Student Engagement

As part of the TDE law, Districts are asked to gather data related to student engagement. To that end, staff have been receiving bi-weekly emails explaining strategies to increase student engagement. Those strategies are curated below.

Motivating and Inspiring Students

Mindfulness Practice
Mindfulness is a practice of consciously being aware of thoughts, feelings, and surroundings.  To help students be grounded in mindfulness, the teacher can ask students, as the learning experience begins, to write down their intention for the class or lesson.  The teacher may then occasionally asks students to recall their intention.  The teacher may also invite students in deep breathing, quick guided meditation, or other practices to help them refocus their thoughts where appropriate.

Noticing and Reacting When Students Are Not Engaged 

Re-engaging Individual Students
In this strategy, once an educator identifies a student who is not engaged or reacting to the content, the educator takes action to re-engage that specific student. The goal of this strategy is to take action for that one student while continuing the engagement of others in class.  Think to yourself, how do you set up classroom rituals and routines?  And how do you support those with verbal or non-verbal reinforcements or redirections?  Often the “teacher look” or a quick hand signal may be all that a student needs to re-engage.

Here’s a quick article sharing some research about positive redirection. 

Boost Overall Energy Levels:
If an educator notices that the energy level of the class as a whole is low, he or she can pause content instruction and invite students to participate in a quick activity to invite an increase in energy levels.  Here are some resources:

"20 three minute Brain Breaks" and "High School and College Brain Breaks", and "Roll Some Brain Breaks".  Consider how you might change the topics on the dice roll activity!

Monitoring Overall Class Engagement:
This strategy asks the teacher to be in tune with the class as a whole rather than with individual students.  How engaged is the class?  We must first consider what is engagement and it really depends on the lesson.  We’re looking for more than compliance and managing academic tasks (alert, tracking conversations, taking notes, responding to questions and following directed requests).  In some lessons, engagement can be seen in reading critically, in others, students are collaboratively problem-solving and in still others, they are engaged in full body listening.  As you’re planning an upcoming lesson, ask yourself, “What will I be able to observe from students to assure me that they are engaged with the learning activity?”  Then, monitor the overall class engagement!

Monitoring Individual Student Engagement:
Consider first, what evidence will you observe when students are engaged in your lesson – it will likely look different depending on the design of your lesson and activities.  Engagement moves students past quiet compliance to interacting with and owning their learning.  What does engagement look like in your lesson today?  Then consider what evidence will you observe from students to confirm that they are engaged?  Finally, as the strategy suggests, monitor individual student engagement.

Using self-reported student engagement data:
When using this strategy, a teacher will periodically invite students to indicate their level of engagement. Here are some ideas: Ask students to give a thumbs up, thumbs to the side or thumbs down to their level of energy. Have students show you with their fingers (fist means I'm lost or I have no energy where 5 means I'm totally with you/ lots of energy.  Use color coded cards (green, yellow, red) to indicate readiness to learn. Use the 4 corners strategy (designate corners as a level of engagement and have students walk to a corner to indicate their level of engagement).

Using Physical Movement

Drama-Related Activities:
Teachers invite students to act out an event or concept they are studying in class.  This video shares both a "molecule dance" and "3 step interview" with historical figures and this article shares 6 additional ways to incorporate drama into the classroom.

Stand and be Counted:
In the variation that Marzano writes about, the teacher presents a self-assessment scale, give students a moment to think and then asks students to indicate their level of understanding on that scale.  For example, a teacher might offer a 1-4 scale where a 1 indicates “I didn’t understand any of the concepts presented in this lesson” and a 4 indicates, “I clearly understand all the concepts presented in this lesson” and asks students to share their self-assessment by standing when a particular number is called.  For some students, standing to share that they didn’t understand might bring a level of discomfort that diminishes the value of adding movement, so be mindful about your group of students.  Some alterations can ask students to share their self-assessment as related to the depth of their understanding of a learning target where 1 might mean,  “I need more support in order to demonstrate the evidence expected in the learning target/ essential question” and a 4 could mean, “I can offer support to my peers of the expectations articulated in the learning target/ essential question.”  Another alternative is to ask students how many more minutes they need for a discussion or task and stand for a few different choices.  There are many possible variations that ask students to “stand and be counted.”  

Corners Activity:
Split your class into 4 groups and have them rotate to each of the four corners of the classroom to examine four different questions related to key content.  The group chooses (or the teacher assigns) a recorder to stay in each corner to summarize students' comments about that corner's questions.  A variation of this activity is known as "World Cafe".  Here's a video that explains World Cafe and here's a link to a document that provides some quick helpful tips for a successful World Cafe.

Vote with your Feet:
The teacher posts signs in specific parts of the room identifying responses to a true-or-false or multiple-choice question or reactions to a question (incorrect, partially correct, or totally correct or agree, somewhat agree, disagree).  Students move to the location that has the sign with the answer their idea aligns with.
Professional development video where teachers are invited to “vote with their feet”

Sample lesson plan using “vote with your feet”

Stand Up and Stretch:
Invite students to stand up and stretch - particularly when there's a need to change focus or concentration level.
Video of movement in a high school English course
Learning in Motion article

Body Representations:
The teacher asks students to create a body representation in which they act out important content or critical aspects of a topic (for example, forming cause and effect chains, physically acting out key sequence elements or representing vocabulary terms with full body or hand gestures).
Video One  Video Two

Increasing Response Rates

Multiple types of questions:
You've likely heard many different ways to reference types of questions.  Marzano speaks to retrieval questions (students recognize, recall and execute knowledge that was directly taught), analytical questions (students take information apart and determine how the parts relate to the whole), predictive questions (students form conjectures and hypotheses about what will happen next in a narrative or sequence of information or actions), interpretive questions (students make and defend inferences about the intentions of an author) and evaluative questions (students use criteria to make judgments and assessments of something).  Do these categories sound familiar to Bloom's Taxonomy?  How about Inquiry (as part of WICOR in AVID?)  For those interested in digging deeper into the I of WICOR, check out this resource about Costa's levels of questioning.  It's important to have a balance of levels of questions and to be intentional about which questions you ask when and for what purpose.

Wait Time:
An important partner strategy when asking questions is wait time.  When we provide wait time (at least three seconds), we are inviting all of our learners to consider their response.  Often when we don’t provide wait time,  our quickest processors are the only ones who have an opportunity to share their understanding and, and unintended consequence is for those students who benefit from a bit more processing time opt out of the thinking altogether.  So, when posing a question, and even between student responses, invite all students to percolate by giving them wait time.

Pair Share/ Paired Response:
One of the easiest and most commonly used methods of increasing response rates is to do a quick pair share.  Pose a question to the class, invite students to lean in to someone near them to discuss the question and then follow up by either asking for pairs to share (paired response), asking for a few volunteers to share, or moving on to the next question because as students were talking, you moved around the room listening in to what students were saying.

Response Cards:
The teacher asks students to write their answers on boards and reveal the responses simultaneously.  As a teacher, you can see all responses and know who’s on track and if there’s a need for full group reteaching or if a small group revisit will suffice.  If you don’t have small white boards, any form of moveable surface will work – iPads, Chromebooks, even cardstock in sheet protectors works!  While this may not work for higher level thinking questions, it is a way to engage all of your learners in building the foundation leading to those kinds of questions.

Choral Response:
With choral response, you will present critical information in a clear and concise statement and ask the class to repeat the information as a group.  This typically works with short responses.  I’ve linked a quick one page article from this site for additional information if you’re interested.

Hand Signals:
When asking a question that has a limited number of responses, ask all students to respond non-verbally.  For example, students could show their level of understanding using a thumbs-up, thumbs-down or thumbs-sideways.  Another approach could be to evaluate their understanding using rubric language.  You could ask students to show 3 fingers if they meet a particular set of criteria, show 2 if they meet a subset of that criteria and one if they don’t meet any of the indicated criteria.  Here are two quick videos from the Teaching Channel that offer additional ways to use hand signals to increase student engagement.
Video 1  Video 2

One more way to consider using hand signals is to invite student to reflect on their engagement and share how they’re doing.  3 – fully engaged, 2 – my energy is dropping but I’m still with you, 1 – I need a break to refresh and re-engage.

Elaborative Interrogation:
1. Invite students to consider a question related to your content.
2. Invite a student to answer.
3. Follow up by asking, “How do you know that to be true?” or “Why is that so?” or “What evidence do you have to support your idea?”

If your goal is to have more students engaged in the discourse, it will be helpful for students to work in pairs or threes as you move from group to group using the elaborative interrogation process.

Calling on students randomly (without popsicle sticks):

1. Invite students to do a quick write asking about prior knowledge related to the day’s learning target.  This could be a question you pose as an anticipatory set at the beginning of the lesson or as a mid-point check in during class.
2. Collect all of the quick writes.
3. As you invite students to consider questions, randomly draw quick write(s) to choose students who will respond. Quick writes can be replaced with drawings, homework assignments, exit slips from the day before… there are lots of variations possible!

Response Chaining:

1. Begin by posing a question and then call on a student to answer. 
2. After answering the question, call on another student to tell if he/she thinks the answer is:   
Correct. If so, the student must tell why it is correct.
Partially correct. If so, the student must tell which part is correct and what content  needs to be added to make the answer correct . 
Incorrect. If so, the student must give the correct answer. 
3. If the second student corrected the answer of the first student, call on a third student to comment on the answer given by the second student. For more information on response chaining, visit this site: