Engagement – more than just compliance 

I am a born worrier. Sometimes things get under my skin or in my head and then just sit there, lurking, occasionally giving me a kick at 3am. Recently the following exchange with David Didau (@LearningSpy) did just that.


I was commenting on a blog post he had written about learning observation forms and the need to get away from those terrible old tick box checklists that attempt to give a criteria for lessons against a mythical OFSTED standard – you can read his post here. I was proudly making the point that our school had done just that. We simply note down comments on what we see to discuss with the teacher afterwards and also comment on the four pillars that we focus on for excellent teaching; Challenge, Feedback, Engagement and Independence.  Then he dropped a bombshell and walked away – get rid of engagement and independence. Oh my.

This probably shouldn’t be a surprise given how those two terms have been used and abused over the years but I think it is time to rehabilitate them and bring them back in from the cold. I have already written about how I think people might be getting independence wrong by thinking it should be about pupils magically teaching themselves whilst we “guide at the side” and I think a similar mistake is made about engagement.

When I look at Engagement in a lesson I am not looking at whether pupils enjoy their lessons (although that is always nice) or whether they are on task (you can’t see learning – they might be thinking about the subject they might be daydreaming – I can’t see inside their heads) and certainly not if they are just being “busy” but whether they are taking an interest in their own learning.

My year 11 class last year were very engaged. They would seek  me out to tell me about things they had seen in the news that related to their work. They would print off past papers from the exam board website, attempt to mark them with the mark scheme they had found and then bring it to me to check. They would ask for support if needed rather than turn up a week before the exam and ask when the revision lessons would be. (Never. Do they work all year and you don’t need it.)

I think there is still too much talk about “engagement” being about a hook, or about being a fun starter or a strategy. To me though it is something much more fundamental. It is about moving pupils from being simply compliant into people who give a damn. That surely can’t be a bad thing?

On a related note David Didau and Nick Rose have a new book out, “What Every Teacher Needs To Know About Psychology” and it is a wonderful look at how to apply cognitive science in the classroom. I really recommend getting it at once.

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