As educators and practitioners, we understand there is little doubt that the more engaged a student is in their learning, the higher their attainment is likely to be.

What is engagement?

Engagement can be defined not only as time spent on an activity, but also a learner’s willingness to take part in such activity (Stovall 2003).

Research has defined engagement in three areas:

  • Behavioural engagement

This is shown by positive behaviour and a willingness to engage in learning activities

  • Emotional engagement

Learners value what they do and enjoy the process of learning

  • Cognitive engagement

This is shown by the effort a learner puts into the process of learning

A deficit in any one other these areas is likely to impact negatively on the others. Therefore, addressing engagement in day-to-day teaching and classroom management is of great importance.

What is the impact of a lack of engagement?

Disengaged students are more likely to spend significant time off task and their frustration with their lack of success can lead to behaviour patterns that can then have a further impact on their participation in learning. Several studies detail that students with positive emotions have increased participation in their learning (Ladd et al. 2000; Li et al. 2010; Skinner et al. 2008). It has also been noted that positive emotions contribute to positive behaviour and also to positive learning (Aspinwall, 1998). It is becoming more apparent that more children are finding the traditional classroom to be a challenging environment, which is then having an impact on their attitudes towards learning and their subsequent attainment.

How can we impact positively on engagement?

As educational professionals, there are many ways that we can try and increase engagement for all learners.

Task Design

  1. By ensuring that tasks are varied and pitched at the appropriate level, teachers can help to keep children motivated and on task. Effective task design comes through a good knowledge of the ability levels of the children in the class. Assigning activities which are too far above a child’s ability leads to frustration and lack of confidence. In addition, assigning tasks that are too easy has a similar negative effect on engagement.
  2. Of course, it is the role of a teacher to effectively challenge a learner in order for them to progress. However, the accurate matching of the task to ability will lead to children who are willing to invest time and take risks to improve their attainment.
  3. Using a variety of tasks is also key in keeping children motivated. If possible, bring the interests of the children into their learning and also the interests of the teacher. Children love to know what teachers get up to in their spare time! Using a variety of activities can keep learning fresh and surprising and more likely to match the different learning styles present in every classroom.

Encourage Independence

Giving children some level of choice in their learning can encourage them to be more willing to invest time and therefore be more engaged. Assigning children some element of control over their learning journey by choosing the activity or the method can inspire them to see their learning as a more positive experience Also, allow children to choose the equipment or resources that they use to complete an activity. These elements also help the child feel that they are trusted by the teacher as they have been given the responsibility to decide how they learn.

Explore Different Resources

The value of concrete equipment in Maths has always been key to grasping mathematical concepts. Alternative resources can also be used to gain children’s interest and increase their engagement. Using a picture, a video or a song can add variety and can sometimes be enough to switch on a disengaged learner.

Using quizzes as an alternative to assessments can also be a way to reduce anxiety and increase engagement. Many children are fearful of assessments, even when we try to disguise them as quizzes, so sometimes a quiz can yield some useful assessment data while preventing children from putting up barriers to learning. Quizzes can also add the crucial element of fun into a task, important in engaging both learners and teachers.

Digital technology can often be an avenue to engage learners, but should be used alongside a variety of other resources. Software that allows children to speak or type can remove the barrier of writing that can stifle children’s ideas. There are children in our classrooms who struggle with feedback and perceive it as judgement, no matter how thoughtfully that feedback is given. These children can often feel extreme anxiety at the thought of asking for help or admitting that they are ‘stuck’.

However, feedback from a piece of software is often perceived as being without judgement and children are willing to repeat a digital activity more than they might a paper-based one. Mistakes made on a digital resource are often not shared with peers and therefore there is a less pronounced feeling of failure. If children are free to pursue their own digital learning journey they are likely to be more tolerant of mistakes, more willing to try again and less likely to feel judged. Many children will also enjoy using digital technology and this in itself can add to the likelihood of them becoming more engaged. All of these elements combined can then lead to more confidence, increased engagement and higher levels of attainment.

In Summary

Increasing engagement is vital in securing high levels of attainment. The impact of improved engagement on children’s willingness to learn and on their behaviour is vital, not only for those individual children but for the class as a whole. Disengaged children can also negatively impact the learning of their peers, as often, a teacher may have to spend a disproportionate amount of time with a child who is reluctant to engage in order to diffuse a potentially difficult situation.

SchoolOnline’s Edtech content can help. Our searchable content can be assigned to an individual or to groups of learners, ensuring that the tasks match the ability levels of the learner. Booster quizzes allow for overlearning and repeated practice to increase fluency and ensure that skills are embedded. Our bite-sized videos can be paused and watched repeatedly, allowing children to keep practising without the anxiety of failure or the feeling of being judged.

Learners can also be given the freedom and independence to follow their own learning journey by selecting which English or Maths skills to focus on. Children who have used the platform express how it increased their confidence and self-esteem which encouraged them to keep trying. This has resulted in some dramatic improvement, and teachers have seen children who have rarely engaged over long periods, suddenly become more motivated by using the SchoolOnline platform.