Student Engagement

My work on this paper began over 10 years ago with my research on the AHA! experience and the profound effects that these experiences have on students’ beliefs and self-efficacy about mathematics (Liljedahl, 2005). That research showed that even one AHA! experience, on the heels of extended efforts at solving a problem or trying to learn some mathematics, was able to transform the way a student felt about mathematics as well as his or her ability to do mathematics.

-Peter Liljedahl, Building Thinking Classrooms: Conditions for Problem Solving

A convergent observation across psych applications is that behavior change->belief change is easier to accomplish than belief change->behavior change.

-Brian Nosek on Twitter, references here

I often feel confused by student engagement. What does it look like? What creates it? What sustains it? How can I better understand the subtleties of how it plays out in different classroom situations? Engagement feels like a black box. Some inputs go in, engagement may or may not come out, and I don’t have a great understanding of what happens inside the box.

Despite that pessimism, here are two things I think I understand:

  1. Convincing students to be more engaged is really hard
  2. Facilitating situations where students feel successful helps improve that student’s engagement in the future

Students often come to class with deeply ingrained beliefs about who they are and what they are capable of. Convincing them they can reason mathematically is an uphill battle because it goes against the weight of their experience — by the time I teach them, over a decade of it — in math classrooms. If instead I can provide new experiences where students feel successful, where they feel their voice and their ideas are valued, where they have those AHA! moments, I can create a new foundation to build off of and positive momentum for the future.

Where I get confused again is how to facilitate those experiences for every student in class, and to sustain those experiences over time, while meeting the demands of the curriculum. I have some strategies, but when I look honestly at my students and their growth over time it feels like I make progress far more unpredictably than I would like.

2 thoughts on “Student Engagement

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