Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Academic Engagement: Current Perspectives on Research and Practice

Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Academic Engagement: Current Perspectives on Research and Practice

Article excerpt

Abstract. Classroom behaviors that enable academic learning are the focus of this article. A brief perspective is offered on the development and validation of one enabler--engagement in academic responding--and recent findings are provided of an effort to bridge the gap between research and practice by employing this knowledge in Title 1 elementary schools to improve instruction. In prior research, the authors identified a class of "academic responses" (e.g., reading aloud), positively correlated to student achievement as measured by standardized tests, that were differentially accelerated by instructional situations and interventions, and mediated the relationship between instruction and achievement. Translating these findings to practice within three magnet schools, teachers were provided engagement information on individual students in their classrooms as well as (a) school-wide engagement and classroom behavior norms, including trends over grade levels and type of learner, and (b) instructional situations that accelerated versus decelerated engagement for use in the instructional decision making of teachers. Implications for practice and future research are discussed.


What students do while being taught in the classroom has long been of interest to educators and educational researchers. If a student is unruly and disruptive, he or she will be unable to respond to academic opportunities or manage subject matter tasks rapidly and accurately. These actions may "spillover," preventing the learning of others, and may alter or interfere with a teacher's plans for teaching. If many students are engaged in this behavior, subject matter teaching and learning may be stopped altogether. Alternately, if students are well-behaved, watching and listening to the teacher, waiting to receive materials and instructions on what to do, their rate of progress in learning a subject matter will advance. When students are well-behaved, know what they need to study, and are able to access the needed materials independently to read, compute, and perform other academic tasks, progress in learning a subject matter will be accelerated.

What is learned in school--the academic skills attained by each individual--is largely defined by the interplay of these experiences from one day to the next and from one grade level to another, over one's entire school experience (Greenwood, Hart, Walker, & Risley, 1994). Thus, each student's classroom rate of learning is influenced by each teacher's ability to establish and motivate academic responding through instruction (e.g., Brophy & Good, 1986). This article provides a perspective on the development of this concept of academic engagement and a report of findings from a recent study in which engagement played a part of a comprehensive school reform program.


Behaviors and nonacademic skills that contribute to academic success are often described as enabling or promoting skills (see DiPema, Volpe, & Elliott, 2002). These behaviors are understood to be alterable variables (i.e., they are a product of teaching and instruction and of how the classroom teacher arranges instructional opportunities for students to respond in the curriculum). And because they are alterable, other classroom behaviors may occur in their stead, actively competing for occurrence depending on one's individual history and the present instructional situation. Academic engagement or engagement in academic responding is one such enabler (Greenwood, Delquadri, & Hall, 1984).

Academic engagement refers to a composite of specific classroom behaviors: writing, participating in tasks, reading aloud, reading silently, talking about academics, and asking and answering questions (Greenwood et al., 1984). Like the other enablers discussed in this issue of School Psychology Review (i.e., study skills, Gettinger & Seibert, 2002; motivation, Linenbrink & Pintrich, 2002; and interpersonal skills, Wentzel & Watkins, 2002), evidence exists linking each of these enablers to academic achievement status, and links exist between and among those enablers (DiPema & Elliott, 1999,2000). …

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