Student engagement is crucial for learning. Students who understand the rules and routines of the classroom and have something to do are less likely to engage in disruptive behavior, allowing the teacher to focus more on instruction. Engagement is only heightened when teachers make learning come alive. Warm, caring, and responsive teachers inspire students to focus on classroom activities, be it a read-aloud in an early childhood classroom or a writing activity in an upper grade classroom.
Research demonstrates a strong association between high levels of Classroom Organization and student engagement. Students in highly organized classrooms exhibit less time off task and more time focused on learning. If you think about the purpose of this domain (what teachers do to manage students’ time, attention, and behavior in the classroom), this makes sense. High levels of Classroom Organization are also associated with executive functioning skills, which help students better attend to the task at hand.
Classroom Organization is not the only dimension that affects student engagement. Emotional Support is also associated with student engagement and buffers the typical negative association between problem behavior and approaches to learning. That is, when Emotional Support is high, we see a decrease in problem behaviors, leading to higher levels of engagement.
Rimm-Kaufman, Barody, Larsen, Curby, and Abry (2015) examined the relationship between CLASS scores and student engagement during mathematics instruction in sixty-three 5th grade classrooms. They used three methods to study engagement: 1) a time-sampling observational system that indicated whether students were engaged or disengaged, 2) teacher report of engagement, and 3) student report on engagement. In addition, they measured four types of engagement: cognitive, emotional, behavioral, and social engagement.
Results of the study showed that students in classrooms with higher levels of Emotional Support reported greater cognitive, emotional, and social engagement, whereas students in classrooms with higher Classroom Organization reported greater levels of cognitive, emotional, and social engagement. Girls in classrooms with higher levels of Instructional Support reported higher social engagement, but this was not the case for the boys.
This research is exciting because it helps us understand in very tangible ways steps that teachers can take to increase student engagement. And students who are not engaged aren’t learning.
Rimm-Kaufman, S. E., Baroody, A., Larsen, R., Curby, T. W., & Abry, T. (2015). To what extent do teacher-student interaction quality and student gender contribute to fifth graders' engagement in mathematics instruction? Journal of Educational Psychology, 107, 170-185.
In the wake of the widespread civil unrest after the killing of George Floyd, the national conversation about the inequities in the educational opportunities provided white students and students of color has been amplified. Due to racial and socioeconomic segregation, Black students, and other students of color, are more likely to attend poorly funded schools. EdBuild, a non-profit focused on fair and equitable school funding, reports that high poverty school districts that predominantly enroll children of color receive on average, $1,600 less per student than the national average. By their calculations, there is a $23,000,000,000 gap between funding for schools that primarily serve high poverty Black students and those that predominantly serve white students. Schools that predominantly serve high poverty white students, only receive $1440 less per student (EdBuild, 2019).
A few years into teaching early childhood, I applied to work at a school that does incredible work in the local community. I was thrilled to get an interview but realized very quickly that, even though the environment was supportive and the students were wonderful young people, I was much too intimidated to work there.
Decades of evidence indicate that high-quality early childhood education positively affects children. Yet studies reveal that too few programs implement high-quality programming. To date, improvement efforts have primarily focused on what occurs within the classroom. The Ounce of Prevention Fund (Ounce), in partnership with the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research (UChicago Consortium), strives to broaden the focus of improvement efforts beyond the classroom to organizational conditions that support teachers and the relationships among staff, children, and families.
We’ve written before about the discipline disparities between children of color and their white peers. (Since that post was published last year, the Department of Education has released updated - but not improved - statistics on the topic.) But discipline is not the only school arena where children from different backgrounds have different experiences. There’s also evidence that racial bias affects teachers’ academic and behavioral expectations, even in early childhood.