Teacher-Student Relationships: A Strategy for Encouraging On-Taskness and Enabling Differentiation
August 28, 20197 min read
Capturing student engagement has long been a priority within the classroom. It is a goal consistently pursued by educators, as they know better than anyone that engagement indicates a student is not only involved in the learning process, but also enjoying it.
Research has suggested that high student engagement is connected to a wealth of beneficial outcomes related to academic success, including better grades, test scores, and school completion rates (Fredricks, 2016). Engagement offers protective benefits, such as lower rates of delinquency, substance use, and depression (Wang & Fredricks, 2014; Li & Lerner, 2011). Furthermore, studies show that engaged students more readily access a state of mind that promotes critical and creative thought processes, ultimately improving their cognitive abilities (Fisher, N., Gerdes, K., Logue, T., Smith, L., & Zimmerman, I., 1998; Jackson, B., 2000). With the rise of the 1:1 student-to-device ratio, the need to understand engagement in a digital learning environment has only become more pressing.
Originally, student engagement existed as a concern of educators almost exclusively. However, as the presence of digital devices has exploded, engagement has become a priority for academic institutions, research organizations, and EdTech companies alike. The research on engagement in a digital learning environment is just beginning, and as we stand at the precipice of this exploration, GoGuardian wanted to begin with the broadest of questions: what does engagement look like in a digital learning environment?
Defining Digital Engagement
In order to better understand what engagement in the digital learning environment looks like, GoGuardian undertook a research study focused on understanding one aspect of student engagement: on-taskness. On-taskness was selected because of its role in enabling engagement. For example, studies on active engagement show that when a student is focused on a task, they are more likely to apply effort into their learning experience (Bulger, M. E., Mayer, R. E., Almeroth, K. C., & Blau, S. D., 2008). Given this relationship between on-taskness and engagement, the study aimed to better understand on-taskness in a digital learning environment.
Another common theme emerging within the literature suggests that higher levels of student engagement exist in classrooms with stronger student-teacher relationships (Fredricks, 2011). As such, we decided to study the level of communication between students and their teachers in order to assess whether frequent communication with the teacher had a relationship with on-taskness. Utilizing the built-in chat feature of the GoGuardian Teacher product, we investigated the relationship between frequency of teacher-student communication and off-task behaviors.
What We Found:
Through our research, we discovered the opportunity to leverage the chat feature to increase communication with students, and we identified the actions most often used for redirecting off-task behaviors. Over the course of our research, we heard anecdotes from teachers of how they used the chat feature to answer questions from more introverted students and to quietly remind off-task students to refocus their attention. Furthermore, we found that there are three commands teachers use to curb off-task student behavior:
Force closing a tab on a student window
Taking a screenshot of a student’s screen
Locking a student’s screen
These commands can limit the amount of time a student is off-task and assist teachers in focusing student attention without disruption to the class environment. While these commands were used to curb off-task behaviors, we determined that our initial hypothesis regarding the relationship between the frequency of communication and the use of commands to redirect off-task behaviors was false. In other words, students who chat with their teacher more or less frequently are not any more or less likely to have their tabs closed, screenshots taken, or screens locked. In sum, the commands offered in the GoGuardian Teacher product can be used to redirect off-task behavior; however, the frequency of chat messages exchanged between student and teacher does not have any bearing on how often a student’s behavior is redirected using the commands.
What are the Implications?
While the frequency of chat messages did not have a measurable relationship with the use of commands for redirecting off-task behavior, the ability to message students was recognized as a valuable tool for teacher-student communication. Communication between the teacher and student, be it on or offline, is the foundation for building a strong student-teacher relationship (Frymier, A. B., & Houser, M. L., 2000; Lee, S. J., Srinivasan, S., Trail, T., Lewis, D., & Lopez, S., 2011). This topic of student-teacher relationships surfaced regularly in our research as a critical component for eliciting student engagement and ensuring students feel comfortable and involved in the classroom. As one school leader shared:
“Engagement begins at our school from the moment the children are in line and are being greeted by their teacher with a handshake. Students are greeted with a warm smile, and they know that the teacher really cares about them—and I mean, really knows that...The teacher and student develop such a bond that the teacher knows right away if something is going on with the child: a pet just passed away, a relative is staying in the house. It can be exciting things, or things that are troubling to a student. Being in touch with that social emotional component is critical to the academic engagement that comes as the student enters the room.”
This reflection illustrates how critical the student-teacher bond is to making a student feel welcome and to facilitating a conducive learning experience. GoGuardian Teacher’s chat feature is just one tool teachers can use to communicate more easily with students, contributing to a stronger student-teacher relationship overall. Stacy Roshan eloquently describes the importance of facilitating communication with all students in the article “Reaching the Quiet Kids in Class” when she writes:
“Some of our smartest students might be our quietest. How do we give them an opportunity to be vocal without calling them out or making them feel uncomfortable?... [Technology] can provide a powerful way to engage students, inform individual and group instruction, differentiate lessons, document work, and empower students to direct their own learning” (Roshan, S., 2019).
Roshan’s reflections illustrate how technology can be a powerful tool for meeting the individual learning needs of each student. Leveraging a chat feature to communicate with more introverted students in a more accessible manner is just the tip of the iceberg. The power for education technology to equip teachers with the tools to meet the unique learning needs of each student is brimming with unprecedented potential limited only by the depths of our collective imagination.
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Bulger, M. E., Mayer, R. E., Almeroth, K. C., & Blau, S. D. (2008). Measuring learner engagement in computer-equipped college classrooms. Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, 17(2), 129-143.
Fisher, N., Gerdes, K., Logue, T., Smith, L., & Zimmerman, I. (1998). Improving Students' Knowledge and Attitudes of Science through the Use of Hands-On Activities.
Fredricks, J. A. (2011). Engagement in school and out-of-school contexts: A multidimensional view of engagement. Theory into practice, 50(4), 327-335.
Fredricks, J. A., Filsecker, M., & Lawson, M. A. (2016a). Student engagement, context, and adjustment: Addressing definitional, measurement, and methodological issues. Learning and Instruction, 43, 1-4. doi:10.1016/j.learninstruc.2016.02.00
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Li, Y., & Lerner, R. (2011). Trajectories of school engagement during adolescence: Implications for grades, depression, delinquency, and substance use. Developmental Psychology, 47(1), 233-247.
Roshan, S. (2019, July 13). Reaching the Quiet Kids in Class - EdSurge News. Retrieved from https://www.edsurge.com/news/2019-07-13-reaching-the-quiet-kids-in-class
Wang, M., & Fredricks, J. (2014). The reciprocal links between school engagement, youth problem behaviors, and school dropout during adolescence. Child Development, 85(2), 722-737.