Source: Teachers and Teaching, Vol. 16, Issue 1 (February 2010), p. 131–151.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
Across Australia, recent policy initiatives have focused on student engagement in school and in learning. Although teachers play a significant role in the implementation of these policy reforms, little research has looked at student engagement from teachers' perspectives or sought to identify and understand the strategies teachers report using to promote engagement in their classrooms.
This study examines teacher conceptions of how to facilitate student engagement. The study addressed the question: 'What conceptions of student engagement in learning are held by secondary English teachers in Central Queensland?'
Semi-structured interviews were used to gather data and a phenomenographic process of analysis was employed to identify qualitative differences between participant understandings.
A sample of 20 secondary school English teachers was selected from three high schools in Education Queensland's Central Coast District in the Central Queensland region in Australia. The sample was composed of 7 men and 13 women
The data from this qualitative study indicated that teachers hold diverse understandings about how to facilitate student engagement; three categories described teachers' ways of engaging students.
Category 1: Delivery
In this category, teachers conceptualised delivering set activities and discipline to students to promote engagement.
Category 2: Modification
In this category, teachers suggested that they must modify curriculum and class activities so it was interesting and achievable for students.
Category 3: Collaboration
In this category, teachers proposed that genuine collaboration with students was necessary to truly engage them in learning; in this category, teachers reported the deepest levels of student engagement.
The empirical data from this study highlight several important points about teacher conceptions of how to facilitate student engagement. Data in the first category indicated that some teachers may be using tasks that are below students' cognitive ability in order to try to make sure that everyone can participate. This approach reflected a strongly teacher-centred orientation towards teaching (Kember, 1997).
Furthermore, while students are given some opportunities for choice, teaching in this way does not require restructuring as conceptualised in the second category; it remains primarily teacher-centred (Kember, 1997).
The final category, Collaboration, is viewed in this study as the most complex way of facilitating student engagement in learning within this model. Teachers said that when students were given significant input into their own learning, pupils take ownership of it, demonstrating a student-centred approach to teaching (Kember, 1997).
This research highlights the complex and divergent ways that teachers attempt to fulfil the policy goal of 'engaging' their students. It is important that school leaders and those creating educational policies understand and acknowledge this complexity when making decisions which influence teachers' work.
In light of these divergent strategies, this study also points out the need for research examining which ways of engaging students are most educationally fruitful in relationship to student learning, as this should be the primary goal of increasing student engagement.
Kember, D. (1997) A reconceptualisation of the research into university academics' conceptions of teaching. Learning and Instruction 7:(3) , pp. 255-275.