2012 WDYDIST Research Series Report Two

The Relationship Between Instructional Challenge and Student Engagement

(528.80 kB / pdf)


What did you do in school today? is a national initiative of the Canadian Education Association (CEA) designed to capture, assess and inspire new ideas for enhancing the learning experiences of adolescents in classrooms and schools. What did you do in school today? is one of the few initiatives in Canada that focus specifically on the experiences of adolescent students. And it is the only initiative that focuses on the powerful concept of intellectual engagement.

Here, we are pleased to introduce the second report in this series. This report explores the relationship between instructional challenge (the balance between students’ skill levels and the challenge of their school work) and student engagement. Findings show that many students in Canada find their school work in Language Arts, Math and Science too easy or too hard because the learning is not synchronized with their skills. The implications of this imbalance have significant implications for student engagement. For example, students with low skills are less likely to feel socially, institutionally and intellectually engaged; but students with high skills who feel under-challenged in class are also prone to disengagement. Shifting the relationship between instructional challenge and student engagement requires a reorientation in the way we think about the qualities of effective learning and a commitment to supporting the organizational, pedagogical and curricular changes required for all students to experience intellectually engaging learning environments.

Meet the Expert(s)


Dr. Sharon Friesen

Professor, Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary

Sharon Friesen is a professor and President of the Galileo Educational Network at the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary. Her research interests include the ways in which K-12 educational structures, curriculum, and pedagogies need to be reinvented for our contemporary society.

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J. Douglas Willms

J. Douglas Willms is a Professor and Director of the Canadian Research Institute for Social Policy at the University of New Brunswick (UNB). He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, a Fellow of the International Academy of Education, and a Member of the US National Academy of Education.

J. Douglas Willms est professeur et directeur de l’Institut canadien de recherche en politiques sociales à l’Université du Nouveau-Brunswick (UNB). Il est également membre de la Société royale du Canada, de l'Académie Internationale de l'Éducation et de l'Académie nationale américaine de l'éducation.

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