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An on going, and increasingly difficult issue our schools and teachers are facing today is student engagement in the classroom. While it is widely accepted that student engagement is a critical element in academic achievement there remains too many students who are bored, uninvolved, and disconnected from daily classroom practices and lessons. Find out what we as parents and educators can do to help foster student engagement.

What is Classroom Engagement?

shutterstock_141409255Definitions of engagement vary across the research field and can often be inconsistent however most researchers do agree that engagement is a multidimensional construct. For our purposes, classroom engagement can be defined as the effective time within the classroom that a student is behaviorally, emotionally, and cognitively participating in learning-such as attending to the lesson, following routines, participating in discussion, questioning, answering, and taking notes.

An issue closely related to classroom engagement is motivation. See here for more information regarding student motivation.

Why is it important?

Classroom engagement is critical to student success. A meta-analysis from (Kumar, 1991) reported that overall student engagement in science classes to have a direct impact on achievement while other studies indicate that an engaged students demonstrate better concentration and better long-term academic and school outcomes.

Student engagement, like the closely related concept of student motivationis underlying characteristic needed in order for a child to achieve school success and will likely to play a role in most academic and/or behavior problems. Researchers have even gone as far to say that no parent, district, school, classroom, or teacher reform will be successful until we accept and resolve the “engagement problem” (Steingberg, Brown, & Dornbusch, 1997). It is therefore very important to consider the role of student engagement and/or motivation in any academic or behavior intervention plan.

What Factors Contribute to Non-Engagement?

Often times, we as educators or parents are responsible for creating an environment that contributes to non-engaged children. Before planning a child- or classroom-specific plan on how to increase engagement, check the environment to see if these factors may be contributing to non-engagement. It is often easier to reduce these existing negative factors than create new factors that will inspire engagement.

Factors that Contribute to Non-Engagement

Targeting Engagement in the Environment

Researchers agree that classroom engagement is a multidimensional concept, that involves, at the very least, academic, emotional/behavioral, and cognitive aspects. The multidimensional nature of engagement can make it a difficult attribute to alter in a classroom or student and any approach aimed at increasing engagement will must take into account multiple factors. However, one theme that runs through all factors is student ownership, i.e. there participation in planning academic routines, disciplinary procedures, and having the opportunity to provide ongoing feedback to the teacher.

As with any academic or behavioral problem, setting the “right” environment will reduce the number of individual-child cases that we will have to unravel and solve. The following are conditions in the school and/or classroom environment that can foster engagement. 


 Targeting Engagement in a Child

After addressing engagement on a school and classroom level one may have to bolster the factors related to an individual child’s level of engagement. Again, because engagement is a multidimensional phenomenon any successful intervention will have to likely consider and address issues across the following multiple domains.


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Tips & Hints

  • Always begin by assessing the environment for variables that may be undermining child engagement.

Recommended Resources



Hattie, John A.C. (2009). Visible Learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. New York, NY: Routledge.

Kumar, D.D. (1991). A meta-analysis of the relationship between science instruction and student engagement. Educational Review, 43 (1), 49-61

Steinberg, L.D., Brown, B.B., & Dornbusch, S.M. (1997) Beyond the classroom: Why school reform has failed and what parents need to do. New York: Simon and Schuster.