Research Proof Points – Better Student Engagement Improves Student Learning

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Kathy Dyer |

We’ve posted research that has shown that using formative assessment can improve student learning. One of the ways that formative assessment does this is by improving student engagement, a challenge for any teacher.

Research Proof Points – Better Student Engagement Improves Student LearningResearch has historically indicated strong correlations between student engagement (typically defined as attention to the area of focus, active participation in learning, and time on task) and student achievement. These correlations remain strong for all levels of instruction, across all subject areas, and for varying instructional activities. Let’s explore some research that shows this correlation.

Specifically, Lahaderne (1968, Attitudinal and intellectual correlates of attention: A study of four sixth-grade classrooms. Journal of Educational Psychology) conducted classroom observations during which researchers rated student attention in sixth-grade classrooms. Ratings were positively correlated with student performance on a standardized achievement test, showing that “the pupil who paid attention gained the most from his instruction” (Lahaderne, p. 322).

Samuels and Turnure (1974, Attention and reading achievement in first-grade boys and girls. Journal of Educational Psychology) reported similar results for first graders during reading instruction. The attention of 88 first-grade students was observed during reading instruction in four classes. The authors found that as attention increased, word recognition rates also increased.

In addition, Hecht (1978, Measuring student behavior during group instruction. Journal of Educational Research) examined whole class instruction in high school mathematics. During a six-week period, observers recorded participation. It was found that the amount of time on task had a positive correlation of 0.69 with student achievement.

Finally, Cobb (1972, Relationship of discrete classroom behaviors to fourth-grade academic achievement. Journal of Education Psychology) investigated the relationship between peer conversations and academic performance. Fourth-grade students in five classrooms were observed. Findings indicated that the level of attentiveness to classroom activities and engagement in peer conversations about appropriate academic material correlated to performance across subject areas.

More recently Skinner, Wellborn, and Connell (1990, What it takes to do well in school and whether I’ve got it: A process model of perceived control and children’s engagement and achievement in school. Journal of Educational Psychology) investigated the relationships between children’s perceived control, student engagement, and academic achievement. The engagement, defined as participation and emotional tone, of 200 elementary students was assessed by their teachers. Path analyses were performed to examine the model of teacher behavior, perceived control, engagement, and academic outcomes. The predicted relations between engagement and grades/achievement (higher engagement leads to higher academic performance) were obtained.

…students who are inattentive, withdrawn, and disengaged in the classroom have poorer academic performance when compared to engaged students.

Finn, Pannozzo, and Voelkl (1995, Disruptive and inattentive-withdrawn behavior and achievement among fourth graders. The Elementary School Journal) found that students who are inattentive, withdrawn, and disengaged in the classroom have poorer academic performance when compared to engaged students. Teachers rated the classroom behavior of 1,013 fourth-grade students on the student participation questionnaire. Results indicated that engagement (defined as effort and initiative taking) were positively correlated with grades from the end of the previous year and scores on the Stanford Achievement Test (.40 and .59) while inattentive or disengaged behaviors were negatively correlated with these measures (-.34 and -.52).

Finally, Finn and Rock (1997, Academic success among students at risk for school failure. Journal of Applied Psychology) analyzed data from the National Educational Longitudinal Study of 1988 and focused on low-income minority students at grades 8 through 12 (N = 1,803). The authors found that students who displayed engagement as measured by coming to class on time, being prepared for and participating in class work, and making the effort to complete assignments and homework were more likely to be academically successful, have passing grades throughout high school, and graduate on time.

In general, it is not uncommon to find a classroom where a few highly motivated students monopolize classroom discussions. To ensure learning for all students, opportunities to actively engage everyone in meaningful ways must be provided.

Let us know what methods you are using to engage your students on our Facebook page or via Twitter @NWEA.

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