Typhani Harris | March 2017

Defining Engagement through STEAM: Personal Response

Welcome to our Defining Engagement through STEAM series based on the research of John Antonetti and Phillip Schlechty.  Each session will share strategies, provide templates and rubrics to self-assess, and/or offer downloadable resources to ultimately define engagement in an actionable way.  Check out the introduction to this series here.

Phil Schlechty (www.schlechtycenter.org) defined the 5 levels of engagement as:

  • Authentic Engagement—students are immersed in work that has a clear meaning and immediate value to them
  • Ritual Compliance—the work has little or no immediate meaning to students, but there are extrinsic outcomes of value that keep them engaged
  • Passive Compliance—students see little or no meaning in the assigned work but expend effort merely to avoid negative consequences
  • Retreatism—students are disengaged from assigned work and make no attempt to comply, but are not disruptive to the learning of others
  • Rebellion—students refuse to do the assigned task, act disruptive, and attempt to substitute alternative activities

For the purpose of this series, we are going to focus on John Antonetti‘s 8 characteristics of authentic engagement, the highest level of engagement according to Schlechty’s levels.

Session 1: Personal Response

The level of personal response is imperative to building engagement in STEAM.  In order to be authentically engaged, students must be allowed to develop their own views on the content and be supported in those views.  If we take a look at “traditional” teaching or the imparting of knowledge from one to another, students experience low levels of Bloom’s including knowledge and understanding.  This is not a bad thing.  When we begin new content information it is important to lay a foundation of facts and information.  However, once that information is presented we need to move students up in the levels of rigor, which will, in turn, increase their level of engagement.  Let’s take a look at Antonietti’s suggestions for developing authentic engagement through personal response.

Supported predictions

Allow students to predict what’s next.  Begin by giving students only the basic information and then ask them questions that require them to use that information to predict next steps.  You will be surprised how often students can predict the next information correctly.


When preparing for the plethora of impending standardized tests, the idea of allowing students to grapple with information and build their own opinions may feel like a waste of time, but it’s not.  Give students the opportunity to talk about and defend their opinions on the content information.  Not only does this increase authentic engagement, but it also helps to develop the skills to approach a situation from multiple points, which will be helpful in their tests.


Help students to make connections.  Whether they are connecting to personal experience, other subjects, hobbies, and/or activities, the connections that are made will not only increase the ability to retain information by giving them a concrete “go-to” for remembering information, it will also increase authentic engagement because they  are able to articulate value in the content by connecting it to something they perceive to be valuable.


Comparisons are also an opportunity for students to see how everything they are learning has some sort of relationship.  Help students to make comparisons between different factors of your content as well as comparisons between different content.


Although analogies have been removed from the SATs, it is still an effective way to increase authentic engagement and retention.  Offer examples, “this is like____” and then allow students to do the same thing.

Summary Statements

If you are familiar with Focused Notes The Cornell Way, then you are used to helping students to design summary statements at the end of their notes.  If not, it’s ok, just implement an opportunity for students to summarize the information in their own way.  This works best when students are working from an essential question, then after they take their notes and receive the content information, have them answer the essential question as a summary. (Check out my 2014 article on note-taking here)


Allow students to explain information in their own way.  There are multiple ways for students to explain information.  Consider using methods they are excited about like social media, pictures, and videos.

Authentic Engagement via Personal Response

Pushing students past compliance and into the realm of authentic engagement is not easy, but including opportunities for students to use, grapple, and value their own personal response is.  None of these require you to rewrite curriculum but it does require you to alter your line of questioning.  This can be as simple as encouraging the opportunity to predict, connect, or explain in an opening or closing activity.

Next Week: Session 2
Session 2 will take a look at how providing clear and modeled expectations will help students become authentically engaged in order to achieve success.

About the Author

Dr. Typhani Harris, author of Putting the Performance in Performance Task and Stop Teaching, brings over 2 decades of educational experience to The Institute. Originally a high school English Language Arts teacher, Dr. Harris transitioned into a dance educator who cultivated an award-winning collegiate style dance education program at a public school in California. Prior to joining the Institute, she was an educational leader and instructional coach specializing in preparing new teachers in secondary urban schools.  As the Executive Director of Academic Affairs, Dr. Harris maintains courses, conferences, and the accredited certification program at The Institute.