School Engagement

Indicators of Positive Development Conference
March 12-13, 2003
Bureau of Labor Statistics Conference Center
Washington, DC


Jennifer A. Fredricks, Connecticut College and Phyllis Blumenfeld, Jeanne Friedel, and Alison Paris, University of Michigan

There is a growing interest in the construct of engagement. One reason for the interest in engagement is that it seen as antidote to low achievement, high levels of student boredom and disaffection, and the high dropout rates in urban areas. Another reason for the interest in engagement is that it is presumed to be malleable and responsive to variations in the environment. In our review of the literature, we found that there are three types of engagement. Behavioral engagement draws on the idea of participation including involvement in academic, social, or extracurricular activities; it is considered crucial for achieving positive academic outcomes and preventing dropping out (Connell, 1990; Finn, 1989). Emotional engagement draws on the idea of appeal. It includes positive and negative reactions to teachers, classmates, academics, or school, and is presumed to create ties to the institution and influence willingness to do the work (Connell, 1990; Finn, 1989). Finally, cognitive engagement draws on the idea of investment; it includes being thoughtful, willing to exert the necessary effort for comprehension of complex ideas and mastery of difficult skills (Corno & Mandinach, 1983; Newmann, Wehlage, & Lamborn, 1992).

This paper has several purposes. First, we present research on the relation between engagement and school related outcomes. Second, we describe the three types of engagement in greater detail. Third, we review common measures of engagement. Finally, we present analyses of survey and interview measures of behavioral, emotional, and cognitive engagement that are based on research conducted with inner city elementary school children in conjunction with MacArthur Network for Successful Pathways Through Middle Childhood.