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How to assess student engagement

Casey BrownFebruary 28, 2019

a pile of books on an old woden table

In the classroom, it’s sometimes tough to tell which students are really engaged and which ones are just floating along for the day. A few nodding heads and smiles are always promising, but they don’t tell you much — you need more than just behavioral cues.

Being able to identify and quantify student engagement helps you know what instruction is working and what needs to be adjusted. 

Measure your student’s engagement with Classcraft

7 ways to measure student engagement in the classroom

Classcraft Student Analytics
Photo credit: Classcraft

1. Classcraft

Classcraft provides an easy way to measure student engagement. You can customize the points (XP) awarded to students in your classroom and set up a point-based system that targets the engagement areas you’re trying to measure. After using Classcraft for a while, the Analytics section will display how each student is doing compared to the rest of the class (in the screenshot above, the light gold represents the class average).

2. Classroom participation

Many teachers enforce a participation grade in the classroom. Depending on your school district and your particular class, this may or may not be feasible. Participation grades are somewhat controversial, mainly because students are earning points that aren’t directly tied to knowledge. (This is the same argument people make about giving an effort grade for homework assignments.) But despite the controversy, participation grades are an effective method for assessing student engagement. After all, a student who’s participating is more likely to be learning and retaining the information that’s being taught.

Happy students and teacher with laptop
Photo credit: Google Edu

3. Standards for a participation grade

In order to score students on their engagement and participation, you need to set clear rubrics and communicate your expectations. This may involve setting a simple scale that lists the frequencies of observed student behaviors (never, sometimes, often, always). Alternatively, it can be point-based (e.g., on a scale of one to ten). And it can even be a graphic or color-coded system for younger students (e.g., smiley faces vs. frowning faces, or red, yellow, and green levels of engagement). In any case, you need to be consistent and explicitly communicate your criteria for success.

For example, you can assess whether a student:

  • Remains seated throughout the class.
  • Does what is asked of him/her.
  • Stays on task.
  • Follows along during instruction.
  • Asks questions and participates in class discussions.

On the other hand, students might lose points if they:

  • Sleep in class (or put their head on the desk).
  • Work on other classwork during instruction.
  • Use a cell phone/electronic device without permission.
  • Distract others during class.
  • Don’t follow directions.

Although many of these criteria relate to classroom rules and behavior management through a system of rewards and punishments, they’re ultimately going to help you create an environment where all learners can be engaged. Because if you encourage attentive classroom behavior, you ensure that students are receiving all the necessary information to succeed in your class.

4. Informally assessing comprehension

Another way to tell if students are engaged is to see if they’re beginning to more readily grasp the material that’s being presented. A summative assessment such as a quiz, test, or more formal assignment is a good way to tell whether a student has learned and understood the required material. But before a summative assessment takes place, you may find it helpful to use many smaller, informal formative assessments. By checking in regularly to see if students are engaged and understanding the material every day, you can adjust your instruction style to match your students’ comprehension.

Woman writing
Photo: Ben Mullin/Unsplash

5. Formative assessments

Formative assessments can take many forms. A very simple check of understanding is to ask students to give a thumbs up or a thumbs down to signal their comprehension of a particular lesson. This also helps you identify students who are paying attention because they’ll need to physically show you their response — those who don’t are likely distracted by something else. You can then ask follow-up questions to clarify material as needed. Optionally, you can also group students based on their responses. For example, thumbs-up students could work together on a sample problem while the teacher works with the students who are still having trouble understanding the concepts.

Another quick way of assessing engagement and understanding is to use exit cards. At the end of class, give students a small note card or scrap piece of paper, and have them answer two to three short questions. These questions should match the new material you presented and will help you determine whether your students understand the new information.

For example, if you delivered a lesson on algebra and techniques for solving equations, your exit card may contain a few sample problems for students to solve on their own. After a lesson on World War I, students might be asked to list, in their own words, some reasons why the war began. 

You collect these cards as students exit the class. By quickly flipping through the cards, you’ll get a good idea of who understood the lesson and who didn’t. This is also a good way to assess student engagement because those who are thoroughly engaged are more likely to nail these questions than those who aren’t.

6. Checklist

One method is to give students a physical checklist once a week and have them grade their own in-class participation. You can then verify or change this self-assessment as needed. Many times, students are quite honest about their classroom participation, so this is an easy way to evaluate engagement on a weekly basis. This method also helps remind students of your expectations for the class because it forces them to actively consider how they’re being graded on participation.

7. Seating chart

If you’re looking for more of an old-school method, you can use a seating chart to record student behavior and engagement. Some teachers just mark participation grades on a seating chart that’s kept on a clipboard for ease of access. For example, if someone is talking during instruction, you might write a “T” for talking on the student’s seating chart square. If a student is using their cell phone, you may record “CP”, and when they are late for class, you can mark “L”.

You can (and are encouraged to) develop your own system to make this easier. The best part? These notes can later be transferred to a participation mark in a grade book — you could even automate the process to make your life easier. A seating chart also serves as a log of student behavior in case parents ask you to clarify why you’ve been deducting participation points.

Teacher and kids with hands up in an class

Practice makes perfect

Assessing student engagement can be a tricky task for teachers, especially since there are many approaches you can choose from for your classroom. In any case, remember that promoting student engagement will help students learn more and make your classroom management process much easier.

Student Engagement