Gradient Learning students

How can we engage students better?

Yvonne Glenn’s philosophy as a math teacher had more to do with explanation than multiplication.

“You need to explain how you got the right answer,” Glenn said. “You can’t just show me the result. If you can’t explain it to me, then you don’t know it. And through that conversation with them, we work together to ensure each student truly understands the work.”

Glenn, now an Assistant Principal at CICS Prairie in Chicago, Illinois, is an advocate for keeping students engaged in all aspects of their education. Glenn said connecting real-world examples to the content helps engage students and show them that what they are learning today will help them tomorrow—and in the years to come.

“By bringing their interests into the lessons, you can see the difference in their body language and in the questions they ask,” Glenn said. “They can relate to it and it helps bring it home for them. My goal is for them to have that love of learning and to be lifelong learners. For them to know that anything is possible, but it takes hard work.”

"Teaching needs to unleash the innate desire to learn.”

Glenn knows increasing student engagement also takes hard work, and must remain a priority for all schools. Glenn’s views are shared by educators across the country, as evidenced by the results of the fourth installment of the Gradient Learning Poll. In partnership with Project Tomorrow, Gradient Learning surveyed over 400 educators, including those from all 50 states, in the fall of 2022 to better understand their views on the state of student engagement in education.

The survey found that 80-percent of teachers say they are concerned about their students’ engagement in classroom-based learning. But the results also showed that educators are determined to find solutions to this widespread concern.

Nearly all of the educators surveyed (95 percent) said it should be a priority for every school to support teachers with the tools and strategies they need to increase and sustain student engagement.

At Frankfort High School in Kentucky, Instructional Coach Joe Rogers can get a feel for the strength of engagement by simply visiting various classrooms and observing the active participation of students. Rogers wants all students to understand that they don’t have to sit silently and listen to their teachers.

“They’re a part of this,” Rogers said. “They need to be active learners. We have students all over the place in our classrooms, all engaged in learning, but in very different ways. This learning environment is not necessarily just a classroom, but a place where learning is taking place at every student’s level, just how they need it.”

The 2021-22 Speak Up Research Project found that half of all students said that they are not engaged in what they are learning in school most of the time. The vast majority of educators surveyed in the Gradient Learning Poll (75 percent) believe those low student engagement levels are related to a lack of intrinsic motivation for learning in school.

“We all intrinsically want to engage our minds in learning, it is the fun part of life,” a high school teacher from Utah responded in the poll. “If you start from the premise that human nature is to want to think and learn, it changes how you teach. Teaching needs to unleash the innate desire to learn.”

Gradient Learning students

Similar to previous Gradient Learning Polls on mentoring and educating the whole student, the importance of teacher-student relationships can play a pivotal role in boosting student engagement. In the latest poll, the majority of educators said they believe building stronger teacher-student connections (78 percent) and leveraging students’ personal interests and passions within learning (65 percent) can help engage students.

“When students are highly engaged in my classes, I see them coming back to me and sharing how they have experienced what we have learned about in the real world,” a middle school teacher in New Mexico responded in the poll. “They share the connections they have drawn with me and discuss the relevance that they are seeing.”

To learn more about the importance of student engagement, check out the fourth installment of the Gradient Learning Poll. The first installment of the poll showcased the power of mentoring, the second focused on the benefits of educating the whole student, and the third highlighted the effectiveness of building connections and community with technology.

As part of its commitment to rebuilding education, Gradient Learning has embarked on this initiative with Project Tomorrow to listen to educators, understand their feedback, and provide actionable solutions to meet their needs.