Essential Solutions 2-MIN. READ

How to Identify and Build Student Engagement

By: Julianne Scherker 05/23/2023
Here are some tips to determine if your students are engaged and how to keep them engaged.
A group of elementary school students pay attention to a lesson.

We know how important it is to keep students engaged. It’s the gold standard for teaching—when students are curious, on the edge of their seats, and motivated to learn. But what does it look like when students are actually engaged? 

There’s a difference between students who come to class, pay attention, and do their work and students who are truly engaged. How can you tell? Here are three signs that your students are invested in learning.

1. Students Who Are Self-Motivated

When your students begin to take responsibility for driving their own learning goals, you can be confident that your curriculum has sunk in and that they’re truly engaged. To increase self-motivation, encourage your students to critique and evaluate their own progress and academic milestones.

Take time with each of your students at the beginning of the year, or before starting a new unit, to collectively discuss what you think they should achieve. Have them lay out what they would like to learn, what success looks like for them, and how they intend to get there. Ideally, this will encourage them to take a heightened degree of personal accountability in their learning goals. 

2. Students Who Make Connections beyond the Curriculum

It can be hard to tell whether students are simply well-behaved or if they are truly engaged in your lessons. Some students will follow the rules and keep their eyes on the front of the class with the appropriate text on their desks, but students who are wholeheartedly engaged will go a step further. When you notice your students relating to what they’re reading or working on in their own lives and experiences, you can be confident they’re fully invested in the lesson at hand. 

Encourage meaningful engagement by using what you know about your students and what matters to them and connecting it to real-world applications so your students can put them to practical use. Examples bring concepts to life and help make lessons more memorable and relevant. 

3. Students Who Embrace Productive Struggle

One of the most meaningful hallmarks of true engagement are students who view themselves as learners and have a growth mindset. They know that making mistakes is a part of the learning process and they are willing to try again and again. Students focus more on the process of learning than the solution and they are eager to persevere through challenges. When your students overcome obstacles, they gain a heightened sense of confidence.  

Fostering a growth mindset in your students by supporting them through productive struggle and reminding them how much you believe in them will help them engage more meaningfully with all their coursework. 

How Can You Keep Your Students Engaged?

Research has shown that one of the best engagement strategies is to build positive teacher–student relationships. Any material can spark interest if presented by a teacher who involves the class in the content by making relevant connections. 

Here are two ways to build a supportive community with your students: 

1. Identify Inspirational Role Models

Think of teachers you’ve had in the past who inspired you as a student. What about their behavior and teaching style was especially engaging? 

Educator role models can help you identify which attributes make a great teacher. As you teach and interact with your students, try to emulate the inspiring teachers from your past, while staying true to yourself. 

Or, read biographies and autobiographies of people inside and outside the profession who you aspire to be like. This will give you an idea of the positive leadership qualities that are essential to the teaching profession. 

2. Get to Know Your Students as Individuals

We know students bring their unique identities and backgrounds into the classroom. In order to honor their individuality, get to know them, their families, and their communities. Reach out to each student individually with a survey. Ask them about their interests, activities, strengths, areas for growth, siblings, pets, challenges, or worries. This way, you’re not starting from scratch. Also, consider hosting a family night to build relationships and learn more about your students.

Engaged students who feel supported and valued are happier, more collaborative, and ultimately, more successful. By implementing a few of these tips, you too can improve student engagement in your classroom. 

For more on engaging students, listen to this Extraordinary Educators Podcast.