Teachers’ Cognitive Flexibility on Engagement and Their Ability to Engage Students: A Theoretical and Empirical Exploration


by Kristy Cooper Stein, Andrew Miness & Tara Kintz — 2018

Background: Student engagement is a cognitively complex domain that is often oversimplified in theory and practice. Reliance on a single model overlooks the sophisticated nature of student engagement and can lead to misconceptions and limited understandings that hinder teachers’ ability to engage all of their students. Assessing varied models simultaneously frames student engagement as a dynamic process contingent upon interactions among many contextual variables.

Purpose: We explore the relationship between how high school teachers understand student engagement and their ability to consistently engage students in their classes. We present cognitive flexibility theory and its seven reductive biases to illustrate the complexity of engaging students across contexts and subjects. This theory makes a compelling a priori case that teachers who more consistently and effectively engage students in their classes are likely to be those who possess higher levels of cognitive flexibility in the domain of student engagement. To test this hypothesis empirically, we asked: Do teachers who are more effective at engaging students reveal more cognitive flexibility when discussing student engagement, as compared with teachers who are less effective at engaging students?

Research Design: We present a mixed-methods case study conducted over three years at one high school. We utilize annual student survey data to identify teachers with whom students reported relatively more and less classroom engagement. Then, we examine the comments of 18 teachers who participated in annual focus groups about student engagement across those three years to identify differences in how more and less engaging teachers express cognitive flexibility in their understanding of student engagement.

Findings: We find that teachers whom students found more engaging tended to illustrate more cognitive flexibility in how they thought and spoke about engagement. By contrast, teachers whom students rated as less engaging tended to see engagement in more simplistic and compartmentalized ways. Within these trends, the data provide evidence that individual teachers fall along the seven theorized continuums regarding the extent to which they demonstrated cognitive flexibility on engagement.

Conclusions: By bringing cognitive flexibility theory to the domain of student engagement, we call for a new research agenda focused on understanding the development of teachers’ knowledge of student engagement and, in turn, engaging instruction. In place of receiving a new model, tool, or checklist, teachers need opportunities to grapple with the complexity of engagement, to see and analyze various cases, and to build schema in relation to their classroom practice.



To view the full-text for this article you must be signed-in with the appropropriate membership. Please review your options below:

Sign-in
Email:
Password:
Store a cookie on my computer that will allow me to skip this sign-in in the future.
Send me my password -- I can't remember it
 
Purchase this Article
Purchase Teachers’ Cognitive Flexibility on Engagement and Their Ability to Engage Students: A Theoretical and Empirical Exploration
Individual-Resource passes allow you to purchase access to resources one resource at a time. There are no recurring fees.
$12
Become a Member
Online Access
With this membership you receive online access to all of TCRecord's content. The introductory rate of $25 is available for a limited time.
$25
Visitor
Choose this to join the mailing list or add an announcement.
$0
Print and Online Access
With this membership you receive the print journal and free online access to all of TCRecord's content.
$210


Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 120 Number 6, 2018, p. -
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22160, Date Accessed: 12/17/2017 6:33:54 PM

Purchase Reprint Rights for this article or review