Although the LiteracyTA Environment promotes engagement through technology, physical movement, and social interactions, our goal should be to engage students intellectually as often as possible. Intellectual energy happens when students analyze, synthesize, and evaluate information and apply what they are learning to new situations. The purpose of this type of high-level engagement is to have all brains working all of the time. Whether they are standing, walking, or talking to their peers, students must be pushed to think beyond knowledge and comprehension. Quite simply, higher-level thinking leads to higher engagement.


LiteracyTA identifies three types of engagement that can happen in a classroom: physical, social, and intellectual.

Physical Engagement

To better understand engagement in the LiteracyTA Environment, we should explain each type. Let's begin with physical engagement. We consider physical engagement to have the lowest impact on student learning since it relies heavily on compliance. Students, for example, who are asked to "vote with their feet" may do what they are told and walk to a corner in the room but may not think too hard about why they have chosen that corner and how they can support their decision. This activity could easily move to intellectual engagement if students were expected to write their reasons down, discuss them in their corners, and work together to gather evidence that supports their ideas. Now we are engaging them physically, socially, and intellectually. To be fair, physical movement is good. We want students standing and moving around, but movement alone does not teach the cognitive skills students need to develop to be ready for college, careers, and the Common Core State Standards.

Social Engagement

The same can be said about social engagement. Research tells us that young learners need multiple opportunities each class to talk about their learning. In fact, students should have time to discuss and process ideas every 5-8 minutes. That means, in a 60 minute class, students should talk in pairs or small groups 6 to 10 times. These discussions can be 30 second exchanges. Students don't have to have five minutes to process an idea. The quick exchanges can create a nice energy in the room and keep students focused and interested. However, like all physical engagement strategies, social engagement can quickly turn to compliance if students are not challenged by the discussion topics. And a lack of support and structure can render a perfectly good engagement strategy ineffective. To ensure effective social engagement takes place, we suggest teachers prepare higher-level questions for students to discuss and provide clear expectations for the discussions themselves. Teaching tools like digital timers and pre-identifying pair-share partners will also lead to successful social engagement. The value of social engagement is the talking. Too often students sit passively in class and don't engage in the discussion. We want students talking to each other. We want them to invest in their learning. Our goal is simple: increase opportunities for all students to talk multiple times each class period. The challenge becomes asking thought provoking questions that demand complex thought and sophisticated responses.

Intellectual Engagement

Intellectual engagement--prompted by the types of questions we ask and the tasks we assign--is the last type of engagement in the LiteracyTA Environment. Intellectual energy is achieved when students are expected to do the difficult work of reading and writing in the disciplines. They should be responsible for thinking through complex ideas and articulating those ideas either verbally or in writing. We want to challenge students to think in sophisticated ways and ask them to analyze, evaluate, synthesize, and apply new information whenever possible. We also want them to learn how to solve problems on their own.

Technology is another tool we use in the LiteracyTA Environment to develop students' higher order thinking skills while making learning fun. Modern technology makes it easy for students to engage in various online collaborative environments and use dynamic presentation tools to communicate ideas clearly and effectively. Intellectual engagement can happen in class, online, or outside the classroom walls. It is the highest level of engagement because it asks students to do the heavy lifting which leads to a dramatic increase in student achievement.

Engagement is seen when students...

  • form arguments and support their claims with strong evidence or supporting details.
  • lift individual white boards high into the air with answers to a higher level question.
  • analyze and synthesize complex ideas through speaking or writing.
  • apply knowledge to new learning experiences in class, online, or outside.
  • evaluate the validity or credibility of an idea or process.
  • work in pairs or small groups to solve problems.
  • collaborate online using 21st century tools.
  • apply scientific principles and methods to authentic research.  
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