Typhani Harris | April 2017

Defining Engagement through STEAM: Sense of Audience

As we continue our Defining Engagement through STEAM series, based on the research of John Antonetti and Phillip Schlechty, we progress through the exploration of ways we can articulate and respond to the current and frequent educational question “how can you get your students more engaged?”  These sessions explain definitions, 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.

So far we have defined engagement through STEAM by assessing the use of Personal Response in Session 1 , how introducing Variety and Novelty help bring arts to school in Session 2.  Then we visualized the safety needed in order for our students to truly engage in the classroom in Session 3Emotional and Intellectual Safety is a foundation to engagement, especially in STEAM and Arts Integration, when we are asking students to step outside of the traditional education box and vulnerably create, design, and engineer.

This month we are embracing Audience as another way to encourage engagement in the STEAM classroom.  Sense of Audience is so important for building engagement.  In order to be authentically engaged, students must know there is a greater audience.  The more students are able to create, design, and engineer for others (beyond their classmates and teachers), the more real and relevant the experience becomes.  Let’s take a look at Antonietti’s suggestions for developing authentic engagement through Sense of Audience.

Session 4: Sense of Audience

Increased Level of Concern

By defining an audience there is an increased level of concern.  Design scenarios that can actually play out so that the level of concern, or people who are concerned, is heightened.  When students know that their work will be showcased beyond the classroom there is a heightened level of importance.  Let’s face it, if we are requesting that our students complete work out of compliance we are going to get the bare minimum, but when “the world awaits” and there is a feeling of pure accomplishments because someone other than the teachers is going to view it, engagement is increased.

Connections to Audience/Purpose

When students know there is an audience, then the purpose is exposed, and when they find purpose in their work they are engaged.  This level of engagement can’t be fabricated, so be sure the audience you present is a real audience.  Whether it’s displaying their work on instagram or snapcat, or displaying it in the lobby of the school, it must be an authentic audience in order for the purpose and audience to connect. 


Give students a voice.  The more that their creations make a difference in their world, right now, the more relevant the purpose, real the audience, and engaged the student.

Responsibility to the group

Collaborative, or group work is not always favorable for students.  Traditionally, students are put in groups and even though their are group roles, more often than not, one or two students complete the work and the others ride coattails.  Alleviate that by ensuring that there is an audience and group members contributions will be highlighted or showcased by name.  Now not only do they have a responsibility to themselves and their audience, they have a responsibility to the group.

Check out Clear and Modeled Expectations next!

Session 5 takes a look at Clear and Modeled Expectations as a means of student engagement in STEAM.

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.