Is student engagement enough?

Often as we talk about using technology in the classroom, the discussion comes up about student engagement. The argument is that students are more engaged when they’re using technology. As teachers, we want our students to get excited about learning, and nothing is more disheartening than to see a student that does not want to be at school and does not enjoy learning. Will using technology, increase engagement? Maybe. (This could almost be a topic for another post.) But is engagement enough? In my opinion, no.

Just last weekend, I read and commented (numerous times) on this fantastic post by Jared Bennett (@mrjarbenne) about Minecraft in Education. For the first time ever, I started using Minecraft in the classroom this year. I’ve used it for very specific purposes, be it demonstrating knowledge of surface area and volume, applying what students have learned through research in different subject areas, or creating various media texts. I don’t do gaming, so this has been a huge learning curve for me, but I teach some reluctant readers and writers, and they love Minecraft. This game inspires them. It’s engaging. So I stepped outside of my comfort zone and learned how I could use Minecraft in the classroom. That being said, I don’t just use Minecraft because it’s engaging. It helps me teach specific skills and concepts that are outlined in the curriculum documents. If Minecraft works with the expectations, some students use it, and if it doesn’t work, they don’t.

Technology is not the only way to help engage students. This week, the Grade 6’s started working on a Math Community Project that has them creating a three-dimensional community on a two-dimensional grid. Some students are creating their communities on devices, some are using boxes and paint, and others are using plasticine. Some students are combining many different tools. All of the students are engaged in the project, but just as importantly, all of the students are learning. The recent posts on our Daily Shoot blog are great proof of this!

So while I want my students to be engaged, I will never just make my classroom program about the engagement. My thought is that if students are collaborating, conversing, problem solving, and “playing,” they will be engaged, but they will also be learning. What do you think? How do you balance engagement and learning?


6 thoughts on “Is student engagement enough?

  1. Hi Aviva,
    This comment is actually in response to one of your tweets. It is a sample of how I comment on five strands of math in 15 lines! Hope it is helpful. If you have any suggestions for me on how I can improve, I ALWAYS welcome new ideas. I spend SO much time writing comments and am never truly happy with them.

    “*N* has become more successful at using the 4-step problem solving model to solve problems. She still requires some assistance to understand the problem, however, she is able to choose and apply appropriate problem-solving strategies, and to check if her solution makes sense. She is reminded to use illustrations and visualization strategies to help her understand what the problem is asking. *N* demonstrates considerable understanding of relationships involving percent, ratio and unit rate. She determines the relationships among units and measurable attributes, including the area of a parallelogram, the area of a triangle, and the volume of a triangular prism with a considerable degree of accuracy. *N* is able to plot points in the first quadrant of a coordinate grid with considerable skill, and can perform and describe rotations with the centre of rotation inside or outside the shape. She describes relationships in simple algebraic expressions and equations using variables with a high degree of clarity. *N* understands the relationship between theoretical and experimental probability, and should consider using her knowledge of equivalent fractions to determine the theoretical probability of a favourable outcome given a specific number of trials.”

    • Thanks for sharing your report card comment, Lorraine! I actually ended up doing something similar when writing mine. The one thing that I worked particularly hard on this year was personalizing the comments. I used a general suggestion that the principal offered the staff, and I spoke about an activity that illustrated this skill (e.g., After making his box for our Teapot Project, he independently measured each side, and used the measurements to accurately calculate the surface area and volume of the box). I really like the way that these more personalized comments sound.

      Thanks for starting this discussion!

  2. Okay, now this comment is on your post. I LOVE it and agree wholeheartedly. Engagement should be the by-product, not the focus. The focus should be on learning. The focus should be on getting to know our students as individuals, finding out what interests them, what they relate to, what they know and can do, and then using that knowledge to support their learning. The result: engagement! So if you have students who love Minecraft, and you can use it to teach the curriculum, do it. That simple! (I had no idea I could use Minecraft in the ways you suggest by the way. I know what I will be learning over the summer! So thanks for the great ideas!)

    • Thanks Lorraine! I’m glad you enjoyed the Minecraft example as well. Good luck playing with Minecraft over the summer. If you have any questions, just let me know.


  3. Hi Aviva,

    Engagement is one of those words that educators love to haggle over. In my high school the word has been bandied about so often in connection with student attendance, it has become a dirty word. I think that there are those educators who equate engagement with entertainment, and those who define engagement with institutional engagement (being on time, no skipping, homework completion). I have been and continue to be compelled by the work of the Canadian Education Association’s What did you do in school today? initiative. Since 2007, the CEA has worked with grade 5 to 12 students to gather data around three areas of engagement: social, institutional, and intellectual.

    Intellectual Engagement (a mix of rigor, relevance, interest and motivation, and effort) has been at the centre of the work that I do with teachers, which has led us to student inquiry as a way of getting to the kind of thinking that is critical and complex. I can’t say that we have arrived, but what I can say is that we now have a better understanding of what intellectual engagement looks like: thoughtful questioning, deep connections with the material, and student persistence. And a better idea of what it takes to get there. Like your Minecraft example, getting to intellectual engagement is about finding that balance of rigor, relevance, interest, and motivation with instructional challenge and meeting the expectations.

    This is the art part of the art and science of teaching, isn’t it?

    As always, thanks for getting me thinking about the work we do,

    • Julie, thanks for sharing your thoughts on this post! I love your definition of engagement, and particularly your focus on intellectual engagement. I think that your comment could be used as a great discussion point for how can we get our students to think more deeply and engage more actively in what they’re learning.

      You have me thinking about this more …

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