The Monster Named, ‘Student Engagement’

Jul 6 · 5 min read
Image from Adobe

Naming the Monster

Once you put a name to something, it automatically changes the situation. Remember the Pet Rock that came out in the 1970s? Yeah; genius marketing right there. If you found a rock on the sidewalk, it was just that — a rock, but if you received Pet Rock in its “carrier” (complete with what looked to be breathing holes), it took on a life of its own. In my experience, the same goes for student engagement. So, let’s start there.

Feeding the Monster

Now that we’ve given it the correct name, it’s time to figure out what it eats. (It is my understanding that the Pet Rock came with detailed instructions on teaching it new tricks, but never mentioned anything about food. Interesting…). Okay, so you received a “developing” in Student Engagement. Let’s take a moment to unpack this by identifying some reasons why your students might be disengaged. It’s important to note that the list below is not exhaustive and merely covers a few “typical” reasons for disengagement and tips to make the shift towards more authentic student engagement in the classroom.

Too Easy vs. Too Hard

The reason: We all know that students come into the classroom with individual strengths and needs, but this also plays an important role in engagement. The “symptoms” of a task being too easy or too hard are often similar — frequent trips to the water fountain/bathroom/pencil sharpener (the list goes on), distracting peers, slow start to working, incomplete work, etc.

4th grade students utilize a digital graphic organizer to compare/contrast different Native American nations.

Sage on the Stage

The reason: If we’re not careful, that 10 minute “mini lesson” we planned to deliver turns into 25 minutes of us on the stage, our students as passive audience members. This type of disengagement often shows up when they transition into independent work and are unable to complete…any of it.

Pear Deck is a Google Slides add-on that can be used to capture student response in a variety of ways throughout a lesson.


The reason: Yes, there will be things we have to teach that will warrant the, “When will I ever use this in real life?!” question, but that doesn’t always have to be the case. If students are not connecting with the content on some personal level, they can easily become unmotivated and lethargic (yes, even your “best”students).

Tic-Tac-Toe menu, used in a 7th grade Math classroom

Have any other ideas to boost student engagement in your classroom? Share them with us here, or in our online community, the Innovative Teaching Co-op. We are better together!

To learn more about student engagement through ASCD, visit the full article online at:

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I am an Instructional Technology Coach and Manager of Community Engagement at Educate LLC. I believe in the power of community to transform education.

Educate Up to Date

Read stories of innovation within the Educate community.