The bored Awakens

Do your students always seem to be gazing into the solar system? For learning to be at its best, students must be engaged 100% of the time.


Photo Source: Wikipedia

Are your students busy or engaged? Remember, whoever is doing the most work is doing the most learning. Get your students engaged. Student engagement is defined as “students’ cognitive investment in, active participation in, and emotional commitment to their learning” (Zepke & Leach, 2010, pg. 168).

According to Marzano and Pickering, (2011), student engagement encompasses the following four areas:

  • Emotions: “How do I feel about this assignment?”
  • Interest: “Does this assignment capture my interest?”
  • Perceived Importance: “Will I really need to know this?”
  • Perceptions of efficacy: “Can I do this?”

Students must answer “yes” to these four questions for them to want to be involved in the learning activity. The better a teacher knows his students, the better she/he can design an assignment that meets the needs of these four criteria.

Schlecty (1994) gave three characteristics of engaged students. Teachers need to observe their classrooms for students who

  • are attracted to their work.
  • persist in their work despite challenges.
  • take visible delight in their work.

Children almost always portray these characteristics when playing video games, playing with Legos, or playing sports. The same needs to be true regarding academics. How much engagement occurs by watching, listening, note taking, copying, highlighting, discussing, dissecting, or building? Choose activities that are engaging! “High levels of active engagement during lessons are associated with higher levels of achievement and student motivation (Ryan & Deci, 2000)”.

There are four essential goals for engaged children:

  • Success (the need for mastery)
  • Curiosity (the need for understanding)
  • Originality (the need for self-expression)
  • Relationships (the need for involvement with others) (Strong, Silver & Robinson, 1995)

Engaged students will experience these goals within the classroom on a daily basis. Teachers need to think of creative ways to keep learners engaged by tuning in to their interest.

“Psychologically, engaged learners are intrinsically motivated by curiosity, interest, and enjoyment, and are likely to want to achieve their own intellectual or personal goals. The engaged child demonstrates the behaviors of concentration, investment, enthusiasm, and effort. Because children with low levels of engagement are at risk for disruptive behavior, absenteeism, and eventually dropping out of school, the need to increase engagement is critical to children’s success in school.” (Jablon & Wilkinson, 2006)

Real learning is not a spectator sport! Create a climate of engagement that draws student attention and promotes learning.


Jablon, S. & Wilkinson, M. (2006, March). Using Engagement Strategies to Facilitate Children’s Learning & Success. Young children on the Web.

Marzano, R. & Pickering, D. (2011). The Highly Engaged Classroom. Marzano Research.

Ryan, R. & Deci, E. (2000). Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivations: Classic Definitions and New Directions. Contemporary Educational Psychology 25, 54–67

Schlecty, P. (1994). Schlecty Center on Engagement.

Strong, R., Silver, H., & Robinson, A. (1995). Strengthening Student Engagement: What Do Students Want (and what really motivates them)? Educational Leadership, 53, 1,  8-12

Zepke, N. & Leach, L. (2010), Improving student engagement: Ten proposals for action. Active Learning in Higher Education. 11(3):167-177

Dr. Cathy Dotson serves as the Elementary Principal of Wilmington Christian Academy in Wilmington, NC. Her 21 years in Christian education and expertise in early childhood and elementary learning ideally equip her to share with FOCUS readers.

Please note: we reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Dan

    What a great article. Student investment and engagement one of the most important elements in our classrooms. but it is often not even considered in lesson preparation.

    I love the Marzano-Pickering challenge. Here are some thoughts that occurred to me as I was reading:

    Emotions: How a student feels about a lesson is often related to how the student feels about the teacher. Maintain professional mood-free relationships with students to help prevent emotion from clouding your lesson.
    Interest: My students seem to be most interested in the lessons that interest me. I can certainly demonstrate energy and excitement about a lesson; in most (not all) cases, the students will follow my lead.
    Perceived Importance: This is the age-old question, isn’t it? We had better be able to answer this question in a cogent manner! If we can’t, why are we including the assignment?
    Perceptions of efficacy: Provide practice opportunities in class to model success. Keep projects from students who have completed the job and display them! Don’t allow students to assume failure. Require them to assume success.

    I loved this article! Thank you, Dr. Dotson!

  • Edward Earwood

    Dan, I am preparing a series of lessons to be taught at our church and found the article to be apt for what I am doing. In fact, part of the focus of the lessons will be on how the mind, will, and emotions affect our lives and what we see as important. I agree, great article!

    Your comment about “perceived importance” resonates loud and clear. I have been thinking about it relative to the things that we as Christians perceive to be important in our relationship with God.

    Good thoughts!