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Engagement vs Learning

Ever since I started teaching I’ve kept hearing this word ‘engagement’.

“Are your students engaged?”

“This will get your students engaged.”

Now, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to see them engaged, but what I’ve been wondering about recently is whether we can actually say that because a student is engaged, they are learning.

I happened to be at an ERO information evening as a Board member the other night, and they mentioned that one thing they look at, along with student achievement is student engagement. I straight away wondered, ‘how can they measure engagement?’ – particularly as they come in and take a ‘snapshot’ view of a school at a particular time.

In my view, student engagement is not quantifiable unless you can link it explicitly to achievement. Engagement can usually only be seen with anecdotal evidence. I have seen whole classes of students engaged… – in a DVD that the teacher has put on for them. Are they learning anything in particular? Probably not. Are they engaged – you bet! (And no, I’m not talking about a media/film studies class here!)

I guess I kind of know the answers to my question. We are, of course, talking about students being ‘engaged in learning’. And that should possibly be clarified in a classroom as ‘engaged in on-task learning’ as they could quite well be learning through sending (unrelated to the class) text messages to their mates. To find out if students really are engaged will take a range of formative and summative assessment also, but this does come back to my question about ERO taking a snapshot of a school – how do they measure engagement?

So, this is quite a disjointed post with some random thoughts of mine on engagement – but I guess I would argue that student engagement does not necessarily equate to student learning, but hopefully it does. What I would say though, is that if we want to increase engagement (and hopefully as a result, achievement) then we need to begin (or continue) to look at providing authentic learning activities and experiences to our students that they can relate to in real life. Continuing to allow learner-centred learning will help also.

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