student engagement

3 critical things to know about boosting student engagement

In order to have maximum student engagement across all groups, it's necessary for schools to understand a few key concepts

Engaging high school students in learning and breaking away from the typical boredom that seems to plague so many students is a challenge–one that could be addressed differently depending on a student’s dominant mode of engagement.

To figure out the best ways to engage different groups of students, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute worked with a research team headed by Crux Research president and founder John Geraci. The result is What Teens Want From Their Schools: A National Survey of High School Student Engagement. The research team surveyed a nationally representative sample of 2,000 students in grades 10-12 to gather information for the report.

Research efforts explored topics such as participants’ backgrounds and characteristics, school and classroom experiences, and overall educational preferences. Students were placed into their groups according to the factor on which they scored highest.

The research identifies six different subgroups of students, and each group has a different engagement profile.

(Next page: Six student groups and key ways to engage them)

Subject lovers (19 percent) enjoy school and feel engaged when they believe they are learning useful information. They’re motivated by learning new and challenging things.

Emotionals (18 percent) convey many positive emotions in the classroom, and while they’re not top academic performers, they often report not wanting to stop working at the end of class. They have a need for connection at the school level.

Hand raisers (18 percent) apply themselves in class, but are often not interested in other things their school as to offer them and don’t typically spend much time on homework or extracurriculars, despite performing fairly well academically.

Social butterflies (16 percent) are much likelier than their peers to say they feel like they belong at school, and enjoy social aspects of school while typically being average academic performers.

Teacher responders (15 percent) value close relationships with teachers and other adults in school, and they thrive when they feel adults are invested in them academically and personally.

Deep thinkers (15 percent) listen carefully and like to figure things out on their own. They perform well academically, but not as well as might be expected from a group that is intrinsically motivated.

So, what does the research mean for teaching and learning in U.S. high schools? The report offers three major lessons:

1. Most U.S. high school students said they’re trying hard, and they want to do their best in school. Because of this effort, teachers should support and maximize students’ desire to think and reason autonomously, according to the report.

2. Distinct groups of students are primarily engaged in school through different levers. Tailoring schooling and instruction to students’ needs and preferences can result in greater engagement and, ultimately, achievement gains.

3. Engagement and choice go together. In order to address the needs of students who are engaged in different ways, schools should offer choices at multiple levels.

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Laura Ascione
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