“Engagement” is one of those things that’s a nice by-product but not a great goal.
Any lesson that is well-planned, well-scaffolded, builds to high levels of thinking, and is run by a competent teacher will naturally be “engaging.” But when we seek “engagement” as our actual goal, we end up with the educational equivalent of candy. We get a substance-free snack.
If I roll a dice to assign a random task, that’ll be more “engaging” than just picking the task myself. But I could also wear a clown wig. I could speak in a funny voice. I could roll a HUGE dice. All of that would be even more engaging, right!? I could stand on my desk and sing the directions. Engaging? You bet!
Engaging is actually quite easy. Anyone can do it; just like anyone can make a meal sweeter by adding more and more sugar.
But “sweet” isn’t the goal of a meal. And “engaging” isn’t the goal of a lesson. At least, it isn’t my goal!
I want to get students’ brains sweating. I want them thinking.
And the beauty is, when we get kids thinking, we get “engagement” for free. Humans like to think in interesting ways. We LOVE to figure things out that are just out of reach. It releases waves of dopamine. Look at Sudoku, crossword puzzles, Wordle, or whatever the hot puzzle of the year is. The right amount of thinking is highly engaging – even if the task is a black-and-white, pencil-and-paper vocab puzzle.
So rather than trying to make boring lessons “engaging,” build well-scaffolded lessons that take students to high levels of thinking. You’ll never have to worry about being engaging. It’ll just happen!