Sunday, April 15, 2012

Engaging Students

Annotated by Bobby Shaddox

Price, D. (2010). Engaging students. UnBoxed: A Journal Of Adult Learning In Schools, Retrieved from

Summary of Article

The U.K.’s Learning Futures program has worked throughout English schools to reform and restructure through “a more hands-on, community-involved approach.” David Price, head of the organization, writes about the implications of engagement on student achievement. He cites the current “tough accountability framework” has caused a wave of student disengagement. He states that getting students enthused and engaged about learning is “far too central to be ignores in (the) assessment of teaching, learning and schools.” (Price, 2010)

The article defines engagement (how it is identified popularly in schools), creates a new framework for engagement (based on Learning Future’s findings) and ultimately discusses the conditions that support new notions of engagement.

What is Engagement?

Price outlines the widely accepted conceptual basis of engagement as a three-headed entity:


2) Emotional

3) Behavioral

However, he identifies a prevalent problem in public education wherein engagement is seen primarily as a tool to achieve compliance with students. This faux state of engagement involves behaviors like regular attendance, completing work on time, being “on task.”

What Should Engagement Be?

The author identifies what deep engagement looks like for learners (learner dispositions), then goes on to list the characteristics that are found in triggers for deep engagement. You could call these characteristics the 4 Ps. Price explains that learning should be Placed, Purposeful, Pervasive and Principled.

So How Does Engagement Look Under The Ideal Conditions?

Price outlines the “pedagogic conditions for engagement” like this:

1.Mutual respect between students and significant adult

2.Guided freedom – clear expectations with room for exploration

3.Inquiry that is scaffolded for students to learn from their mistakes

4.Teachers have a “flexible repertoire of classroom strategies and ‘ways of being’

Later, the article goes on to articulate and illustrate what deep engagement looks like. Price paints a picture of students getting so absorbed in their work that the learning doesn’t stop, but maintains a ‘flow’ beyond the classroom. Learners also remain persistent, despite challenges. They are able to contextualize their learning and make deep connections.

How Do You Assess For Engagement?

Price advocates challenging the conventional notions of assessment that “neither assess engagement nor engage students in the assessment process.” The list of proposed forms of asessement are:

1.Assessors come from the real-world (community & business)

2.Self and peer assessment

3.Exhibitions of learning for a public audience

Evaluation of Article

The article presents compelling ideas about re-framing how we identify, create and assess student engagement. I like how Price boils down the ideas into lists of characteristics and qualities. I found this useful for my action research. Price begins the article by establishing context for his research by relating it to Alfie Kohn’s ideas and another study by Sodha & Guglielmi. The article uses a variety of student quotes to illustrate the major points. The article fails to explain which schools were being used for the Learning Futures research, on which this article was based. It is unclear how much student, teacher and administrative input was utilized for developing the ideas in the article – and from who, when and where the data was collected. It reads a bit like a treatise or manifesto (although, one which I wholeheartedly agree with!). A link to a fuller account of Learning Futures findings is included at the end of the article. The article should be seen as an introduction to the more comprehensive writing found on their website.

Relevance To My Action Research

I’m currently trying to define engagement and identify effective ways to identify and assess it. This article serves as a great launching pad of ideas around this subject. It’s given me a starting point for fleshing out my understanding of engagement.

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