Student Engagement vs. Student Compliance – by Cheri

As I walk through my building and the halls of many other schools, I see that one of the biggest misconceptions out there is knowing the difference between student compliance and student engagement.  I find that there is even more confusion once I begin to talk to and ask teachers if they understand the difference…let me elaborate.

As I took over this current school, I found that there were two big areas that needed improvement.  One, students were everywhere…making their own rules…doing their own thing.  The second area I needed to look at was engagement in the instructional activities….were students participating, asking questions, and learning or were they just sitting and getting.  The school was in trouble, so I am sure by now, you can guess the answers to both of these questions.  But do we know the difference between the two, compliance and engagement?

Student compliance looks like this…students seated, quiet, and seeming to not cause trouble in class.  They are not talking, not touching, and not disrupting.  As you walk into a room with compliant children, it would be quiet, everyone following the rules, and the teacher would be teaching.  Yes, this is an important piece.  If students are not listening and following rules, teachers cannot teach.  You can have the best lesson, but if they can’t hear you, how can they learn.  So, please understand, this for me is a first step to having a successful classroom.  But, what about the student who sits in the back, never talks to others, doesn’t contribute to classroom discussion, and doesn’t participate in group activities.  They complete their work, but not necessarily as you would want them to.  They are truly compliant…but are they learning?

That is where I challenge my staff…yes, we need students who can follow rules and expectations.  We want students who can manage their own behaviors with little direction from the teacher.  But…I don’t want or need QUIET classrooms!  These classrooms are not engaging, students are not participating in a way that indicates they understand, and they are definitely not encouraged to be motivated to want to be in class.  I want classrooms where students understand the rules and they do not break them, but are engaged in the learning activities.  They are asking and answering questions.  They are completing group tasks.  They are applying their learning at high levels of thinking.  They are completing projects.  They are moving, talking, and modeling their learning.  Because, if a students is excited about what is happening in the classroom, they are not wanting to leave for behavior problems!

So, how do we get here?  Here are a few ideas I share with my teachers that can help you move from a compliant classroom to an engaging one!

  • Create a classroom environment that is safe for students to participate and make mistakes.  If students feel scared or intimidated to respond or participate, they will never take the chance…and sit in compliance.
  • Ask questions that require students to think and elaborate.  I taught second language learners, so I had to provide sentence stems for them to begin their responses.  Once they learned how to use these, they were on fire!  These are good supports for any struggling student as well.  Encourage them to respond to your questions and praise them when they do!
  • Support student discussions that encourage students to ask questions of you or other students.  And ensure these questions are related to the learning…not questions about what time lunch will be served.  I did a professional development one year where you read and analyze a story, and then you put your students into a literature circle and ask one WHY question about the learning.  After that, only students can respond to each other and you…and you cannot ask any more questions.  It was difficult at first, because as teachers we want control, but once I learned to let go, I saw my students loved these circle discussions and their performance in reading soared!
  • Give students opportunities to collaborate or work in groups.  I always provided each student in the group with a job, so they knew their responsibilities to the group, and the group would run smooth as everyone had their own part.  Group projects are fun and motivational ways to get students engaged with the learning and collaborating with their peers!
  • Give students some choice on what they will learn and how they can demonstrate they learned that content.  One of my teachers uses Genius Hour…she allowed students choice in their research topic and how it would be presented to the group.  EVERY kid participated and LOVED the activity!  This was the most engaging time in the classroom I have seen this year.

These are just a few ways to provide students with activities that will help them engage in the learning and apply what they learned to deeper level activities.  In addition to the above, I have used Robert Marzano’s book, The Highly Engaged Classroom, with all of my teachers and they have found this resource very useful!  I provided a link below!

The more engaged students are in their classroom, the more excited they are about learning and the less likely they are to want to misbehave and be sent out of the room to serve consequences!  Compliant kids will be in your room, following rules, and not causing problems for the teacher, but ENGAGED kids will not only be compliant, but will be excited about spending the day in your class!

Sparkle on, my friends!

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