Lauren Bouchard May 2017

Student Engagement in the History Classroom

Research Question: How can history teachers effectively engage students in the study of history at the high school level?

Problem Statement:

What strategies can be used to Effectively Engage Students in the Study of History at the High School level?

Why are so many students disinterested in their history class?

Is it the topic/material they are learning about in the middle school that is turning them off to history?

Is it a former teacher that has not made learning about history exciting enough?

I start to wonder, I love learning about history, why don’t my students?

How can I get my own students more engaged in my classroom?

How do I change the fixed mindset of “I hate history” to maybe I am interested in learning about history?

How do I get my students to understand the connections between learning about history and its affects on them and today’s society?


The intent of this study:

What are the greatest postitve and negative effects of varied teaching methods that have a influence on why some students are more engaged than others?

Throughout my inquiry, I will attempt to reveal whether or not these pros and cons are unique to history classrooms and if they can be remedied through better implementation and execution or whether they are indicative of a larger scale issue of lack of interest in the history classroom.

What factors are necessary for a successful engaged classroom

Can teachers change their teaching practices to engage more students

What are the best practices for engagement? How do I get my students to believe what they are learning, in particular, in their history class, is important?

Definition of terms:

Engagement: refers to the degree of attention, curiosity, interest, optimism, and passion that students show when they are learning or being taught, which extends to the level of motivation they have to learn and progress in their education

Authentic learning: refers to a wide variety of educational and instructional techniques focused on connecting what students are taught in school to real-world issues, problems, and applications.

Rigor: is widely used by educators to describe instruction, schoolwork, learning experiences, and educational expectations that are academically, intellectually, and personally challenging

Types of Engagement

Intellectual engagement: To increase student engagement in a course or subject, teachers may create lessons, assignments, or projects that appeal to student interests or that stimulates their curiosity.

Emotional engagement: Educators may use a wide variety of strategies to promote positive emotions in students that will facilitate the learning process, minimize negative behaviors, or keep students from dropping out.

Behavioral engagement: Teachers may establish classroom routines, use consistent cues, or assign students roles that foster behaviors more conducive to learning. Physical engagement: Teachers may use physical activities or routines to stimulate learning or interest.

Social engagement: Teachers may use a variety of strategies to stimulate engagement through social interactions

Cultural engagement: Schools may take active steps to make students from diverse cultural backgrounds—particularly recently arrived immigrant or refugee students and their families—feel welcomed, accepted, safe, and valued

Literature Review

The research on student engagement is split but there is some agreement that varied lesson plans and interactive lessons tend to engage students more than traditional lesson plans.

  • Smith, Roak, Smith (2007) noted that students who respond to questions designed to promote thinking as well as personal connections, experience a positive effect on achievement. They also found that “it is only natural that students engage in tasks in which they feel competent and confident, and in turn, avoid at all cost those in which they do not feel competent”( Smith, Roak, Smith 2007). This is similar to Bandura’s theory that self-efficacy can have an affect on student learning and motivation.
  • Some researchers such as Karen Smith have studied the effectiveness of pairing metacognitive questions along with text-based questions, which showed students demonstrated better retention of content with both as compared to just getting the text-based questions.


How can history teachers effectively engage students in the study of history at the high school level at Uxbridge High?

It will explore various engagement strategies used in the history classroom and focus on the reasons why some engagement strategies are more successful while others are not, with regards to the following factors:

students’ willingness to participate in new engagement practices at school

and curriculum that allows for implementation of using various engagement practices

Rationale for Design

This case study is conducted in an ethnographic style

Qualitative Data

Surveys of three History teachers (75% of the teaching staff)

thirty nine students (90% of my students) enrolled in my US I courses (grades 10)

15 Student Interviews

Interviews allowed for a personal view of what engages them in a classroom.

this allowed students to express frustrations and commendations for different teaching strategies.

Quantitative Data

The quantitative data comes from surveys (Appendix A and B) to probe students to consider the best teaching strategies to engage students in a history classroom. These surveys will allow students to reflect on teaching strategies that work best for them as far as engaging them in a lesson and what types of teaching strategies do not engage them.

Site and Participants

  • This research is conducted at my school of employment where I have worked for thirteen years
  • The site of the study is a Level 2 public high school, in central Massachusetts, with 478 students and 30 teachers.
  • The school has a student population that is 91.1% White, 1% African American, 2.8%
  • Asian, 3.9% Hispanic and 0.2% Native American.

Data Collection

  • Qualitative Data
  • Surveys were distributed electronically using Google forms
  • Interviews happened after school hours on site at UHS
  • Quantitative Data
  • Observations of History Classrooms

Ethical Considerations

  • Anonymity
  • Consent forms
  • IRB
  • Permission from Superintendent, Principal and Assistant Principal


Over 51% of students strongly agree that they learn best when the teacher presents the material in an interesting way.
55% of students either agree or strongly agree that they put more effort into assignments when the material is relevant to their own lives
80% of students Agree or Strongly Agree that they are more successful when they have a choice in their learning.
50% of students states that grades motivated them most in the classroom, while 35% stated it was the subject that motivates them while only 14% reported it was the teacher who motivated them the most in the classroom.
Students were split as to what their preferred learning style was, surprisingly 38% states Direct Instruction was preferred, while group work and independent work both surveyed at 31%


Summary of Findings

  • Overall students at Uxbridge High School answered similarly in many of their interview questions.
  • During interviews many students noted that “I try harder if they like the class or the teacher”, or “I only work hard when I am interested in the topic”.
  • The survey and interviews both highlighted the fact that students do not enjoy classes that are just prepping for large scale test like MCAS.
  • One student responded, “the lessons are long and boring, and do not relate to my life”.
  • The survey also revealed that students have diverse learning styles, 30% preferred group work, 30% preferred direct instruction, and 30% preferred independent work.
  • Overall many students responded that they enjoy group and hands on activities, but the answers were very varied showing that students have diverse learning styles and preferred a change up in instruction, rather that the same thing over and over.


Findings in Relation to the Literature

  • The results of the study suggest that students engage in their classes for various reasons.
  • It also shows that student engagement is contingent on many factors and there is not a “one size fits all” when it comes to getting students engaged in History classes.
  • The study found, specifically in the study of history that students typically try harder and are more engaged in topics they are interested in.
  • Students who have freedom to pick what type of assessment, or assignment they want to do makes them more likely to engage in a history class.
  • Choice in learning leads to more student success because student can do more at what they do best. These results are in agreement with other notable research as noted in the literature review,
  • “Research has demonstrated that educational practices can moderate the effects of task outcomes on self-efficacy. In the context of classroom learning, for example, students should develop a higher sense of efficacy for learning as they work at a task and experience some success. Some educational practices may validate this sense of efficacy by clearly conveying that students are acquiring skills and knowledge, which should help to sustain motivation and develop self-efficacy and skills.” (Schunk, 1984).


  • Size of participant pool
  • Length of time
  • Possible bias on the part of the researcher

Next Steps/Recommendations

  • For teachers to effectively engage students they need to recognize that teaching and teachers are central to student engagement.
  • Teachers should also note that keeping up with the educational research through involvement in professional development activities (reading journals, attending workshops or webinars, etc) is key for teachers to remain current in the field using effective, research-based strategies, and techniques.
  • Although motivating and engaging students is not an easy task, teachers and students alike should find out what techniques work best for them, and differentiate their teaching in order to engage more students.
  • Teachers should create learning opportunities that are active, collaborative, and promote learning relationships.
  • Teachers who understand that learning in groups, peer relationships, and social skills are key components to engagement and motivation will be more successful at engaging their students in their classrooms.
  • Just as teachers who create educational experiences for students that are challenging and enriching and that extend their academic abilities. Easy learning activities and assignments are not as effective at engaging students as activities and assignments that challenge them.
  • When students are reflecting, questioning, conjecturing, evaluating, and making connections between ideas, they are more engaged.
  • Teachers must create rich educational experiences that challenge students’ ideas and stretch them as far as they can go (Zepke & Leach, 2010).


  • Professor Rogers
  • My cohort
  • My fellow teachers at Uxbridge High School
  • My students at Uxbridge High

And most of all my children, Elyse, Aubrey and Brayden.

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