The data we have about trends in student engagement are worrisome. A 2015 Gallup poll of more than 800,000 students nationwide in grades 5 through 12 found that, while 50% of all the students polled reported feeling engaged at school, fully 29% of students overall reported not feeling engaged, and an alarming 21% reported feeling actively disengaged at school.
Engagement decreases steadily from fifth grade through middle school and high school. The lowest point occurs in the junior year of high school. In fifth grade, three-quarters of students feel involved in and enthusiastic about school, but by 11th grade, the same is true for only about one-third of students.
Attention varies within an individual, across the day and over time
Phillip Schlecty’s theory on engagement dictates that even highly engaged classrooms will have students who are not committed and whose attention is diverted. His model reveals a continuum of engagement, going from Rebellion (low committment-diverted attention) to Engaged (high commitment-high attention). In between we have Retreatism, Compliance and Strategic Compliance with varying levels of commitment and attention. Many of our most academically successful students do what they need to earn the grade but do not see the value and do not retain what they learned. These Strategically Compliant students associate value with the other extrinsic things (parental approval or grade) but are not learning at high levels. They are not truly engaged.
What can we do?
For answers, we can look at the student, parents and/or community. We can look at the whole school. Research, however, suggests that the most powerful influence on outcomes that educators can impact relies on the classroom teacher and the culture that is created within.
The classroom teacher is among the most powerful influences in learning. – John Hattie