Numerous studies correlate student engagement, or the lack of it, with academic performance and absenteeism. Education Week notes a drop in student engagement from 75 percent of students (feeling engaged) in grade 5 to only 32 percent by grade 11. According to “What Teens Want From Their Schools,” half of high school students who consider dropping out cite the lack of engagement as the reason.

These studies highlight the need for increasing engagement. Students have different learning styles, and effective teachers adapt their lessons to match. The same principle applies to engagement.

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute and Crux Research identified six engagement profiles based on a survey of 2,000 high schoolers:

    1. Subject Lovers

      Subject lovers enjoy school and feel engaged when they learn new and challenging things. They tend to be at the top of their class and choose to enroll in math, science, technology and AP classes. Some have a love of learning and knowledge while others do it for college applications.

      Teachers can engage this group by showing passion for the subject and helping students relate to the content. Although subject lovers respond well to interactions in class, group projects can be a problem because subject lovers often end up doing most of the work.

    2. Emotionals

      Although not top performers, emotionals keep working after class ends. They get excited about their work and take pride in it. Because they thrive on connecting with others, they prefer smaller schools where they know everyone.

      They engage more when they have friends and fun in class. Emotionals benefit from proactive support from teachers because they are less motivated academically than other groups.

    3. Hand Raisers

      Hand raisers do well in school and work hard. However, they rarely bring schoolwork home or participate in extracurriculars. They are the least likely to drop out of school. They take a here-and-now approach by giving it their all at school. Once they leave the campus, they have little interest in it.

      Hand raisers thrive on class interactions and active participation. To reach them, teachers need to make the most of class time.

    4. Social Butterflies

      This group thrives on the social aspects of school. Social butterflies feel like they matter to others. They are drawn to extracurricular activities where they can hang out with their classmates. They have school pride but value social connection over academic achievement. Teachers can engage this group through class discussions and group activities.

    5. Teacher Responders

      Unlike social butterflies, teacher responders build deeper relationships with teachers and adults in their school. They want school staff to show interest in their academic and personal lives. However, they struggle when they do not connect with a teacher. They are most successful when placed with teachers they like and offered one-on-one opportunities for individual check-ins or after-school tutoring.

    6. Deep Thinkers

      Intrinsically motivated, deep thinkers like to figure things out on their own and focus intensely on their schoolwork and tests. They are cognitively engaged. Most prefer to concentrate on learning and less on relationships, but they aren’t top performers as one might expect. Teachers can support deep thinkers by providing challenging school work they can do alone.

The Fordham Institute report identifies teachers as primary drivers for improving student engagement. Other factors include the subject matter, teaching strategies, sports and extracurricular activities, peer groups, and the student’s own desire to learn.

Learn more about Eastern Michigan University’s online Master of Arts in Educational Leadership.


Pearson: Encouraging Positive Student Engagement and Motivation: Tips for Teachers

Education Week: Gallup Student Poll Finds Engagement in School Dropping by Grade Level

Thomas Fordham Institute: What Teens Want From Their Schools