Connecting to “The What”: Engaging Approaches to Traditional Subject Matter

  • David J. Shernoff
Part of the Advancing Responsible Adolescent Development book series (ARAD)


Teachers may understandably wonder how to facilitate student engagement in their particular topic. First, the chapter discussed the “what” of engagement—that is, exactly what it is we would like adolescents to be in engaged with to constitute “learning.” Towards this end, a five-stage model of engagement with learning is presented as a useful heuristic for the forms of content with which individuals engage at each stage of development. The model suggests that a primary developmental learning goal in the adolescent years is learning domain-specific talents and skills, a type of learning that is primarily episodic—that is learned through experiential “episodes” characterized by immersion in a self-encapsulated meaning system involving movement, rhythm, action, and logic. Then, a model is presented for engaging students in each of the core academic subjects: history, social studies, English, science, and math. For example, Wilhelm provided a model of teaching English literature in which “resistant readers” were reached through role plays and other dramatic and artistic activities in which students felt to be “actually” interacting with the characters, forming a deeper understanding of the author’s perspective and existential questions. As individuals transition into emerging adulthood, a primary developmental goal becomes engagement in vocational or professional mastery. Becoming engaged in a profession typically occurs within a community of practice, or in the context of daily practice of a shared domain of human endeavor with other like-minded professionals. This was modeled in the example for science teaching. Evidence of increased engagement during these approaches was supported through associated empirical studies.


Conceptual Understanding Civic Engagement Engagement Structure Civic Education Experience Sampling Method 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Albert Shanker Institute. (2003). Education for democracy. Washington, DC: Albert Shanker Institute.Google Scholar
  2. Ames, C. (1992). Classrooms: Goals, structures, and student motivation. Journal of Educational Psychology, 84(3), 261–271.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Ames, C., & Archer, J. (1988). Achievement goals in the classroom: Students’ learning strategies and motivation processes. Journal of Educational Psychology, 80(3), 260–267.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bell, M., Bell, J., Bretzlauf, J., Dillard, A., Flanders, J., & Hartfield, R. (2007). Everyday mathematics teacher’s reference manual grades 4–6. New York: McGraw Hill Wright Group.Google Scholar
  5. Brown, J. S., Collins, A., & Duguid, P. (1989). Situated cognition and the culture of learning. Educational Researcher, 18(1), 32–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Carnegie Council on Advancing Adolescent Literacy. (2010). Time to act: An agenda for advancing adolescent literacy for college and career success. New York: Carnagie Corporation of New York.Google Scholar
  7. Constitutional Rights Foundation. (n.d.). Addressing the civic education opportunity gap. Los Angeles: Constitutional Rights Foundation.Google Scholar
  8. Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York: Harper Perennial.Google Scholar
  9. Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1996). Creativity: Flow and the psychology of discovery and invention. New York: HarperCollins.Google Scholar
  10. Csikszentmihalyi, M., Rathunde, K., & Whalen, S. (1993). Talented teenagers: The roots of success and failure. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Dewey, J. (1902/1990). The child and the curriculum. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  12. Dewey, J. (1916/1944). Democracy and education: An introduction to the philosophy of education (1st Free Press paperback ed.). New York: Collier-Macmillan.Google Scholar
  13. Dewey, J. (1943/1990). The school and society and the child and the curriculum (2nd ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  14. Einstein, A. (1954). Ideas and opinions (Modern Library ed.). New York: Modern Library.Google Scholar
  15. Erikson, E. H. (1958). Young man Luther: A study in psychoanalysis and history (1st ed.). New York: Norton.Google Scholar
  16. Goldin, G. A., Yakov, E. M., Schorr, R. Y., & Warner, L. B. (2011). Beliefs and engagement structures: Behind the affective dimension of mathematical learning. ZDM Mathematics Education, 43, 547–560. doi: 10.1007/s11858-011-0348-z.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Harackiewicz, J. M., Durik, A. M., Barron, K. E., Linnenbrink-Garcia, L., & Tauer, J. M. (2008). The role of achievement goals in the development of interest: Reciprocal relations between achievement goals, interest, and performance. Journal of Educational Psychology, 100(1), 105–122.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Hidi, S., & Renninger. K. A. (2006). The four-phase model of interest development. Educational Psychologist, 41(2), 111–127. doi:  10.1207/s15326985ep4102_4 Google Scholar
  19. Hulleman, C. S., Durik, A. M., Schweigert, S. B., & Harackiewicz, J. M. (2008). Task values, achievement goals, and interest: An integrative analysis. Journal of Educational Psychology, 100, 398–416. doi: 10.1037/0022-0663.100.2.398.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Kahne, J., & Middaugh, E. (2008). Democracy for some: The civic opportunity gap in high school. Circle working paper 59. Washington, DC: The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning.Google Scholar
  21. Kahne, J., Chi, B., & Middaugh, E. (2006). Building social capital for civic and political engagement: The potential of high-school civics courses. Canadian Journal of Education, 29(2), 387–409.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Kessler, R. (2000). The soul of education: Helping students find connection, compassion, and character at school. Alexandria: ASCD.Google Scholar
  23. Larson, S. C. (2011). Academic literacy instruction: Engagement for learning in high school biology. Saarbrucken: Lambert Academic Publishing.Google Scholar
  24. Lave, J. (1988). Cognition in practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Levinson, M. (2009, April). “You have the right to struggle”: The construction of historical counternarratives as a tool for civic empowerment. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Americal Educational Research Association, San Diego.Google Scholar
  27. Martin, J. R. (2011). Education reconfigured: Cuture, encounter, and change. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  28. Moje, E. B. (2008). Foregrounding the disciplines in secondary literacy teaching and learning: A call for change. Journal of Adolsecent and Adult Literacy, 52(2), 96–107.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Nakamura, J., & Shernoff, D. J. (2009). Good mentoring: Fostering excellent practice in higher education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  30. Obama, B. (2008). A more perfect union. Accessed July 14, 2011, from
  31. Palincsar, A. S., & Herrenkohl, L. R. (1999). Designing collaborative learning contexts. Theory into Practice, 41(1), 26–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Rogoff, B., Baker-Sennett, J., Lacasa, P., & Goldsmith, D. (1995). Development through participation in sociocultural activity. Cultural practices as contexts for development, 67, 45–65.Google Scholar
  33. Rosenblatt, L. (1978). The reader, the text, the poem: The transactional theory of literary work. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.Google Scholar
  34. Rossman, C. F., Schorr, R. Y., & Warner, L. B. (2011, April). Working with a partner: An investigation of student engagement in a middle school math classroom. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, New Orleans.Google Scholar
  35. Rubin, B. (2009, April). From “no backpacks” to “murder”: Studying civic problems across diverse contexts. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, San Diego.Google Scholar
  36. Scardamalia, M., & Bereiter, C. (1996). Engaging students in a knowledge society. Educational Leadership, 54(3), 6–10.Google Scholar
  37. Shernoff, D. J., Knauth, S., & Makris, E. (2000). The quality of classroom experiences. In M. Csikszentmihalyi & B. Schneider (Eds.), Becoming adult: How teenagers prepare for the world of work (pp. 141–164). New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  38. Shernoff, D. J., Csikszentmihalyi, M., Schneider, B., & Shernoff, E. S. (2003). Student engagement in high school classrooms from the perspective of flow theory. School Psychology Quarterly, 18(2), 158–176.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  40. Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  41. Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design, expanded 2nd edition. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.Google Scholar
  42. Wilfong, L. G. (2009). Textmasters: Bringing literature circles to textbook reading across the curriuculum. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, 53(2), 164–171.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Wilhelm, J. D. (2008). “You gotta be the book”: Teaching engaged and reflecive reading with adolescents (2nd ed.). New York: Teachers College Press.Google Scholar
  44. Wilhelm, J. D., & Novak, B. (2011). Teaching literacy for love and wisdom: Being the book and being the change. New York: Teachers College Press.Google Scholar
  45. Wilhelm, J. D., Baker, T. N., & Dube, J. (2001). Strategic reading: Guiding students to lifelong literacy, 6–12. Portsmouth: Heinemann.Google Scholar
  46. Willingham, D. T. (2009). Why students don’t like school. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  47. Wright, J. (2003). Confusing god and government. Accessed October 25, 2012, from

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • David J. Shernoff
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations College of EducationNorthern Illinois UniversityDeKalbUSA

Personalised recommendations