What exactly is ‘engagement’?

One of my daughters has just finished her undergraduate degree and I thought it would be a good time to reflect on her high school experience.  Had it served her well?  In hindsight what was valuable; what wasn’t?

Her most valuable learning took place with Dr Turner.  What was it about that chemistry class?  “It was hard.  Dr Turner would only give you some information and you had to figure the rest out.  And you know how with other teachers, if you study and memorize for a test you’ll do ok?   Dr Turner didn’t do that.  You had to show that you understood.  You had to figure things out.  You had to explain things. Her class was so much work.  I can’t say it was ‘enjoyable’, but when I got to university,  I was so well-prepared. It was the best class I ever took.”

Another class that had seemed ‘fun’ at the time, with a different instructor, provided no long-term learning benefit.  It was viewed as ‘fluff’.

This brings to mind something Michael Fullan  said the last time I heard him speak:  when we talk of ‘engagement’, we’re talking about intellectual engagement.   Students may or may not be having fun.  Be careful not to confuse the two.

This brings to mind a recent discussion I had with a physics professor.  He was describing some of his undergraduate students who may have gotten by with superficial understanding in the past and are now realizing this is no longer possible.  As this professor said,at a  certain point you have to turn off the devices, focus and put the hours in needed to deeply understand the subject.  It’s the only way – and no one else can do that thinking for you.   A personal decision to become ‘engaged’ needs to be made.





  1. Pingback: This Week in Ontario Edublogs | doug --- off the record

  2. Good afternoon Heidi,

    I heard John Almarode speak of engagement in three zones: Emotional, Behavioural, and Cognitive [intellectual] and I have had some success in the class keying into student motivation by tracking these flighty modes. His book Captivate, Activate and Invigorate the Student Brain is a solid exploration of his observations.

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