"School is for me": Student engagement and the Fair Go Project

Year: 2002

Author: O'Brien, Mary-Lou, Johnson, Kerry, Lawson, Justine

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper reports on a research collaboration between the New South Wales Priority Schools Funding Program (PSFP) and the School of Education and Early Childhood Studies, University of Western Sydney (UWS). The research partnership, the Fair Go Fair Share Fair Say Fair Content Project (hereafter FGP), has been established to explore, evaluate and describe in detail the kinds of classroom pedagogies that bring enhanced outcomes for educationally disadvantaged students in primary schools in south-western Sydney.

The theoretical and empirical foundations of the research are that student engagement is a pivotal element in classroom pedagogies, both determining and illuminating the quality and effect of student outcomes. In this sense engagement is not narrowly defined as on-task behaviour, but has a wider sense that students feel that school and education is "for them". For students in NSW PSFP schools, this feeling is of critical importance to their future educational identities. Student self-assessment and therefore student voice is utilised as an important way to explore engagement.

The paper is organised in three sections. The first section provides some background to the FGP, which commenced in 2000 in a small number of primary schools in low socio-economic status (SES) communities in south-western Sydney.

The second section provides a brief overview of research into student engagement, seeking to focus on what is most useful for students and teachers working together in linguistically and culturally diverse school communities which also experience considerable economic pressure. How engagement is defined, identified and sustained remains a critical research question for all those involved in the FGP. Within the context of the PSFP, the paper considers what this might mean for low SES kids, their teachers and the learning experiences on offer in their classrooms. There are research links to the 'productive pedagogies' research in the Queensland School Reform Longitudinal Study. Specifically, the FGP has lifted out 'engagement' to focus on 'engaging pedagogies' in low SES school communities.

The last section locates engagement within the context of the primary school classrooms of teachers participating in the research project. It focuses on the variety of ways the research partnerships, including teachers, students, academics, education consultants and community development officers, are exploring engagement in classroom contexts through literacy, multiliteracies, science and technology, Human Society and Its Environment and student self-assessment.