed the entire field of education – would be revolutionized. The principles of student engagement could then be extended into workplace training further benefitting all of society.
What Does Student Engagement Look Like? How Can It Be Improved?
Many researchers have attempted to examine student engagement. Dozens of definitions have tried to tease out the factors contributing to positive engagement. One such research project surveyed teachers and students and concluded that student engagement is influenced by four factors that correlate to human needs: “success (the need for mastery), curiosity (the need for understanding), originality (the need for self-expression), and relationships (the need for involvement with others)”. Outside of the field of education proper, the authors of a bestselling book, The Power of Moments, noted their principles of creating moments of elevation, insight, pride, and connection were anecdotally present when student engagement and learning were improved.
While it has been shown that students who are not engaged are more likely to drop out, there is little to no empirical evidence to confirm or deny the belief that improving student engagement improves academic achievement. In fact, a study of international test data concluded that “international evidence does not justify the wide-scale concern over current levels of student engagement in the U.S. or support the hypothesis that boosting engagement would raise student performance nationally.”
3 Reasons Why Student Engagement is Difficult to Meaure
Remember that the concept of “student engagement” is based on observation and personal experiences of the teacher and student. The catch here is that self-reported data is relative. Imagine two people were asked, “On a scale of 1-5, how much did you enjoy learning this topic?”. Both individuals choosing a 4 does not necessarily mean that their actual experiences are the same or even similar.
The full, complex reality of an individual student further complicates the attempt to measure student engagement because it is situational, cultural, and unique to each child.
1) Student Engagement is Situational
The type of school, the arrangement and management of a classroom, the resources available to the teacher and student at school, teacher instructional style, teacher-student relationships over time, the home environment of the student, and the resources available to the parent and child outside of school are all factors that 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
Each student is intrigued by different topics, questions, and approaches. Some high school students may greatly enjoy creative group presentations while others might become deeply invested in designing an informational poster or website. In addition, an individual student develops over time. What engages a particular student at age 6 to learn addition facts will likely not work as effectively when they are sixteen and tackling geometric proofs!
Student Engagement for Homeschoolers
When a student is engaged in their learning, they are being encouraged experientially to become lifelong learners, and that is possibly the most important outcome. As a homeschool educator, you have chosen to shift your student’s classroom environment to home, and you are likely taking a more direct role in teaching your student. You’re choosing curricula, planning daily schedules, and setting expectations. You are aptly suited to do all of this because you know your unique student intimately. Here are three tips that will help develop lifelong learners:
• As much as is possible, adapt instruction plans to your student’s needs and interests
• Take the time and courage to develop a strong, healthy relationship with your child
• Enjoy the journey without losing sight of mastery