How engaged are they? An inductive analysis of country student views of their engagement in classroom learning

Year: 2009

Author: Kennish, Penelope

Type of paper: Refereed paper

This paper reports on a qualitative study within in an investigation of secondary school student engagement in classroom learning. The empirical investigation was informed by a theoretical model in which student engagement in classroom learning was viewed as a function of student capability for learning and the expectations placed on their learning. This study was part of the second phase in a large scale ARC Linkage project. The first phase focused on epistemological issues in defining student engagement in classroom learning. The second phase used interviews to collect qualitative and quantitative data from a representative sample of Western Australian secondary school students. The third phase currently underway is applying a self-report rating scale instrument to collect data from a large number of students to enable analysis of interactions between engagement variables.

In Phase Two, an interview schedule was developed using operational definitions of constructs identified in Phase One. The instrument was administered by two researchers to collect 104 secondary country students' views on eleven aspects of their engagement in classroom learning. In the context of a particular subject class, they were asked about their self-esteem, self-concept, resilience, self-regulation and self-efficacy. They were then asked about six aspects of the expectations of their learning - can explain; can interpret; can apply; has perspective; can empathise; and has self-knowledge. Although the questions were semi-structured, the students provided much rich information on themselves and their engagement.

Data were analysed using an iterative process in which it were scanned, categories were generated, and associations between categories were identified. The eventual classification schema comprised three levels. The first level had three categories, the second had eleven categories and the third had 27 categories. Percentages of student comments for the respective categories were calculated to show common and relatively uncommon examples of engagement. Additionally, the meaning of the categories was explained using examples of student comments. The most prevalent constructs emerging from the analyses were: student relationships with classmates and the teacher; an orientation towards learning individually, with peers and from teacher instruction; and confidence in own ability and own perseverance. The students also reported disruptive influences from peers, teacher alienation and reservations and anxiety about their learning.

In conclusion, the study has provided an alternative view of country student engagement in classroom learning but one which is consistent with extant literature on the phenomenon.