Engagement: I Do Not Think…

INIGOI don't think

When I search Google for “engagement WKU” I get a hot mess of stuff.  In fact it clarifies for me how the word has lapsed into confusion (at least for me).  The Google nGram chart below for “student engagement” indicates that before 1962 there is no record of  the use of the phrase “student engagement”.

The Oxford English Dictionary connects engagement to mortgage in a feudal bow toward reciprocal duty.  The modern usage  has abandoned this idea of shared duty for the behaviorist schema that engagement is something we do in order to elicit the response we seek.  In other words where engagement had once been a two way street, it  has now been reduced to a “treatment”.  I get attention by doing something to get it.



I am trying to figure out what this word means in the classroom.  With the aid of two blog posts, one by Steve Greenlaw which led me to another  by  Gardner Campell nearly ten years ago, I have begun to  sample what engagement might mean.

Here is the idea that Gardner Campbell suggests:  treat engagement like an Apgar Test.  Interestingly, out of my 60 university students only four of them admitted to having heard of the idea and only one nursing major and one elementary ed major could speak specifically to what it meant.   As a husband whose wife birthed all of our babies at home (she is my hero), I helped administer the Apgar Test to all three of my newborn squids.  My favorite observation from the midwife of my first born was “pink to the fingertips”, an observation that meant a lot considering my son had the umbilical wrapped around his neck.

The idea here is to use this tool as a simple screening device to get an even simpler take on whether or not your learners are either finding themselves engaged or are actively engaged.  Below is the HaikuDeck I used in class to administer the Gardner’s Apgar. If you click here you can also see my slide notes.

Gardner’s Apgar – Click here to see slide notes and observations.

I have prepared a Google Form for use in future classes:

One of the reasons for doing this work is to push back on the behaviorist notion that engagement is an experimental stimulus to be applied to learners in order to get more of it. Engagement is indeed what the teacher does, but it is even more what the learner does and even more than that it is about how everyone in the community connects. It is what the learner brings to the task at the hand, what she brings to the community of learners, and what we all share as our “ante into the game”. And the game is no fun unless you have skin in it.

2 Replies to “Engagement: I Do Not Think…”

  1. Wow! Your tweet today has led me deep into your blogs. Thank you! I am even thinking more poetically. Of course, I had to post on this one. I may give this to my students. I think some of our educational leaders need to take this test, and give it to those of us snoozing in the audience. Love you man, and the way you always show me something new, encourage me to try new things, and make me think in metaphors.

  2. Aw shucks, ma’am. I am so glad to have you drop by and I would love to read your poetry. Show me some stuff, too. I need to always be learning. Always.

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