Learner engagement

Image source: https://www.goguardian.com/state-of-engagement

When my students know that I care about them as a person, far beyond what score they get on a reading test, they see themselves through my eyes and my eyes see endless possibilities.

Middle School Teacher, US – quoted in GoGuardian Report

Learner engagement is one of the ten areas of teacher practice that are the focus of a recent paper I published titled Codifying Teacher Practice. In that paper I write, “All students need to be engaged in learning—not just the interested students, not just the ones who are obedient. In our familiar in-person settings we are apt to confuse engagement with attendance – the very act of being present. But in remote settings this becomes a bigger challenge.”

A recent report from GoGuardian supports this view, providing strong evidence for developing practices that improve learner engagement.

The report is based on a survey of of more than 2,000 educators from across the US, and identifies instructional practices that enable student engagement, no matter the learning environment.

Not surprisingly, a key finding is that the foundation for effective learning experiences is a strong and meaningful relationship with their students. Once that relationship is formed, engagement becomes much more achievable.

The report identifies six teacher practices that impact on learner agency:

  1. Forming Teacher-Student Relationships:
    Forming teacher-student relationships was highlighted as the top instructional practice for driving engagement across teachers of all grade levels and subjects, with a third of all teachers identifying it as the single most-effective practice.
  2. Communicating Clear Expectations
    When students understand what they need to do and aren’t afraid of forgetting directions, they are more likely to take risks in their explorations, which can lead to tremendous growth.
  3. Linking New Information to Prior Knowledge
    When a student can see new learning as an extension of something they already know, they feel empowered and motivated in their learning.
  4. Making Course Content Relevant to Students
    Making course content relevant to students shifts the focus to the student and what energises them to learn, rather than simply relaying information from a textbook.
  5. Practicing Hands-On Learning
    By giving students the opportunity to apply their knowledge in a tangible manner, practicing hands-on learning can provide a deeper learning experience.
  6. Facilitating Student Participation
    Be it verbal, written, or through another method, teachers emphasise that this instructional practice first and foremost requires intentionality, ensuring that students understand that their participation is both desired and important to the topic at hand.

The report also identifies five key impacts of these practices on learner engagement:

  • Creativity & Self-Expression
  • Academic Engagement
  • Curiosity & Lifelong Learning
  • Critical Thinking
  • Social-Emotional Well-Being
  • Conceptual Understanding

Given how important these learner qualities are as an outcome of our education system, and in terms of preparing young people for their future, giving emphasis to the teacher practices as outlined above becomes very important.

The role of teachers in all of this is critical. In their blog post the importance of trust in nurturing student engagement online, Rebecca Bennett, Cathy Stone & Ameena L. Payne argue that while teaching is inherently relational, models of “good teaching” must include trust to acknowledge that learning is not simply a cognitive process, it also has affective elements. While their work draws from research at a tertiary level, the findings are equally as applicable in the compulsory sector. They say;

The importance of nurturing trusting relationships between students and teachers is even more important online, as the teacher-student relationship often becomes a proxy for the social, pastoral and cultural support that campus-based students access outside of class. Online students do not usually ‘hang out’ on institutional websites; thus, their online subjects and teachers are their primary experience of ‘university’ itself.

Plenty here to think about when it comes to being more intentional about improving learner agency – particularly in a hybrid environment where the ‘normal’ ways of providing support and building relationships aren’t there.

Leave a Reply