“Weren’t You Paying Attention?”

I wish I could tell you that it happens less often at our house, but I think every 2-3 days one of the family members asks a question that results in a look of disappointment followed by the response, “Wow, did you not hear me talk about this yesterday.” Or, even worse, “Are you kidding? We just talked about this 10 minutes ago.”

It’s pervasive – the lack of engagement isn’t just in classrooms. It’s amazing how we can be physically present and also exude all of the social cues to appear engaged. For the times where I got busted, I do recall the other person talking and me listening….to something. But, I obviously didn’t listen with enough interest to retain it.

While I can quickly look to blame the phone and social media for this with some other type of urgency, I also know we have to get better. And, we have to be better. How often do we really spend the time as educators in reflecting and making adjustments to increase student engagement? Hattie’s research reveals an Effect Size of 0.75 for student engagement, that almost double the “hinge point” on accelerating learning!

Visible Learning Barometer of Influences. (c) 2019 Corwin and Osiris

Shane Safir provides some great context to engagement with practical classroom strategies in her ASCD article Cultivating a Pedagogy of Student Voice (2023). In the article, she states, “according to a Gallup poll, only 53 percent of our nation’s students report they are engaged in school, as measured by student responses about their enthusiasm for school, whether they feel well-known, and how often they get to do what they do best. Latinx and African American teens report even higher levels of disconnection (Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2012; Gallup, 2014).”

As educational leaders, a priority in classroom observations and providing feedback to teachers must be surrounded in student engagement. The proof is in the pudding. We can’t just rely on eye contact and well timed head nods by our students – those are social cues that have no bearing on a student’s true level of engagement – no more than me half-listening to my wife talk about her day at work. Don’t get fooled by it!

While Safir shares many examples, to me they all revolve around one key aspect – who’s doing the thinking? Keep that in mind as you plan instruction and engage with the students.

How are you eliciting opportunities for students to reflect, build on their prior learning, extend their learning, ask questions, and seek clarification? How can you make visible what students are thinking?

It sometimes takes an outside perspective to notice things that may be missed. So, feel free to invite other teachers to come in to your classroom to provide feedback. It’s also important for us to challenge one another on our assumptions and practices to ensure we are maximizing our time and efforts wisely. After all, it’s not about what we say; it’s about what they hear…


  1. I so appreciated your “feedforward” on my ALAS presentation…”It is all about the conversations.” I channeled you yesterday when presenting to the Cleveland Diocese, provided ample time for table and whole group conversations, and used my visible learning table top “Farrenkopf Cube” throughout the 1 1/2 hours I had with the emerging leaders. Thank you, Dr. Gupta, you helped me “up my game”.

      1. Thank you for being curious. The cube uses an Avery Greeting Card product and I used two to connect and create a cube that I can place on tables where participants are sitting. I will email you the template I used for the ALAS 2023 Table Cubes and also the one I used with the Diocese for my Instructional Leadership presentation.

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