Saturday, January 26, 2013

Gallup's Five Questions Regarding Student Engagement

If you were to ask students just five questions in an effort to gauge their engagement, what would you ask?

@punyamishra blogged recently regarding a five-item Gallup survey that concludes that student engagement drops precipitously as students progress through school. @punyamishra did not disagree with the Gallup conclusion, but he questions whether the five items Gallup used were the best measure of student engagement.

Gallup asked students to respond to these five statements:
I have a best friend at school
I feel safe in this school
My teachers make me feel my schoolwork is important
At this school, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day
In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good schoolwork

Should Gallup have omitted the statements relating to best friends and feeling safe? It makes sense that these items would correlate positively with student engagement: students are more likely to fully commit themselves to their schoolwork in a positive, safe school climate. However, even if positive, safe school climates are a necessary condition for high levels of student engagement, one should not conclude that high levels of student engagement exist in this situation. Educators need to take advantage of this climate by giving students high quality work.

Asking students whether they believe their schoolwork is important comes the closest to measuring the heart of student engagement. When students value schoolwork, they are more likely to fully commit themselves and to persist when they face difficulties. However, should Gallup have omitted the reference to teachers in the third item? Teachers greatly influence student engagement with the quality of work they provide, but this item could just ask students to respond to "my schoolwork is important."

The statement relating to students' sense of efficacy is also on the right track. Although we need to stretch students to work in areas in which they are not comfortable, we can build engagement with opportunities for students to experience a sense of mastery, a sense of being in the zone.

The item relating to recognition or praise is certainly on the right track to the extent that it is asking about students' opportunities for affirmation. Teachers can promote student engagement by designing tasks and activities so that the work of students is visible to persons who are important to students. Students are more likely to be engaged when they know that they quality of their performance matters to peers and others whose opinions matter to them. We need to be careful with this particular item. When students sole motivation for working hard is the pursuit of a good grade or other external recognition then the engagement, using Phil Schlechty's terminology, is ritualistic, rather than authentic. Authentic engagement leads to deeper, longer-lasting learning.

Even if we would create different items or approaches to measure student engagement, kudos to Brandon Busteed and Gallup for their focus on student engagement. Asking students about their level of engagement can provide rich information to guide our efforts to engage students in meaningful work.

Check out these other blog posts regarding student engagement:

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