Engaging Students Through Relevant Context


When we think about engaging students through the use of rigorous lesson an aspect that we must attend to is the context in which students are learning.

What we mean here by context is the setting, situation, or role that students engage with and/or take on when learning and applying new understandings.  This is often stated as a real-world application, but often our ideas of a real-world application can vary drastically. When we talk about context or real-world application, we mean that students are working with or looking at the content from something other than a strictly academic lens.

The context helps to answer the question, why am I learning this? And why is this important? For example, suppose you are teaching a lesson on the scientific method. You would introduce this by explaining that students are going to be completing experiments and that there is a process for doing this that they and other scientist work through. The future need to apply this information becomes the context. It is the reason that they have to learn this because you are setting the expectation for near future use. Or, let’s say you are helping students to gain fluency in multiplication, here you can provide ‘real-world’ contexts for problems for mental math like situations they might encounter when out shopping. Sometimes the context might come in the form of a question such as ‘what would happen if….’, or ‘how can we find out…’ So, you can see that context can be set in many different ways. The main point is to provide a reason, some way to make the learning meaningful for students and to provide a purpose.

Why is context important?

Context is important because for students to be able to transfer new knowledge and understanding, they have to have a grasp of how it can be used. Linda Hammond-Darling and Kim Austin explain this really well in Lesson for Life: Learning and Transfer. Here they say, “for transfer to occur, students “must know how to apply what they have learned to new situations or problems, and they must know when it applies. To teach for transfer, teachers must ask, “what it is about what I am teaching now that will be of value, of use, and a source of understanding for my students at some point in the future, when they are in a situation that is not identical to the one they’re in now?” Continually asking, “where are my students in the curriculum now?”, but also “where might this learning be going?” is fundamental to teaching for transfer.”

How does providing a context relate to engagement?

When students are able to answer the question of ‘why am I learning this?’ they are more apt to be engaged in the lesson. But, remember, it is not only about providing the context, or the reason why but also coupling that with the other indicators of engagement that give any one aspect its power to increase student engagement.

Interested in taking a deeper dive into increasing student engagement into your classroom?

What does deep engagement look like, how can you increase the level of student engagement within your classroom, and how can you do this in a way that is easy to manage, timely, and, most of all, meaningful to students. This course will help educators answer those questions, and also to support them in their initial efforts of applying strategies to increase student engagement in their classroom.

Our comprehensive online self-paced course titled “Increasing Student Engagement: Planning Outside the Box” provides educators with the strategies and tools for understanding how to increase the level of student engagement within every lesson, every day. We will also focus on instructional methods for helping students to meet the learning expectations for their state content standards and to be College and Career ready.

This course is offered for educators in the following locations:

  1. Arizona, (45 Clock Hours)
  2. Hawaii, (45 Clock Hours)
  3. Illinois, (45 Clock Hours)
  4. National Open Enrollment, (45 Clock Hours)
  5. New York City/ASPDP (3 Salary Advancement P-Credits)
  6. New York State Re-Certification (45 CTLE Clock Hours)
  7. Ohio, (40 Clock Hours)
  8. Pennsylvania, Approved ACT 48 Provider
  9. Texas, Approved CPE Provider
  10. Ashland University, (3 Graduate Credits)