Well-being and involvement are the quality criteria of the process-oriented approach of the Experiential Education Model. Below you will zoom in on involvement.
Involvement is …
- A quality of human activity
- That can be recognised by concentration and persistence
- And is characterised by:
- motivation, interest and fascination
- openness to stimuli and intense mental activity
- vivid sensations and an embodied sense of meaning
- deep satisfaction and a strong flow of energy
- which are determined by:
- the exploratory drive and the individual pattern of developmental needs
- the fundamental schemes reflecting the actual level of development. One acts at the very limits of one’s capabilities (the ‘zone of proximal development’)
… as a result of which development occurs
The child is narrowing his/her attention to the limited circle of his/her activity. Only intense stimuli can reach and maybe distract him/her. A main point of reference for the observer (with most activities) are the child’s eye movements: are the eyes focused on the relevant object or do they occasionally wander?
In motor activities physical energy is involved. One could even regard the degree of transpiration as a measure for involvement. In other activities a physical component may still catch the eye: loud talking (shouting), the actions being carried out in a lively pace. However, this must not be confused with the release of pent-up energy (e.g. because one had to be quiet for too long). Mental energy can become apparent in the zeal displayed in action or, more abstractly, in the (mental) effort showing on faces. This can be accompanied by physical signs, such as reddening or transpiration.
Complexity and creativity
Children are at their best whenever they are involved. The activity then is matching their competence. They fully apply to their cognitive and other capabilities. As a result, their behaviour is more than routine. More often than not complexity involves creativity: the child adds an individual touch to the activity, he/she brings in his/her own elements, produces something new, shows something not entirely predictable, something personal.
Facial expression and posture
Non-verbal signs are a great help when assessing the level of involvement. It is, for instance, possible to distinguish between eyes staring dreamily into space (level 1), wandering from one point to another, and an intense look (level 5). When stories are told feelings and moods can be told straight from the child’s face. The overall posture can reveal high concentration or boredom. Even when children are seen from the back only, one might assess the level of (non) involvement.
When concentrating, the children direct their full attention and energy towards one point and are ‘captured’ by the activity. That is why they do not easily let go of the action. They want the sensation of satisfaction, experienced with intense activity, to last and they are quite willing to do the necessary efforts. They are not easily distracted by others or stopped by obstacles. Activities going along with involvement tend to last. Even very young children can surprise us with the duration of their concentration.
Involved children give special attention to their work: they are susceptible to details and show precision in their actions. Non-involved children tend to race through their work; they are negligent, absent minded, do not notice what is relevant to their actions. In verbally oriented activities less obvious details escape their notice (casual words , gestures,…). They miss the point or important clues. In contrast, if involved not a single sound is missed even when the speaker has a low voice.
Young children are alert and easily respond to interesting stimuli. They actually jump to action (e.g. after several possible activities were introduced), thus expressing motivation. They also react to new stimuli occurring in the course of action, provided those are relevant.
Children sometimes explicitly indicate that they are/were involved by their spontaneous comments (“I liked that!”, ” Can we do that again?”). They can also indicate more implicitly that the activity appeals to them by giving enthusiastic descriptions of what they are/have been doing: they cannot refrain from putting into words what they are experiencing, discovering,… Indeed, long before babies use recognisable words, they will often indicate their involvement vocally, gurgling, babbling and squealing.
Activities possessing the quality of involvement often induce a feeling of satisfaction. The source of this feeling may vary, but it will always imply ‘exploration’, ‘getting a grip on reality’, being ‘fascinated’ or ‘passionate’ about something. This feeling of satisfaction is often implicit, but sometimes one can notice a child looking with utter satisfaction at his/her work, touching it,…
Why is involvement important?
Involvement is something very special. When you observe it you sense intuitively that you cannot disturb the activity. When people are involved, we know that they address their capabilities and that they are ‘developing’: they learn at a deeper level, they become more competent.
Involvement is congruent with Csiksentmihayli’s ‘state of flow’, Vygotsky’s ‘zone of proximal development’ and Gladwell’s concept of ‘hard work’. Therefore we consider involvement as an indispensable condition for fundamental or deep-level-learning. High involvement creates the best possible conditions for sustainable development. If involvement is lacking, there is reason for concern. Chances are that their development will stagnate. That is why we should do everything we can in order to create an environment in which people can engage in a wide variety of activities.
Involvement around the world
Involvement as defined by The Centre for Experiential Education is part of the Flemish pedagogical framework for babies and toddlers, the Dutch pedagogical framework for childcare and the Early Years Learning Framework for Australia. It is recommended by in the Early years Foundation Stage Profile (UK) and is an integral part of quality-instruments such as (Baby) Effective Early Learning (EEL and BEEL) and the Australian instrument Reflect, Respect, Relate.
The Centre for Experiential Education developed the Leuven Involvement Scale (LIS) to capture the levels of Involvement.
How Does Well-being & Involvement Contribute to the Quality of Learning
- Laevers F, Declercq B. (2018). How well‐being and involvement fit into the commitment to children’s rights, in: Eur J Educ., 35, 325–335. https://doi.org/10.1111/ejed.12286
- Laevers, F., & Declercq (2013). Increasing children’s competencies through wellbeing and involvement, in: Reflections Magazine, 52.
- Laevers, F., & Heylen, L. Involvement of Children and Teacher Style: Insights from an international study on Experiential Education. [Socrates publication]
- Lietaert, S. (2016). A gender gap in the classroom? Different perceptions of student engagement and teacher support. [doctoraat Psychologie en Pedagogische wetenschappen, KULeuven]
- Lietaert, S., Roorda, D., Laevers, F., Verschueren, K, & De Fraine, B. (2015). The gender gap in student engagement: The role of teachers’ autonomy support, structure, and involvement, in: British Journal of Educational Psychology, 85, 498–518. https://doi.org/10.1111/bjep.12095