Engagement in Learning

For me, one purpose of learning, in all its joy and magic, is connection. We learn so that we can connect with one another’s humanity and with one another’s ideas. We learn so that we can grow together and become more efficient and effective as a collective. We learn so we can make the world smaller. These purposes can sometimes become lost in an outdated vision of schooling. We are preparing children for successful adult lives and that means engaging them in their learning at all times.

Within an educational context, engagement means children directing their attention and energy ‘in the moment’ towards a particular task or activity. In the classroom, the term ‘engagement’ is often used to refer to the extent of children’s active involvement in a learning task. Engagement can be broken down into four interrelated types:

  • Behavioural engagement — the amount of effort and involvement a child directs towards the activity in terms of attention, effort, and persistence
  • Emotional engagement – the interest, boredom, happiness, and other affective states that affect children’s sustained effort in learning
  • Cognitive engagement — the nature and quality of learning strategies used by the child; for example, using active strategies for understanding (such as elaboration and organisation) rather than superficial or more passive strategies (such as memorisation)
  • Agentic engagement — the extent of the child’s proactive role in instruction; for example, in terms of expressing preferences and needs.

We know that engagement with learning is essential for progress, as engaged children are self-motivated and direct their own learning. It is a recursive cycle, causing and being affected by the child’s motivation, subject interest, and positive social interaction. The depth of engagement is moderated by the level of intrinsic versus extrinsic value the child places on the task. Children are likely to persevere and demonstrate prolonged attention to a high-value task. Engaged children express their preferences, ask questions and contribute in various ways while being taught. A teaching style that supports autonomy encourages children to develop this engagement.

In every classroom, every day at Yateley Manor, teachers will be providing opportunities for children to engage in their learning through providing a safe environment where they are able to ask questions, perhaps make mistakes, but most importantly contribute to their learning. It is important for children to share ideas on topics, perhaps even disagree and understand differences of opinion. They need hooks that will stimulate their thinking and challenge their ideas. That is what an education at Yateley Manor achieves – an environment where learning is engaging.

It bothers me when I hear of children who have moved on to senior schools and are not engaged in their learning. It is not satisfactory to suggest that a senior school education takes on a different teaching approach. Even as adults we need to be stimulated and engaged in our learning. If children are not encouraged to take ownership of their learning and challenge their thinking, they may disengage. Once this happens it is really difficult to bring them back.

Watching the children in Year 8 undertake a debate on whether smoking should be banned, during their workshop at the Houses of Parliament yesterday, it was clear to see how powerful an engaging curriculum can be. They spoke with confidence and maturity. I was really proud of them all.

An engaged child is a happy child and a happy child is a successful child.