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Peter DeWitt's

Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Student Achievement Opinion

How Do We Measure Student Engagement? A School Created Its Own App to Find Out

Teachers get instant feedback on how students are responding to a lesson
By Jana Benson — May 31, 2023 4 min read
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Measure what you treasure, treasure what you measure’ — Margaret Heffernan

Last December, Peter DeWitt wrote a blog post titled 11 Critical Issues Facing Educators in 2023. Among the items on his list was:

A love for learning – I know this sounds hokey, but it’s not. There are countless teachers, leaders, and staff trying to inspire a love for learning for themselves and their students. Too often, education is seen as a system of compliance rather than an institution of inspiration and creativity. We need to change that in 2023. Will the political rhetoric allow us to do that?

After reading the blog post, I had a question, which was, “How do we know if kids love their learning?” I believe that student engagement is at the heart of this question. If students are engaged, there is typically enjoyment in the learning, even if some of the learning is a challenge. All learning should have just the right amount of challenge.

There is an art to achieving this for every student in the classroom, … and at times, it is not an easy task. It takes work to find this delicate balance between enjoyment and challenge. However, making the content meaningful, designing interesting lessons, and requiring students to stretch a bit in their learning is the teachers’ job (Hoerr, 2016, Tomlinson 2014, Bishop 2019).

Teacher-Student Relationships

The teacher-student relationship is crucial to the success of designing learning that will “hit the mark” for their student cohort or individual students. They need to know their learner! This entails knowing the purpose, passions, and strengths of each learner, and skillfully weaving these into the learning design and learning process.

One of the key ingredients to a successful teacher-student relationship is that of feedback but not just how a teacher provides feedback to a student. Teachers also need to be open to receiving feedback from students. They need to have created the conditions and culture where students feel it is safe to share such feedback.

Teachers can do this through creating a safe environment, teaching students how feedback conversations can look, and giving students permission to provide feedback to teacher instruction through exit tickets, open conversations, and an app we just created.

Yes, we created an app.

Measuring Engagement Is Also a Must

In our school, named Stonefields, which is in Auckland, New Zealand, we have devised another way to enable students to provide feedback to teachers in an ongoing, honest, and reflective way. We use what are called, engagement sliders, which we have created within an app. Engagement sliders have been proved to be an effective and efficient way for teachers to collect and receive feedback on students’ engagement. It has provided teachers with immediate snapshots of whether students find the learning a grind, if they are bored, entertained, or engaged.

The Engagement sliders tool helps teachers in the moment to know who they might check in with, what they may ask, and how they may adapt their learning design to better differentiate and meet the diverse needs of their students. It now has a fully functioning analytics capacity so that teachers can filter results over time for particular cohorts of learners. And, of course, when used with assessment data, it can give interesting insights into engagement vs. progress to inform teachers. Teachers have used the engagement sliders to inquire into what is working and, more importantly, what isn’t.

As we know, great teaching isn’t only about engaging lessons that we create, but it’s about how we change up our instruction based on student needs during those lessons we work so hard to plan. We shouldn’t have to wait until after an assessment or we correct homework to see if students are engaged and learning. We can do it in real time by giving students the power to share their feedback.

Feedback Is Key
To instill a love of learning, students need to be engaged. Relationships and knowing thy learner are key to the success of this, along with teachers creating the conditions and culture to give and receive feedback. Now, teachers have the ability to measure their impact with alternative measures (not just standardized-test scores), such as learner engagement. This allows teachers to truly place students at the center of the learning process (Ritchhart et al., 2011). We have done this through the creation of an app, but what is truly important is that teachers provide students with the opportunity to share their feedback on lessons and for teachers to hear what students are saying.

As we all know, learning is not just about what the students learn from the teacher, it is also about what the teacher learns from the students. Creating avenues for those discussions are vital to the classroom climate and culture.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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