George Lucas Educational Foundation

An Infographic and Model for Student Engagement - but What about Those Who “Opt Out?"

An Infographic and Model for Student Engagement - but What about Those Who “Opt Out?"

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I was browsing on Twitter recently, when I came across a tweet with an infographic attached which sparked my interest because it succinctly captured my thinking about the classroom, and more particularly, it shows where the zone for student engagement lies. The picture is posted with an excellent article here from Student Engagement Trust.

In 32 years of teaching, one of my most challenging questions for inquiry has been the issue of student engagement. I seem to be able to help the great majority of my students enter into the space for learning with me, but the ones who “opt out,” as it were, are the ones I am especially keen to understand. To be sure, there are many mitigating factors with which students contend and which I am not able to overcome - poverty, family tensions, the death of a loved one… Nevertheless, my goal is that every student succeed and pass the classes I teach, so I am puzzled when I am not able to reach every student.

When a student fails, I cannot help but feel as though I too, have failed. There is another factor I don’t think is captured in this model - the issue of outside factors on each of the three primary colored spheres. Let’s consider these:

Blue = Content Outside forces make decisions about what must be taught, what students must know and be able to do… we call them standards, frameworks, the Common Core. The rigor of the Common Core is of special concern. I am on board with Common Core, but I am concerned about how I will make the content accessible and meaningful. I am certainly working on this, and so are you, I am sure. How do we help students engage with the rigorous content they are expected to show that they have mastered in order to be successful?

Red = Teacher I am confident that I have mastered my content as demonstrated by the fact that I am a National Board Certified Teacher, holding a Master’s Degree from a prestigious institution, and thirty-two years of experience in the classroom. I am intentional about cultivating good relationships with students, and for the most part, even with the students who “opt out.” I have mostly very positive and professional connections with students. I have acquired other qualifications, but despite my life-long pursuit of learning, certifications, professional development opportunities, and now digital badges as well, I have yet to find the proverbial “Graal” to ensure all students engage and succeed. I wonder what more I can reasonably do? How do I reach them, each and every one?

Yellow = Student Most of my students, and yours as well, manage to master the rigorous content that we ask them to learn. And yet, some still do not. Is relevance truly the issue for these? I believe relevance is very important, and I also think most teachers try very hard to help students understand how what they are learning is relevant, if only that they need to pass a course to graduate, to enter college or to pursue career paths which interest them. And yet, those explanations remain elusive to the ones who “opt out.” I am sure many of us have pondered these questions as we have worked overtime to reach out to the students addressed in this article.

What do you think? What have you tried? What more might we do? Best wishes to all of us as we seek to meet the needs of all students. Don

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Sheila Smith's picture
Sheila Smith
Assistant Principal, Armijo High School

Loved reading this! I focus on the kids who opt out and - as one experiment - am implementing Check and Connect to attach a mentor to these kids. I like Check and Connect because it doesn't focus on those outside factors for which we have little influence; instead it focuses on the variables that students can address and change within the setting of the school. It also brings in community partnerships. I'm even trying to convince my girlfriends from my social group to take on one or two students to Check and Connect. I developed a program like this in Davis but we called it the "Best Friends" club because these students became my best friends! When I came to Fairfield I learned that the University of Minnesota had developed and conducted long-term studies on this idea they call Check and Connect and now I use their case management format. I think if we can solve this opting-out dilemma - as well as ensuring best instructional practices are happening in EVERY classroom- we will have accomplished something for our schools.

Samer Rabadi's picture
Samer Rabadi
Online Community Engagement Manager

Sorry, Sheila--it looks like there was a glitch on the site. I've deleted the duplicates for you.

Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program; Elementary Library Media Specialist

I'd replace "meaningful engagement" with "passion," personally. I think that kids who opt out have something they "opt in" to. Figuring out what that is and helping move that passion into the center of the diagram seems like the key to getting them to opt back in.

Don Doehla, MA, NBCT's picture
Don Doehla, MA, NBCT
2015 California Language Teacher of the Year, Co-Director Berkeley WL Project at UC Berkeley Language Center

@Sheila - I remember you doing a similar thing at Vallejo HS when we were there too! Good idea, and having impact.

@Laura - I like the word 'passion' very much. I agree that passion lies at the heart of this dilemma - so often the students who opt out are apathetic about school. I am baffled by that, since as a teacher, I am passionate about education! I need more time to be able to sit down with students one on one to talk about how to support them to greater engagement.

Thanks for your comments!


Janice Holter Kittok's picture
Janice Holter Kittok
World Language Education Specialist, Consultant, Speaker

We need to rethink the Content for World Languages, especially at the beginning levels. Students learn sound bytes about other cultures and spend an overwhelming amount of time learning to talk about themselves in a new language (my family, my pastimes, my likes/dislikes...). Beginning level language curricula are egocentric. I advocate teaching CONTENT about the world with focus on the target culture(s). Students recognize the need to learn about the world. They will find relevance in global knowledge content.
Plus, when content is taught in comprehensible target language, students learn content and acquire language at the same time. When we can get two for the price of one, why settle for 50%? This is my mission in delivering professional development for language teachers at Educator in Service. The blue circle of the infographic is a black hole in many cases. Let's color their world.

Don Doehla, MA, NBCT's picture
Don Doehla, MA, NBCT
2015 California Language Teacher of the Year, Co-Director Berkeley WL Project at UC Berkeley Language Center

@ Janice - good points! I agree. I like to teach "foods" as part of a unit which focusses on good nutrition and food distribution, the local foods movement, as well as the need to address issues associated with poverty and famine, for example. It is too simplistic to just learn a list of food items, where to buy them, how to ask for what one wants, conjugate the verbs "needed" to do these tasks, and so on.

We do indeed need to re-think and re-design the curriculum! Well said, Janice! I was fun to meet you in Iowa!

Best to you,


PS - by the way, everyone, Janice has a good website of resources to help us 're-think!' You will find it here:

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