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Engaging Children

Igniting a Drive for Deeper Learning

What motivates us to learn? We all want to promote student engagement, but we often struggle with getting our students excited about and responsible for their own learning. In Engaging Children, Ellin Oliver Keene explores the question: What can we do to encourage motivation for students or, better yet, their engagement?

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What motivates us to learn?

We all want our students to be engaged learners, but we often struggle with getting them excited about and responsible for their own learning.

In Engaging Children, Ellin Oliver Keene explores the question: What can we do to help students develop internal motivation or, better yet, engagement? Differentiating between compliance, participation, motivation, and engagement, she shows how to develop and recognize true student engagement in your classroom and help students take more responsibility for their learning.

Explore the conditions where student-driven engagement flourishes.

As a teacher, instructional coach, or principal you will learn to cultivate an environment for increasing student engagement. You will also explore four pillars of engagement that provide a framework for considering what it means to be engaged:

  • Intellectual urgency: The compelling drive we experience when we choose to invest time and effort in learning; using questions to propel our learning forward.
  • Emotional resonance: The ability to describe when a concept is imprinted on our mind and our heart; experiencing a strong emotional connection to what we learn or read.
  • Perspective bending: An awareness of how others’ knowledge, emotions, and beliefs shape our own; adjusting our thinking when challenged and relishing the opportunity to impact others with our ideas.
  • The aesthetic world: A recognition of moments when we find something uniquely beautiful, captivating, hilarious, or meaningful; discussing a book, an illustration, a painting, or an idea that seems to have been created just for us.

Truly engaged children are more likely to remember and reapply what they learn. Engagement provides authentic motivation for students and helps them become citizens who act on their learning for the betterment of the world. With Ellin’s guidance, you’ll discover how to help all children uncover their drive for deeper learning.

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Additional Resource Information

(click any section below to continue reading)



Chapter 1: Let Me Entertain You!

Chapter 2: All In: What It Means to Be Engaged

Chapter 3: An Invitation to Engagement: Conditions in the Engaged Classroom

Chapter 4: Pillars of Engaged Learning

Chapter 5: Intellectual Urgency

Chapter 6: Emotional Resonance

Chapter 7: Perspective Bending

Chapter 8: The Aesthetic World

Coda: Act

Appendix A: Building Independence: High-Impact Demonstrations

Appendix B: What Engagement Looks Like

Appendix C: Understanding and Engagement

Appendix D: Worth Remembering! Student Record-Keeping Form

Appendix E: Questions for Exploring Engagement Stories

Appendix F: Book Club Reflections

Appendix G: Essential Conditions for Engaged Learning

In Depth

Questions this book will address:

  • How can educators facilitate engagement for all rather than accepting that some kids just seem more engaged than others?
  • Is it up to us to keep up a song and dance to sustain kids’ attention all day?
  • How can we serve as models of intellectual and emotional engagement?
  • How do we help a child engage when he or she is taciturn and resistant?
  • How might we turn over responsibility for engagement to students? Can they choose to engage?
  • How do we help children engage and reengage without the use of external reinforcements?
  • How do we show trust in students to find their own way into engagement?
  • How do we integrate modeling and discussion about engagement with students and colleagues into our already packed days of teaching and learning?

 I want you to join me in delving into this question: What can I do to help students develop intrinsic motivation or, better yet, engagement? At the core of this book is an exploration of the ways we can promote student-driven engagement through discourse and modeling. I will show how we can help students take more responsibility for their own learning and engagement.

We’ll begin this journey in Chapter 1 by contrasting four behaviors and modes of thinking that are often confused: compliance (I’m doing it because I’m told to), participation (I’m going along with the crowd, doing an assignment), external and internal motivation (I’m doing this for something or someone else), and true engagement (I want to do this for myself and in service to others). In Chapters 2 and 3, we’ll do some side-by-side thinking about our own engaging experiences and explore ways to begin the conversation about engagement with students. We’ll hear directly from students who have felt a sense of deep engagement and learn from their wise advice about how teachers can create the conditions for engagement in classrooms. In Chapter 4, I’ll tackle a new definition for engagement, one that goes beyond traditional notions of getting kids motivated. It provides four pillars we can use to assess our students’ engagement and help them become more independent in seeking engagement on their own.

Chapters 5–8 will focus in depth on each of the four pillars of engagement and, importantly, will allow you to think about them in the four major literacy workshop settings.

Certainly any of the pillars of engagement can happen in any workshop setting, but this structure will give us an opportunity to look at some examples of engagement building in progress!


Companion Resources

Posters: The Four Pillars of Engagement


“When the conditions Ellin describes are firmly in place, children are in charge of their learning. Engaging Children is funny, a bit irreverent, and most of all helpful in teaching kids how to do the important work of learning.”

—Cris Tovani, teacher, author of No More Telling as Teaching and Do I Really Have to Teach Reading?

“Ellin knocks this one out of the park. With sheer intellect, delightful humor, and a just-right tinge of slightly naughty non-compliance, she pitches a compelling case for rethinking engagement.”

—Stephanie Harvey, coauthor of The Comprehension Toolkit series, Comprehension and Collaboration, and From Striving to Thriving

“We can create classroom environments where children think and feel and blossom as lifelong learners. Ellin shows us how in this utterly important, moving, and engaging read.”

—Katherine Bomer, author of The Journey Is Everything and Hidden Gems

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