Focusing on individuals: A pathway of qualitative investigation in mathematics engagement

Year: 2012

Author: Way, Jennifer, Bobis, Janette, Anderson, Judy, Martin, Andrew, Skilling, Karen, Reece, Amelia, Keegan, Brooke

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


The Middle Years Transition, Engagement and Achievement in Mathematics (MYTEAM) research project responded to widespread concern over student under-achievement in mathematics, the perceived middle-years dip in engagement and performance, and the declining numbers of students studying higher levels of mathematics. The purpose of this presentation is to illustrate how a series of qualitative studies aimed at exploring student engagement and achievement in mathematics directly sprang from a quantitative investigation involving the application of multidimensional motivation and engagement instrumentation across 44 primary and secondary Sydney schools.

The MYTEAM project consisted of five studies, each informing the next. Study 1 and 2 used an adapted version of the MES and a basic mathematics achievement test to help track the transition from primary to secondary school of 1602 students. This allowed the identification of students - and to some extent, teachers and schools - with particular mathematical achievement and engagement characteristics. In Study 3 students from 10 schools, with notable upward or downward shifts in motivation and engagement were interviewed, along with their teachers.  Study 4 focused on the classroom practices of teachers associated with elevated proportions of students exhibiting high or increasing levels of engagement, with the purpose of identifying specific teaching strategies. The data gathered from Studies 3 and 4 informed a professional development intervention at a school (Study 5), designed to enhance teacher knowledge about motivation and engagement, and shape their beliefs and practices to those associated with higher levels of student engagement.

To illustrate an investigative pathway through the studies, the presentation highlights one theme that emerged from the quantitative data and was amplified through the qualitative studies: the significance of individual differences in mathematics engagement. Study 3 student interviews revealed individualised emotional responses to mathematics, thoughts about their mathematical abilities and their teachers' instruction methods, and their behavioural responses. The teacher interviews revealed the impact of teacher perceptions of individual students' mathematical abilities and levels of motivation on their teaching practices, and subsequently on student motivation and engagement. A case study of one Study 4 teacher illustrates the specific strategies used by the teacher in interactions with individual students and how these relate to key components of the MES.  The presentation concludes with key points from a Study 5 teacher who experienced major changes in beliefs about teaching and in teaching practice, by focussing attention on strategies to improve the motivation and engagement of individual students.