Module Seven: K-12 Perspective Student Engagement
Student EngagementEngaged students enjoy the learning process, learn more in quantity and depth, and retain more information than students who are not engaged (Dowson & McInerney, 2001; Hancock & Betts, 2002; Lumsden, 1994; Voke, 2002). Designing a classroom and student activities that keep students engaged is one of the most important and difficult tasks facing teachers. Teachers must focus upon both the affective and cognitive aspects of student learning in order to maximize engagement. To begin with, the classroom environment can promote intellectual stimulation and provide emotional safety. Students who are able to take risks and can openly ask questions without penalty or embarrassment are engaged. In addition, providing students with meaningful, relevant activities is paramount to keeping them focused upon the learning task and objectives (Marzano,1992).

Arguably one of the foremost modern leaders in the research and application of student engagement and school reform is Dr. Phillip Schlecty, CEO of the Center for Leadership in School Reform, and the Schlecty Center, Inc. His research revealed ten qualities that effectively increase students' level of engagement (Schlechty, 2011).

We all know teaching is challenging. There are, however, various ways teachers can get support and learn from others. One method is to use research-based strategies. The table below provides descriptions of the empirical-based design qualities that teachers can employ to bring higher levels of student engagement in their classroom. It is not possible to include every one of these qualities in every lesson, but employing these qualities over time in the classroom will ensure that students are engaged in their learning.
Table 1.0 Schlechty’s Qualities of Engaging Work
Design Qualities of Engaging Work Descriptions
Novelty and Variety

Providing varied tasks in design, complexity, execution, and length of time develops engaged learners. Students are intrigued in the classroom through a held suspense and expectation in their activities and products. Novelty and variety challenge students to implement new skills, a variety of media and techniques, presentation modes, and analysis.

The range of problems, issues, products, performances, and exhibitions is large and varied, and the technologies students are encouraged to employ are varied as well, moving from the most simple and well understood (a pen and piece of paper, for instance) to the most complex (sophisticated computer applications, for example) (Schlechty, 2001, p. 123-124).

Product Focus

Work is aligned to a meaningful product, performance, or exhibition. “The tasks students are assigned and the activities students are encouraged to undertake are clearly linked in the minds of the teacher and the students to problems, issues, products, performances, and exhibitions about which the students care and upon which students place value” (Schlechty,2001, p. 113).

Content and Substance

When an activity contains the design quality of content and substance, the content involved is aligned to the learning expectations and standards for a particular grade level or subject set forth by teachers, administrators, and the community. Therefore, the content is consistent with the standards and learning objectives established in the curriculum by the local school board, the state and/or the nation. “Among themselves, teachers and administrators have a clear and consistent understanding of what students are expected to know and to be able to do, and there is community consensus regarding these matters” (Schlechty,2001 p.109).

Clear and Compelling Product Standards

The standards by which the assigned task or product to be evaluated are apparent and compelling. Rubrics are standard instruments of assessment and contain descriptions of the expectations for the product.
“Furthermore, they are committed to these standards, see them as fair, and see a real prospect of meeting these standards if they work diligently at the tasks assigned or encouraged “ (Schlechty,2001, p. 115).

A Safe Environment

A learning environment that provides emotional and learning safety for students. The classroom environment creates a culture where students are encouraged to take risks to learn new things without fear of failure, ridicule, embarrassment, or punishment.
“Instead, when failure occurs, the reasons for the failure are diagnosed by the student and the teacher, and new efforts are encouraged” (Schlechty,2001, p. 117).


Affirmation of students needs to be associated with the importance of the work the student is performing.  This encourages students to continue try more difficult work and aligns positive reinforcement to performance.  Exhibiting student work, using a panel of experts, or allowing for students to have their work verified by other professionals, increases the affirmation process.
“Designing schoolwork that can be presented to “significant others” can increase student engagement. “Affirmation suggests significance” (Schlechty, 001, p. 120).


Creating an environment of affiliation for students enhances the overall classroom culture by providing a connection to the learners and the group. This design quality provides a sense of belonging to students. It may include others who are significant in the field and bring merit to a scholarly association. Marzano affirms this concept in his description of classroom collaborative group learning as a method to build acceptance and understanding among the members of a group (Marzano,1992). “Students are provided opportunities to work with others (peers, parents, other adults, teachers, students from other schools and classrooms) on problems, issues, products, performances, and exhibitions that are judged by them and others to be of significance” (Schlechty, 2001, p. 121).


Choice is not an open choice to learn or not, or to do one task over another. Choice is simply providing the student with some control over their learning and a sense of self-direction.  Students may select the type of product for assessment, a reading from a list, or the methods used within their group to solve a problem. This allows for students to manage time and materials more effectively, and develops self-confidence.
“What students are to learn is usually not subject to negotiation, but students
do have considerable choice of what they will do in order to learn what it is intended that they learn” (Schlechty,2001, p. 125).


Authenticity in the design of work for students is developed when work is genuine to the student. The meaning to the learner is critical. The task has substance, evokes emotion, thought, and involves the learner in real issues.
Human beings are naturally motivated to engage in personally meaningful, relevant, and authentic work and work products (Voke, 2002). “The tasks students are assigned and the work students are encouraged to undertake have meaning and significance in the present lives of students and are related to
consequences to which students attach importance” (Schlechty,2001, p. 127).

Organization of Knowledge

This design standard focuses on the organization of the content presentation and the importance of personal appeal to students.
Utilizing instructional strategies designed to ensure that students have the skills to do the assigned work and a focus on interests that have a global appeal to many students is paramount to their engagement with the work. (Schlechty,2001).

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