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Universiteit Leiden

Increasing Engagement in Students

Hamza Ali
Armel Boes
Shahenda Ahmad
Oussama El Maimouni


The educational flaw that we address with our redesign is the disengagement of students in the classroom. With this we mean students who are not fully participating in class in the forms of discussions, homework and active listening. We came up with a redesign in the form of a box with cards in which each card in the box contains a tip for the teacher by which student engagement can be increased. Our justifications for all these tips are based on
scientific literature which can be found in the box of cards as well.

Educational flaw and theory

“My students are so unmotivated!” is an often-heard utterance, as 40% of high school students is disengaged from school. Fortunately, we can do a lot about unmotivated students. A student can arrive in class with a certain degree of motivation, but the teacher’s behavior and teaching style, the structure of the course, the nature of the assignments and informal interactions with students all have a significant effect on student motivation.

Motivation and engagement are two closely related concepts, and underlying mechanisms are thought to be very complex and tangled. However, current theories and definitions agree that motivation underpins engagement and that engagement leads to outcomes such as achievement. Motivation is seen as a basis for subsequent student engagement in learning.

It is clear that a goal precedes students’ cognitive, emotional and behavioral engagement. Cognitive engagement is the thoughtful energy needed to comprehend complex ideas. Indicators of cognitive engagement include asking questions for clarification, persisting with difficult tasks and reading more than the material assigned. High levels of cognitive engagement facilitate students’ learning of complex material.

Emotional engagement has been defined by Skinner and Belmont (1993) as students’ feelings of interest, happiness, anxiety, and anger during achievement-related activities. Although, other research (Sciarra and Seirup, 2008) defined emotional engagement as the extent to which students feel a sense of belonging and the degree to which they care about their school. More recent research (Davis et al., 2010) referred to the previous definitions as relational engagement.

Finally, behavioral engagement has been defined as the quality of students’ participation in the classroom and school community. Behavioral engagement encompasses students’ effort, persistence, participation, and compliance with school structures. In general, school-level changes are typically focused on modifying students’ behavioral engagement.

Those different aspects of engagements are, together with motivation, viewed as very important for enhanced learning outcomes of all students. Previous researchers stated that if educators want to know and resolve the students’ issues and to make school engaging place they have to listen to what students are saying about their classes and teachers.

Effective participation

One of the most important components affecting the quality of the teaching process is effective participation. Motivation has a separate place and importance among the factors of effective participation. The higher the motivation of the students for the learning process, the higher the level of effective participation in the lessons (Tasgin & Tunc, 2018).

Numerous research studies have shown that intrinsically motivated students have higher achievement levels, lower levels of anxiety and higher perceptions of competence and engagement in learning than students who are not intrinsically motivated (Wigfield & Eccles, 2002; Wigfield & Waguer, 2005). These studies demonstrate that there is a positive correlation between intrinsic motivation and academic achievement (Corpus et al., 2009; Law, Elliot, & Murayama, 2012; Lee, McInerney, Liem, & Ortiga, 2010; Lepper, Corpus &
Iyenger, 2005).

Motivation is seen as a prerequisite of and a necessary element for student engagement in learning. Student engagement in learning is not only an end in itself but it is also a means to the end of students achieving sound academic outcomes (Russell, Ainley & Frydenberg, 2005; Ryan & Deci, 2009). This is important because authentic engagement may lead to higher academic achievement throughout student life (Zyngier, 2008). If educators want to
know and resolve the young students’ issues and to make schools engaging places (Meyer, 2010; Smyth and McInerney, 2007), then they actually have to listen to what students are saying about their classes and teachers (Mitra, & Serriere, 2012; O’Brien, & Lai, 2011; Potter & Briggs, 2003; Zyngier, 2011).

Empirical evidence reveals that academic amotivation comprises four factors corresponding to the four theoretical distinctions outlined previously. Students seem to be demotivated in school for four distinct classes of reasons: lack of belief in their ability, lack of belief in their effort capacity, unappealing characteristics of the academic task, and finally lack of value (Legault et al., 2006).

Research has shown that a great deal of motivation comes from good everyday teaching practices. It also goes back to the three R’s: Relevance, Relationship and Rigor to motivate students. The following strategies are data taken from the one-on-one interview from the voice of students, what students want:

• Make it Real- In order to foster intrinsic motivation, create learning activities that are based on topics that are relevant to students’ lives.
• Provide Choices- Students can have increased motivation when they feel some sense of autonomy in the learning process, motivation declines when students have no voice.
• Balance the Challenge- students perform best when the level of difficulty is slightly above their current ability level.
• Seek Role Models- If students can identify with role models they may be more likely to see the relevance in the subject matter. Invite speakers to class to whom the students can look up to.
• Use Peer Models- Students can learn by watching a peer succeed at a task, someone to whom the students can identify with.
• Establish a sense of Belonging- Students who feel they “belong” have a higher degree of intrinsic motivation and academic confidence.
• Be Approachable- Students need to feel comfortable enough to come to their teacher with any issues or concern. In conclusion teachers have a tremendous effect on motivating their students. The teacher’s behavior and teaching style, the structure of the course, nature of the assignment, and informal interactions with student s all have a definite effect on students’ motivation.

Our redesign tries to address this flaw in education of disengaged and unmotivated students by providing teachers with a box of cards with small and easy to use tips that increase the engagement of students.


Click here to access our prototype – including reference list.