Student Engagement

I’ve been thinking a lot about student engagement this week. It’s so important on so many levels, and it is sometimes hard, even for the most passionate of teachers to remember just what that means.

Collage by Danielle O'Brien, art teacher
Collage by Danielle O’Brien, art teacher

Here’s the problem: So many of us who are art teachers are inherently and deeply engaged in art. We love it. It’s what we love to do, and if given the opportunity, we would gladly go into a studio and stay there for extended periods of time with no complaint… But that is not the case for all of our students.

If you are thinking, “Ok, but for some of them…” You’re right. SOME of our students share our internal motivation for art, but as teachers it is not our job to work with SOME of our students. It’s our job to ensure ALL of our students learn. To do this, we need to design each of our instructional activities with the purpose of actively engaging each of our students in their own learning.

Quality student engagement activities can provided active approaches to introducing a new topic or learning new content, they can activate higher order thinking, establish relevance by connecting the content of the lesson to students’ experience, and even be designed to ensure each student is ready to learn.

Well beyond the day’s learning activities, there are also a number of big-picture, long-term reasons for thinking about student engagement in your classroom.

  • Activities that involve each person in the room help ensure all students are more engaged in the learning throughout the lesson. Students who feel involved are more likely to enjoy the class, and more likely to learn.
  • Engaging activities help develop productive relationships among students. The relationships among members of a class can improve trust and develop a culture of collaboration which can enhance the creative process, support more productive critiques, and lead to deeper, more meaningful learning and artmaking.
  • Engagement is also a substantial factor in student enrollment. For secondary teachers who teach elective courses, this is a significant reality. Student engagement can translate into how many teachers a school will need next year. A lack of student engagement can mean fewer students, fewer classes, and the need for fewer teachers. For elementary teachers, this may not seem as urgent, but whether students feel engaged in their elementary art class will have a significant impact on whether they are likely to enroll in an art course in the future.
  • More immediate to teachers at all levels is this — engagement impacts student behavior. Designing quality, engaging lessons is your number one tool in good classroom management.

Take a good hard look at a lesson — maybe one you are going to teach soon — and really look to see what activities have been designed to engage all students… even the one’s who are not inherently passionate about artmaking.

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