Understanding Student Engagement

Simply put, student engagement can best be understood as a relationship. The relationship between:
  • the student and the school community;
  • the student and school adults; 
  • the student and peers; 
  • the student and instruction; and
  • the student and curriculum (Yazzie-Mint, 2009)
 Researchers have noted that there are four key indicators or contributing factors to student engagement. These include academic, behavioural, cognitive, and affective engagement (Furlong Christenson, 2008; Yazzie-Mint, 2009).

While standardized test results are considered the primary indicator of academic achievement, they do not reveal what is required to achieve academic success. Academic engagement captures what is often required for students to be academically successful. This is reflected in the amount of time a student spends actually doing schoolwork or related projects in school or at home, the number of credits the student has accrued, and the amount of homework completed (Furlong & Christenson, 2008).

More important that just the time students spend at school, behavioural engagement captures not only student attendance, but also active participation in classes and involvement in extracurricular activities (Furlong & Christenson, 2008). Going to school, completing their homework and participating in class, are just two parts of the engagement puzzle. To be considered cognitively engaged students need to perceive the relevance of school to their future aspirations. Thus, cognitive engagement is expressed as academic relevance, an interest in learning, goal setting, and the self-regulation of performance (Furlong & Christenson, 2008).

An over emphasis on standardized test results has created an environment where many educators are often fixated on direct instruction and a narrow band of academic indicators and have forgotten about the importance of relationships. Both the academic and social aspects of school life are integral for student success. Consequently, student to student, student to teacher, and student to school community relationships are vital components of student engagement. This is especially true for those students who are vulnerable to educational failure, show signs of withdrawal from learning or experiences motivational difficulties (Furlong & Christenson, 2008). Thus, affective engagement refers to a sense of belonging and connection to and support by parents, teachers, and peers (Furlong & Christenson, 2008).

While the education community works hard to provide a positive education experience for all young people, the number of students that frequently skip class or school, and eventually drop out, highlight the reality that many students are not readily engaged at school. The three most-cited reasons — given by students who have considered dropping out — are all focused on school-related factors:
  •  “I didn’t like the school” (50%), 
  •  “I didn’t see the value in the work I was being asked to do” (42%), 
  •  “I didn’t like the teachers” (39%). 
  •  While 35% of respondents considered dropping out because of the difficulty of the work, 13% considered dropping out because “The work was too easy (Yazzie-Mint, 2009; p.7).
Understanding how academic, behavioural, cognitive, and affective engagement affect how students perceive their educational experience is key to assessing the level of student engagement within individual schools and creating a plan to address engagement shortcomings. 

Furlong, M. & Christenson, S. L. (2008).  Educating students at schools with learning: A relevant construct for all student. Psychology in the Schools, Vol. 45(5).
Yazzie-Mint, E. (2009). Charting the Path from Engagement to Achievement: A Report on the 2009 High School Survey of Student Engagement. Bloomington, IN: Center for Evaluation & Education Policy Indiana. Retrieved from http://www.indiana.edu/~ceep/hssse/images/HSSSE_2010_Report.pdf

Photo by breity

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