What Accounts for Student Engagment?

November 9, 2018

What Can Teachers Do?

It is our strong belief that teachers are the principal motivators in the classroom and with effective planning – and dynamic execution of lessons – can significantly impact student engagement.


Engagement is defined as “the degree of attention, curiosity, interest, optimism, and passion that students show when they are learning or being taught, which extends to the level of motivation they have to learn and progress in their education.” (edglossary.org). In other words, engagement is not just paying attention, but also piquing curiosity so students want to learn more.

Why Focus on Engagement?

Although it seems obvious, promoting student engagement is one of the most important jobs of any teacher. Teaching is not just about delivering the material, it’s about connecting with students and inspiring them so that they are interested in what you want them to learn. Engagement is not a static goal to be achieved once and never revisited again. As we know, engagement levels in any given class period can be fluid and change depending on the day, full moon cycle, and whether or not students ate breakfast that morning. The reason why it’s important to constantly reflect upon engagement in the classroom goes beyond just ensuring students are actually enjoying your class: it directly correlates with student achievement.

What Engagement Looks Like

Engagement can look different to different teachers on different days with different students. Generally, teachers can look for signs including eye contact, taking notes, asking questions, responding to questions, following requests and interacting with other students. Engagement also includes less obvious areas, such as the extent to which students know your expectations, and how they follow your directions or routines.

What You Can Do During Planning and Instruction

Planning: Attention and Engagement

  • Incorporate movement: There’s a growing body of research that clearly demonstrates incorporating movement into one’s instruction will boost student achievement and engagement. For ideas, check this out!
  • Planned questioning: In many classrooms, teachers will come up with questions spontaneously. Don’t do this! It is super important for you to plan out your questions in advance – when you know the questions you are going to ask, how they flow within your lesson, and how you plan on ensuring students will work with those questions, higher engagement will most certainly follow.
  • Pre-planned structured partnerships: One of the most effective ways you can promote engagement is building your bank of pre-planned structured partnerships: Let’s lay out a statement that really shouldn’t be controversial: “turn to an elbow partner” is not good enough. There, it’s been said. Don’t be afraid of the word “structure,” people! The link above has some ways you can dip your big toe into the waters of student discourse. Make sure you also mix in opportunities where the teacher is planning partnerships and groups as well.
  • Planned, structured, student discourse: What more needs to be said? Students want to talk, so let them talk! If it’s planned, you have set your expectations clearly, and you provide the structures, all will be well. Here is a tool kit you can refer to and have your students refer to as they are involved in discussions.

Instruction: Teacher Actions

  • Specific directives and check-ins:
      • Specifically and directly look at what your students are doing. Don’t shy away from students! You can never be too nosy, provided you have spent time building positive personal relationships with them.
      • Provide concrete feedback on the content they are producing, not just their progress in getting from Point A to Point B.


  • Explicitly request their attention.


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