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Saturday, November 12, 2011

Student Engagement

A student teachers reflection:

So far in my placement I have had to deal with a few challenges. One challenge would be the attitude of the students towards the class I teach. As I have stated in previous reflections, the period I teach is a tier 3 RtII class referred to as intervention. Every student in the school has an intervention period after their lunch. Some students go to social studies or science intervention as enrichment. Other students go to a regular math or reading class for their intervention to touch base on content that will be on the standardized tests. Other students, like mine, go to a math or reading intervention to review previous topics they have learned and need some extra practice and instruction in.
The students in my class often view this class as a free period or waste of time. Many joke around the entire period and do not take the content seriously. I know they do not act this way in their other math class because I see many of them throughout the day in my co-teaching periods.
So what would be the reasoning for their poor attitudes towards the class? The students in the intervention do not receive a grade in the class. The data is used for the students who have IEPs, but not all students have one. The students have been made aware that they do not receive a grade which may result in a poor attitude and an attitude of not caring. Another reason may be that many of the students are succeeding in this intervention period and will most likely be in the tier 2 group next marking period. The students who are succeeding often have mastered the content they are receiving remediation in and finish their work prior to other students who may really need the remediation. This is the time when the joking around and the talking begins to happen which distracts the other students who are working and trying to learn.
I need to really sit down and evaluate the students’ attitudes towards the class and try to come up with some solutions to try to guide the students to take this class more seriously and realize it really is important.

One Response:

You posit a fundamental teaching / learning question. Reading your reflection makes me realize that whereas you have all the components of potential learning environment, actual learning still eludes the students. Which, said another way, actual teaching still eludes the teacher. Your third paragraph that begins with the question, “so what would be the reasoning for their poor attitudes towards the grades?”, contains the answers to your question.

The students “view this class as a free period or waste of time” and you are looking for the cause of “the reasoning for their poor attitudes towards this class”. My first response is to look at the problem as the reason. The class is a free period as defined by institutional expectations. Think of school as a culture. The culture is that nothing worthwhile or important is ungraded. There are examples of ungraded activities that have intense student interest and commitment.

Sports, for example, are self selected and chosen by the student. They opt in and out based on individual control and autonomy (choice). The consequences of being in or being out are a complex set of social, cultural, and psychological factors ranging from achievement to belonging.

“…how fully they are psychologically present during particular moments of role performances. People can use varying degrees of their selves, physically, cognitively, and emotionally, in the roles they perform, even as they maintain the integrity of the boundaries between who they are and the roles they occupy. Presumably, the more people draw on their selves to perform their roles within those boundaries, the more stirring their performances and the more content they are with the fit of the costumes they don.” (Kahn 1990, pg 692)

When Kahn says “the more stirring their performance” he is referring to what we measure in education as behavioral compliance, grades and test scores. What we do not measure and is the key to engagement (and therefore learning) is what Kahn refers to as a person being “content”.

Sports represents only one category of a plethora of options that is part of the genre personal engagement. Authentic, student driven personal engagement causes the student to be content in their role and thus perform at high levels. The key to this performance and contentment are the processes of internalization. In this scenario one can compare your students performance and behavior with the same students performance and behavior in the graded courses. It is likely that the main differences would center on observable attending behavior and earned grades. These measurements originate from the theories of Behaviorism and interpret knowledge as a repertoire of observable behaviors (Theories of learning, UC Berkeley). Although the behavior (observable attending) is different there cannot be an assumption of a difference in learning. Students have been taught to appear to be attending while not actually doing so.

Recent research on the Engaged Learner Index (Schreiner, 2008) measures and influences environments as it relates to students performance in critical thinking skills, interaction and satisfaction. The major premise of Schreiners (2008) theory is that people are more likely to be authentically motivated when an activity or task meets three of their most basic human needs: their needs for competence, autonomy, and relatedness. Students’ need for relatedness can be supported by learning environments that foster a sense of community (Schreiner, 2008). A sense of community is comprised of four key elements: (1) membership, or a sense of belonging; (2) ownership, or a sense of voice and contribution; (3) relationship, or emotional connections with others in the community; and (4) partnership, or an interdependence in working toward mutual goals (Schreiner, 1998). Note that grade acquisition is absent from the basic human needs and are not listed as indicators of learning.

In short the students will take the class more seriously when the class is more serious. No amount of manipulating will convince them that time spent on tasks they either know or have no reason to know is anything but a waste of time. Perhaps the students are performing a coherent analysis of the class period and have created a dramatic representation of the analysis in lieu of a written report. A joke for a joke may be an appropriate title.

I offer this reflective response with respect for the teacher and a deep understanding for the forces operating in educational structures.


Kahn, William (1990) Psychological Conditions of Personal Engagement and Disengagement at Work(pp. 692-724) Stable URL:  The Academy of Management Journal >
 Vol. 33, No. 4, Dec., 1990

Newmann, F. (1992) Student Engagement and Achievement in American Secondary Schools. Teachers College Press. pp. 2–3.

Schreiner, L., & Louis, M. (2008, November). The Engaged Learning Index: Implications for faculty development. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Association for the
Study of Higher Education, Jacksonville, FL.

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