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Student and Teacher Perceptions of Student Engagement


Stephanie D. Sutherland

A thesis submitted in conformity with the requirements for the degree of doctor of Philosophy Department of Theory and Policy Studies in Education Ontario Institute for Studies in Education University of Toronto

©Copyright by Stephanie Dawn Sutherland (2010)

Student and Teacher Perceptions of Student Engagement

Doctor of Philosophy Stephanie Dawn Sutherland Department of Theory and Policy Studies in Education University of Toronto 2010


This study will explore student engagement as a multidimensional construct through a systematic comparative study from the views of students and teachers. While the construct of engagement holds promise for addressing declining motivation and achievement of adolescent students, the challenges associated with measuring a multi-faceted construct suggest the need for integrative research methodologies. This study will utilize concept mapping methods in two urban secondary schools. This methodology holds the potential to provide the tools for structured ,,meaning making between participants (students and teachers). This capacity to ,,think together is promoted through intentionally structured (i.e., concept mapping processes) practice of discourse. As a direct result of this approach, data revealed the degree of convergence and divergence in student and teacher definitions of student engagement. Areas of student/teacher convergence included themes addressing ,,diversity/belonging, ,,student-teacher interaction, and ,,variety in school policy/structure. Areas of divergence included, ,,aspects of pedagogy, ,,students at the centre, and ,,professional educators.


In framing student engagement as a multidimensional construct, this study was able to uncover complex nuances. For example, closer examination of the student data revealed a nested and multi-faceted relationship to their sense of engagement. Students most strongly associated engagement to their sense of belonging at school. In turn, this sense of belonging was directly impacted by their relationships with peers, and this connection was viewed to directly affect on motivation (and subsequent achievement). Future research is needed so as to delve deeper into the nature of social connections among teachers-students, and students-students as an approach to untangle and better understand the multidimensionality of factors at play.



There are so many people to thank who encouraged and supported me through this process. First, I want to thank my supervisor, Dr. Lorna Earl, for giving me the opportunity to collect this data and to learn alongside her. Dr. Earls commitment to student development in scholarship is one of the reasons that this study could be possible. I want to express my gratitude to Dr. Ben Levin who agreed to work with me as a committee member. Dr. Levin was instrumental in helping to shape this work into a manageable entity. His generous approach to helping others achieve their goals will always have a special place in my heart. Thank you to Dr. Stephen Anderson who agreed to become a committee member and help see this project to completion. Dr. Andersons comments and insights were critical in sharpening the research questions, and subsequently making this study a contribution to the field. Lastly, thank you to Dr. Patricia Thompson for acting as my external examiner. Thank you to my mother, Mary Louise Commodore, who was always available for a subtle yet gentle push when I needed it. I want to thank my husband, Bill McEvily, for his support and encouragement through this long process, and to my daughters Ruby and Isabelle, for their unconditional love and precious smiles. Finally, I would like to express my gratitude to my late father, Paul Commodore, who did live to see the completion of this work but who knew in his heart that I would finish. I may have not said it enough but he was the most incredible inspiration anyone could have ever had. Thank you for always seeing the best in others.


Table of Contents Abstract / ii Acknowledgements / iv Chapter 1: Introduction / 1 Research Questions / 5 Chapter 2: Literature Review / 9 Student Engagement: An Antidote to Declining Academic Achievement / 10 Participation Withdrawal / 10 Definitional Ambiguity / 12 Multidimensionality of the Construct / 13 School Level Factors Influencing Engagement / 13 School Climate / 14 Student Voice / 17 Student-Teacher Relationships / 18 Peers / 20 Research Approaches to Student Engagement / 21 Challenges of Quantitative Approaches / 22 Prospects for Participatory Approaches / 22 Concept Mapping / 23 Sequential Stages in Concept Mapping / 24 Theoretical Foundations of Concept Mapping / 26 Chapter 3: Context / 32 School A / 35 School B / 36 Chapter 4: Methodology / 38


Ethical Considerations / 38 Step 1: Sample / 41 Step 2: Generation of Student (Statement) List / 44 Generation of Teacher (Statement List) / 50 Step 3: Structuring of Statements / 58 Step 4: Representation of the Statements / 59 Step 5: Interpretation of the Maps / 65 Chapter 5: Results / 67 Concept Mapping Outputs / 67 Chapter 6: Discussion / 81 Research Questions / 82 Key Dimensions of Convergence / 84 Convergence Area 1: ,,Diversity/Belonging / 85 Convergence Area 2: ,,Student-Teacher Interaction / 88 Convergence Area 3: ,,Variety in School Policy/Structure / 90 Key Dimensions of Divergence / 91 Divergence Area 1: ,,Aspects of Pedagogy / 92 Divergence Area 2: ,,Students at the Centre / 93 Divergence Area 3: ,,Professional Educators / 95 Chapter 7: Conclusions / 106 Chapter 8: Implications for Practice and Research / 109 Limitations / 109 References / 117


Tables Table 1 Table 2 Table 3 Table 4 Table 5 Table 6 Table 7 Table 8 Table 9 Table 10 Sequential Concept Systems Stages in Structured Conceptualization / 40 Student Brainstorming Focus Group Characteristics ­ Schools A & B / 42 Teacher Brainstorming Focus Group Characteristics ­ Schools A & B / 43 School A ­ Student Brainstorming List / 45 School B ­ Student Brainstorming List / 47 School A ­ Teacher Brainstorming List / 51 School B ­ Teacher Brainstorming List / 53 Combined Student & Teacher Items / 57 Student & Teacher Statements By Cluster Name / 68 Mapping of Concept Mapping Items to Student Voice Literature / 101

Figures Figure 1 Figure 2 Figure 3 Figure 4 Figure 5 Figure 6 Figure 7 Figure 8 Figure 9 Figure 10 Figure 11 Figure 12 Concept Mapping Stages / 25 Example of Cluster Rating Map / 63 Example of Pattern Match / 64 Point Map / 72 Conceptual Cluster Map / 74 Point Rating Map / 75 Cluster Rating Map / 76 Cluster Rating Map with Discourse Regions / 78 Teacher and Student Pattern Match / 80 Pattern Match as Discussion Generator (Points of Divergence) / 111 Creation of Specific Objectives for Ongoing Discussion / 112 Subdivide Objectives into Action-Oriented Tasks / 113


Appendices Appendix A Appendix B Informed Consent Form / 135 Interpretation Session Materials / 137



Research in the past thirty years has consistently shown that the current model of schooling no longer adequately meets the needs of young people or of contemporary Canadian society. There is a growing concern about the number of students who are fading out or dropping out of school (see for example: Bowlby & McMullen, 2002; National Research Council, 2003; Willms, Friesen, & Milton, 2009). Although studies in early learning have heightened efforts to improve learning environments for young children, thus far, less attention has been focused on how to transform learning environments for adolescent learners. The

concept of student engagement is increasingly viewed as a possible antidote to declining student motivation and achievement particularly among secondary school students (Fredricks, Blumenfelf & Paris, 2004; National Research Council & Institute of Medicine, 2004). Part of

the reason that researchers are increasingly focusing on student engagement is that they deem engagement to be malleable, responsive to contextual features and amenable to environmental change (Fredricks et. al., 2004). By contrast, the dominant approach in Canada to engaging students in learning has involved "streaming" or separating students based on their skill and/or readiness.

Students, for example, who had low confidence in their skills and found school work to be too challenging, were placed in classes that required lower skills and less challenge, while students who required greater challenge were provided with enrichment projects or given more assignments. Students who had given up on school because of low skills and/or low challenge


often found themselves in some type of remedial class or alternative school (OECD, 2003). Structurally, Canadian secondary schools (beyond Grade 9) follow this type of thinking by streaming students into separate tracks. Schwartz and Fischer (2006) suggest that this approach may be too simplistic both in terms of pedagogy and generational differences in adolescent learners. Many students today view schooling as boring or as a mere grade game, in which they try to get by with as little effort as possible (Burkett, 2002; Pope, 2002: Twenge, 2009). Numerous studies find steep declines in motivation across grade levels (see, for example: Eccles, Midgley & Adler, 1984; Fredricks & Eccles, 2002; OECD, 2003). These findings are particularly troubling in light of the fact that adolescents will find themselves in a new, global, fast changing economy that requires knowledgeable workers who can synthesize and evaluate new information, think critically and solve problems (Fredricks et. al., 2004). Although school attendance is compulsory, a sense of commitment and motivation to schooling cannot be mandated. Perhaps, this is why student engagement is often viewed as an antidote to student lack of motivation and academic achievement.

Framing student engagement as a multidimensional construct is promising so as to better understand the complex interactions between the student and the schooling environment. To understand the ,,schooling environment this study will include engagement in the classroom as well as the larger school community. School reform researchers have well documented the difficulties in making changes in classroom practice. That is, many initiatives often fail to reach into the classroom to influence the dynamic between teachers and students (Cuban, 1989; Elmore, 1996; Elmore, Peterson, & McCarthy, 1996; Sarason, 1971; Tyack & Cuban, 1995). Fullan, Bennett, & Rolheiser-Bennett (1990) state that school improvement initiatives and


classroom improvement must be linked if substantial progress towards school-based reform is to be achieved. Undeniably, the elements of the school and the classroom do affect one another, and in ,,effective schools they have been noted to work together (Fullan et. al., 1990). In this vein, this study will approach the school environment as a whole rather than as a collection of independent elements. This study seeks to understand student engagement from the views of students and teachers, whereby the classroom is thought to be the most influential place where student and teacher relationships are shaped.

In crafting new paradigms for learning, we must include students as key stakeholders in the process. Rudduck et al., (1996) explain that the conditions of learning that are common across contemporary secondary schools do not adequately take account of the social maturity of young people, nor of the tensions and pressures they feel as they struggle to reconcile the demands of their social and personal lives with the development of their identity as learners. The authors also note that what students have to say about teaching, learning, and schooling is not only worth listening to but provides an important - perhaps the most important - foundation for thinking about ways of improving schools. While it is imperative to ascertain the views of students, student engagement is a two-way street. That is, teachers (and administration) need to be involved in the creation and sustainability of engagement. The challenge for school administrators and teachers is to understand the nuances of engagement in their own context, a process that requires the active involvement of students and teachers. This study will explore student engagement as a multidimensional construct through a systematic comparative study from the views of students and teachers.


Prior work on engagement has subdivided the construct into three broad (and often overlapping) domains of behavioural, emotional and cognitive engagement. While is important to categorize the research into these three areas, it can also be problematic in terms of attempting to bring conceptual clarity to this multifaceted construct. One of the challenges posed by the multidimensional conceptualization is that the three domains of engagement often overlap with constructs that have been studies previously. For example, research on behavioural engagement is related to that on student conduct and behavior (Karweit, 1989; Peterson, Swing, Stark, & Wass, 1984). Research on emotional engagement is related to work on student attitudes (Epstein & McPartland, 1976; Yamamoto, Thomas, & Karns, 1969) and student interest and values (Eccles at al., 1983). Research on cognitive engagement is related to research on motivational goals (Boekarts, Pintrich, & Zeinder, 2000; Zimmerman, 1990). Although encompassing portions of literature under the umbrella of ,,engagement can be problematic in terms of overlap with related constructs, uniting all three domains has the advantage of treating engagement as a "meta" construct (Fredricks et. al., 2004; Guthrie & Anderson, 1999; Guthrie & Wigfield, 2000). The fusion of behavior, emotion and cognition under a single umbrella has the potential to provide a richer characterization of students than is possible in research focused in a single domain. Another closely related challenge associated with the multidimensional nature of engagement concerns measurement and the variety of approaches adopted. Whereas some researchers employ conceptually discrete scales for each domain of engagement (for example: Miller et. al., 1996; Nystrand & Gamoran, 1991; Patrick, Skinner & Connell, 1993; Skinner & Belmont, 1993); others combine the different domains into a single general engagement scale (for example: Connel, Halpern-Felsher, Clifford, Crichlow & Usinger, 1995; Marks, 2000; Lee


& Smith, 1995). The practice of combining items into general scales precludes examining distinctions and/or nuances among the types of engagement. As well, purely quantitative measures, in essence, have a pre-set agenda for inquiry. That is, student engagement scales often ask participants about specific aspects of engagement, for example, cognitive aspects. More research needs to tap the qualitative differences in engagement so as to better distinguish the degree of behavioural, emotional or cognitive dimensions as well as to better understand how the various types of engagement develop and interact (Willms et al., 2009). While the concept of engagement holds promise for addressing declining motivation and achievement of adolescent students, the challenges associated with measuring a multi-faceted construct suggest the need for integrative research methodologies. This will be facilitated by utilizing such a methodology concept mapping - in two urban high schools. This methodology holds the potential to provide the tools for structured ,,meaning making between participants (in the present example, students and teachers). This capacity to ,,think together is promoted through intentionally structured (i.e., the concept mapping process) practice of discourse. Thus, as students and teachers develop shared understandings it is premised that shared commitment to results would be fostered. The set of research questions guiding this study are as follows: Research Questions 1. How do teachers and students define student engagement?

2. What are the key dimensions of convergence and divergence between students and teachers definitions of student engagement?

3. How do student and teacher definitions of student engagement compare to existing


theory and research on the nature of student engagement and the school level factors influencing student engagement?

The research questions guiding this study were addressed within the context of a larger ongoing evaluation focusing on school improvement and student engagement ­ the Manitoba School Improvement Program (MSIP). MSIP provided an ideal context in which to situate this work. MSIP is a non-governmental agency operating in the province of Manitoba since the early 1990s, and came into being as a result of the vision of the Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation (WDGF). The Foundation sought to support school-based improvement projects designed to help students at risk remain in school and fulfill their individual potential. The central goal of MSIP has been to improve the learning experiences and outcomes of secondary school students by building schools capacities to enhance student engagement and learning. MSIP encouraged schools to develop goals with a particular focus on the needs of adolescent secondary school students. As a precondition to joining the MSIP network of schools (schools receive funding and network support), they must submit project proposals based on the following criteria: be school-based, focus on the needs of adolescent secondary students, and produce annual evaluation reports (Walter and Duncan Gordon Charitable Foundation, 1993).

In describing their school goals, many schools focused on the relationship between student engagement and learning. The two schools included in the present study have been involved in MSIP since its inception and both schools had increasing levels of student engagement as a primary focus as detailed in their school improvement plans. That being said, however, after some preliminary conversations with administrators and some teachers at each


school, it became apparent that they could not begin the discussion (and subsequent measurement) of increasing levels of student engagement without first defining what the construct meant to them. The principal at one of the sample schools was honest about this dilemma and described it this way: The big problem we ran into here was our goal was to increase student engagement, and for three years we said, "well how can we measure student engagement...its different for every student, and you know, how can that be our goal?" So, this year we had to say, "Okay, what is student engagement, and we need to ask our students and teachers to define it and what does it look like and how are we going to measure it? In the past, we set a goal that we couldnt evaluate so we got off the hook, but this year instead of getting off the hook we changed our focus and we said, "Okay, we have to be able to measure this and what is it going to look like for us?"

This problem is not unique to the MSIP sample schools, rather many initiatives aimed at improving school climate and achievement; explicitly or implicitly focus on engagement as a route to improvement without understanding the complexities and nuances of engagement (Guthrie & Wigfield, 2000). In asking students and teachers to define what student engagement means to them we can better understand the complexity of student experiences in school and design more specifically targeted, locally appropriate, and nuanced interventions.

The remainder of this thesis is organized into four chapters. The second chapter reviews the relevant student engagement literature related to the central research questions in this study.


The third chapter provides detail on the methodology and analysis techniques employed; specifically Trochims (1989) integrative concept mapping procedure. I will first describe the general technique and then explain how I adapted it for this particular study. The fourth chapter presents the results from this study consisting of graphic outputs from the concept mapping tool described in the preceding chapter. The final chapter provides a discussion of the main findings and how they related to the research questions, and will conclude with some final observations and possible directions for future research.



This literature review serves to highlight relevant research pertinent in addressing the studys central research question - how teachers and students define student engagement. The first section makes a case for the importance of studying student engagement. In light of declining adolescent motivation and achievement in secondary schools, student engagement is presumed to be responsive to contextual features and holds promise for change. The next section of the review examines the literature with respect to attempts at defining this complex construct. Broadly, student engagement has been described in three ways: behavioural, emotional, and cognitive engagement. The third section of the review explores the factors that influence student engagement from an educational environment perspective. That is, the school and classroom factors that mediate engagement will be explored. Finally, the review will account for current research approaches employed in studying student engagement. This will include limitations to the use of quantitative approaches and will make the case for the need to employ more qualitative, participatory methods as methodological tools to assist in addressing the definitional problems association with student engagement. In this case, concept mapping will be presented as a promising participatory approach for students and teachers to co-constructing a contextually relevant definition of student engagement.


Student Engagement: An Antidote to Declining Academic Achievement?

Evidence is mounting (see, for example: Bowlby & McMullen, 2002; National Research Council Institute of Medicine, 2004) to show many problems experienced by students in middle and secondary schools ­ such as disengagement, dissatisfaction with their schooling experience, and dropping out ­ are significantly linked to the learning environment (Pope, 2001). For example, preliminary research (Willms, et. al., 2009) finds that levels of school participation and academic engagement fall steadily from Grade 6 to Grade 12, while cognitive/ intellectual engagement falls during the middle school years and remains at a low level throughout secondary school. Current theory and research offer various explanations for such findings. Chaplain (1996) finds that students make a strategic withdrawal in order to protect their selfworth. Specifically, the author explains that the motivation to protect one's sense of self-worth results in pupils using a range of tactics to avoid damage to their self-esteem. While such tactics are effective in the short term, the enduring consequence is further withdrawal, and ultimately, under-achievement (Thompson, 2002).

Participation-Withdrawal Covington (1992) highlights the relationships between ability, the quality highly regarded in education, and feelings of self-esteem and personal worth. Covington (1992, p.16) notes that "it is not surprising that the student's sense of self-esteem often becomes equated with ability, for to be able is to be valued as a human being but to do poorly is evidence of inability, and reason to despair one's worth." Conversely, many successful students, however, are not so much enthusiastic as bored, indifferent, unconcerned or instrumentally focused on getting their


credential. And there are other students who, while physically attending school for at least some of the time, are disengaged or marginalized by their school experience. As Hargreaves, Ryan & Earl (1996, p.80) state, "perhaps secondary schools fail to retain students because they never really engage them in the first place".

Many researchers have postulated that engagement be thought of as a continuum (Finn, 1989, 1993; Finn and Rock, 1997; Goodenow, 1993; Voelkl, 1995, 1996, 1997; Wehlage et al., 1989). Newman (1990) states that when efforts to act competently are met with successes, continued investment is generated and the cycle continues. Prior psychological research has confirmed that the desire for competence (both emotional and practical) has been recognized as one of the most powerful bases for human interaction and motivation. Hargreaves et al. (1996) note that the absence of challenge is a clear example of how secondary schools often fail to engage student's interests and involvement. Finn (1989, 1993) has criticized such research for focusing on the amelioration of student deficiencies rather than the development of strategies that will improve student engagement. He proposes the participation-identification model, which specifies that student identification with school, a psychological condition, depends on participating in it. Identification is defined by two primary dimensions: an internalized sense of belonging and value for success in school-relevant goals. Undeniably, the traditional approach to schooling and, in particular, engaging adolescents in schools and classrooms is inadequate. The concept of student engagement has attracted growing interest as a way to ameliorate low levels of academic achievement, student boredom,


and increasing dropout rates (National Research Council & Institute of Medicine, 2004). So, what, then, do we mean by student engagement and what are the attributes assigned to it?

Definitional Ambiguity

Like many other social constructs, student engagement has no universally accepted meaning (Smith et al., 1998). Given the complexities of the construct, the explanatory power of student engagement is weak. Though the construct remains conceptually fuzzy, it has received increased attention in the academic research literature, namely within the fields of psychology, social psychology and sociology of education. In this literature, three general approaches to student engagement can be identified: behavioural engagement pertains to participation in school activities (see, for example: Finn, 1989, 1993; Finn & Rock, 1997; Goodenow, 1993; Goodenow and Grady, 1993; Voelkl, 1995, 1996, 1997; Wehlage, Rutter, Smith, Lesko & Fernandez, 1989), psychological/emotional engagement component pertains to students sense of belonging at school and acceptance of school values (see, for example: Brady, 2005; Osterman, 2000; Solomon, Watson, Battistich, Schaps & Delucchi, 1996), and cognitive/intellectual engagement pertaining to students investment in learning (see, for example: Blount, Morse, Anderson, Christenson & Lehr, 2004; Willms, Friesen & Milton, 2009).


Multidimensionality of the Construct Many studies of engagement include one or two of these types, but rarely all three. Fredricks, Blumenfeld & Paris (2004) suggest that to date, research has not capitalized on the potential of engagement as a multidimensional construct that involves behaviour, emotion, and cognition. According to Fredricks et. al., 2004, engagement has considerable potential as a multidimensional construct that unites the three components (behavioural, emotional, & cognitive) in a meaningful way. In this way, engagement can perhaps best be thought of as a ,,meta construct. Rather, than focusing on one or two of the categories, fusing them together as a multidimensional construct, one that focuses on students and their interaction with the educational environment holds promise in helping to better understand the complexity of students experiences in school. In this way, this study will include research on engagement in the school and the classroom.


Although learning involves cognitive processes that take place within each individual, motivation to learn also depends on the students involvement in a web of social relationships that supports learning (Cohen & Ball, 1999). The likelihood that students will be motivated and engaged is increased to the extent that their schools, teachers, family, and friends effectively support their purposeful involvement in school (National Research Council Institute of Medicine, 2004). Although there are numerous studies focusing on students family/ethnicity characteristics (see, for example, Coleman, 1966; Davidson, 1996; Epstein, 2001; Goslin, 2003;


Rumberger & Palardy, 2002), and social demographic factors (see, for example, Bascia & Hargreaves, 2000; Bradley, Corwyn, McAdoo & Coll, 2001; Finn & Rock, 1997; Jordan & Plank, 2000; Statistics Canada, 2003, 2004, Whelage et al., 1989), this review will focus on engagement with the school environment (school and classroom). This will include a discussion of engagement with the school as an organization, the rise in popularity of student voice, and students engagement with teachers and peers.

The research on classroom and broader school effects has identified a number of classroom and school factors relating student engagement to students academic achievement including the climate of the school and expectations for academic success (see, for example, Rutter, 1983; Scheerens, 1992), the benefits of smaller schools in terms of attendance and retention (see, for example, Finn, 1989; Friedkin & Necochea, 1988; Gardner, Ritblatt, & Beatty, 2000; Lee, Bryk, & Smith, 1993; Leithwood & Jantzi, 2009), the quality of instruction and teacher/student relationships (Battistich, Solomon, Watson & Schaps, 1997; Lee & Burkam, 2003).

School Climate

School climate refers to the values, norms, beliefs, and sentiments associated with routine practices and social interaction in schools (National Research Council Institute of Medicine, 2004). Many studies (Bryk & Schneider, 2002; Marks, 2000; Lee & Smith, 2001) have found trust to be essential to school improvement efforts. For example, in their study of Chicago schools, Bryk and Schneider (2002) found that in schools with the highest achievement levels,


teachers reported strong ,,relational trust with the principal, fellow teachers, and to a lesser extent, parents. Building a climate of trust is particularly important in secondary schools whereby adolescents need a supportive and caring environment. Thus, the climate of the school is particularly important for cohorts of students who fall under the label of adolescents.

Prior psychological research has documented the distinctiveness of the stage in life called adolescence. At this stage in life many youth are seeking greater autonomy and more challenging learning material; however, schools are often structured to provide less of both. Adolescents need support from non-parental adults such as teachers, they are typically met with few opportunities to get to know and connect with these adults (Eccles & Midgley, 1989; Eccles, Midgley, Wigfield, Buchanan, Reuman, Flanagan, & Mac Iver, 1993). Researchers and educators are clear on the fact that schooling as is is not working for large numbers of young people (Hill, Campbell & Harvey, 2000; Lippman, Burns, & McArthur, 1996). One place to start is with the structure of the school itself. In addressing this issue, Bryk and Schneider (2002) suggests that schools build a climate of trust and being to affirm the institutional legitimacy of the school.

Generally, there is consensus amongst student engagement researchers that two central variables influencing engagement in school are students participation in school activities and their sense of belonging (see, for example: CEA, 2006;Willms et al., 2009; Willms, 2000, 2003; National Research Council Institute of Medicine, 2004; Osterman, 2000; Solomon, Watson, Battistich, Schaps & Delucchi, 1996). Schools are most likely to cultivate a sense of belonging


and membership in students if they demonstrate clarity of purpose, equity and personal support, provide frequent occasions for all students to experience educational successes, and integrate all of these factors into a climate of caring.

Several studies show that supportive relationships with others are linked to students internalization, self-regulation, and sense of community. Research is consistent in identifying the psychological sense of belongingness as an important factor in participation, school engagement, and dropout (Leithwood & Aitken, 1995). Finns theory of school withdrawal maintained that identification with the school was an important factor sustaining school involvement and that participation in school activities contributed to identification (Finn, 1989). More recent research (Leithwood, Jantzi & Haskell, 1997; Leithwood & Jantzi, 1999) supports Finns argument that higher levels of student identification with school lead to higher levels of student participation. Leithwood and his colleagues defined participation broadly in terms of response to requirements; class related initiative, extra-curricular activities, and decision-making. Their findings are important because they challenge an embedded assumption that students develop a sense of community through their participation in extra-curricular activities or that a strong extra-curricular program will satisfy student needs for a sense of community and engagement. This finding suggests, however, that students participation is also shaped by their experience as being part of a supportive community. Efforts to transform the school community, especially within the past decade, have included a focus on the notion of student voice.


Student Voice

Student voice refers to students themselves actively shaping their own learning, and more generally about what happens in schools and classrooms (see, for example, Earl, Freeman, Lasky, Sutherland & Torrance, 2002; Fielding, 2004; Levin, 2000; Levin & Pekrul, 2007; Mitra, 2003; Rudduck, 2002; Shultz & Cook-Sather, 2001; Willms et al., 2009). Prior research on student voice has separated findings into one of four ,,clusters: the autonomy cluster (students being able to make choices and decisions about their work), the pedagogy cluster (learning with clear expectations and that is connected to daily lives), the social cluster (collaborative work and being respected by teachers and peers), and the institutional cluster (understanding of schoolbased procedures and policies) (McIntyre & Pedder, 2004; McIntyre, Pedder, & Rudduck, 2005; Rudduck, 2007; Rudduck & Flutter, 2004; Shultz & Cook-Sather, 2007).

Specifically, in eliciting student perspectives about meaningful academic work, Willms et. al., 2009 found students want the work they undertake to be relevant, meaningful and authentic. This work builds on earlier research finding that students who feel their school work is relevant, or more connected to their 'real world', find more identification with their educational environment (Hargreaves et al., 1996; Newman, 1990). Rudduck et al., (1996, p.179) found the best teaching strategies for engaging students were ones that made "clear links to the outside world" and focused on "contemporary events of interest and meaning to students." Newman (1992) states that typically disengaged students behave well in school. They attend class and complete work, but with little indication of excitement, commitment or pride in mastery of the curriculum. In contrast, Newman (1990) has found that engaged students make a psychological


investment in learning. They try hard to learn what school offers. They take pride not simply in earning the formal indicators of success (grades), but in understanding the material and incorporating or internalizing it in their lives.

Undeniably, teachers remain the gatekeepers of school change. Steinhouse (1975, p.208) said that only teachers could really change the world of the classroom and that they would do so by understanding it. Teacher discussion and collaboration with students can help move towards such understanding. That being said, however, providing all students with a change to negotiate, plan and participate can be daunting, especially when added to an already overstretched teaching staff (Jerome, 2001, p.9). Thus, building a school-wide framework for student voice and student-teacher collaboration needs to become integrated in the climate of the school (Rudduck et al., 1996). When student voice is successfully integrated into schools, the benefits, particularly for teachers, can be numerous.

Student-Teacher Relationships The Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.) lists "commitment" among the most common usages of "engagement". As defined in the New Oxford American Dictionary, to engage is to "attract or involve". Considering student engagement then the act of student commitment and involvement in schooling is undoubtedly related to their relationships with teachers. That being said, however, much of the prior research on student engagement has traditionally dealt with students ( see for example, Rudduck et al., 1996; Soo Hoo, 1993; Willms, Friesen & Milton, 2009) or teachers perspectives (see for example, Datnow &


Castellano, 2000; Fullan & Hargreaves, 1992) separately and has not addressed the similarities and differences between the two in simultaneous manner. More recently, a growing number of studies have constructed theoretical interpretations based on data-driven perceptions of students and teachers (Cook-Sather, 2007; Earl, Freeman, Jardine, Clifford & Friesen, 2008; Lasky, Sutherland & Torrance, 2002; Earl & Sutherland, 2003; Macbeath, Myers & Demetriou, 2001; Rivière, Sotomayor, West-Burns, Kugler & McCready, 2008). This study seeks to build on this growing body of research and contributing to a more multi-dimensional view of student engagement by eliciting the views of students and teachers in a participatory method. For students, teacher support and caring has been correlated with various aspects of behavioural engagement, including higher participation in learning and on-task behaviour (Battistich, Solomon, Watson & Schaps, 1997), lower disruptive behaviour (Ryan & Patrick, 2001), and a lower probability of dropping out of school (Croninger & Lee, 2001). Woods (1996) noted the significance of the learning support provided by the social relationships in the classroom. He argued that learning takes place most effectively when a mutually shared understanding between teachers and students has been built up through 'negotiative discussion'. For example, students can co-create assessment criteria with their teachers as a way to jointly craft the learning experiences inside classrooms (Jardine, in press). These types of ,,knowledgebuilding environments ideas must be publicly available so that all members of the class can build on ideas, improve them, challenge them, and justify them (Gilbert, 2005; Scardamalia & Bereiter, 2001, 2003).

For teachers, student voice has been shown to provide teachers with a more open perception of young peoples capabilities, the capacity to see the familiar from a different angle,


and a readiness to change thinking and practice in light of these perceptions (Rudduck, 2007). Researchers and teachers agree about how insightful young people are when asked about aspects of teaching and learning but the ironic thing is that students themselves are often surprised that anyone wants to hear what they think (Rudduck, 2007). Cook-Sather (2002), has said, Decades of calls for educational reform have not succeeded in making schools places where all young people want to and are able to learn. It is time to invite students to join the conversation about how we might accomplish that (p.9). The next section of the review will highlight the issues associated with student-student relationships and engagement in schooling.

Peers Traditionally, researchers have focused less on the peer group than on teachers as a factor in the socialization of engagement (Ryan, 2000). The bodies of literature on peer acceptance and rejection have been used as theoretical justification for studying peer acceptance and engagement. Peer acceptance in both childhood and adolescence is associated with satisfaction in school, which is an aspect of emotional engagement, and socially appropriate behaviour and academic effort, which are aspects of behavioural engagement (Fredricks, et al., 2004).

Studies of peer acceptance and friendship consistently show that high achievement is correlated with peer acceptance and/or peer interaction (Jules, 1991; Ladd, 1990; Taylor, 1989; Wentzel & Asher, 1995). Research on peer acceptance is important for a number of reasons. First, the experience of belongingness is associated with important psychological processes. For example, students perceive themselves to be more competent and autonomous and have higher


levels of intrinsic motivation. They have a stronger sense of identify but are also willing to conform to and adopt established norms and values. On the other hand, feelings of rejection/alienation are the flip side of the relatedness coin. Rejection or the sense of exclusion and estrangement from the group is consistently associated with behavioural problems in the classroom (either aggression or withdrawal), lower interest in school, and dropout (Bauermeister & Leary, 1995; Connell & Wellborn, 1991; Goodenow, 1993).

Osterman (2000) argues that there is little research that provides us with a deep understanding of the nature and quality of peer relationships within the school and classroom context. What is needed are more qualitative studies that probe the nature of interpersonal connections among students (Osterman, 2000). Research Approaches to Student Engagement Recall from the introductory chapter the description of the two sample schools in this study who found themselves in a conundrum. On one hand, these schools put primacy on ,,increasing levels of student engagement as a goal in their school improvement plans, but on the other hand, neither school was conceptually clear what engagement meant to them. Put another way, these schools proceeded to put in place plans to increase student engagement implying that they are able to somehow employ measurement practices without having a clear understanding of the central components important in their respective buildings. It is clear from the literature that numerous schools find themselves in a similar predicament as the sample schools (Wilms et al. 2009). Indeed, within the field of educational research, a great deal of emphasis is often placed on using external measurements of school and district to hold the system accountable for


student success, but these measurements do not always provide enough information to help local decision makers focus their ideas, practices, resources, energy and leadership to improve learning (Elmore, 2006).

Challenges of Quantitative Approaches Many quantitative attempts to ,,measure student engagement are often limited to the manipulation of several dimensions of engagement. That is, some scholars include conceptually distinct and discrete scales for each type of engagement (for example, Miller, Greene, Montalvo, Ravindran, & Nichols, 1996; Nystrand & Gamoran, 1991; Skinner & Belmont, 1993). On the flip side, other researchers combine many discrete scales to create a general engagement scale (for example, Marks, 2000; Lee & Smith, 1995). The practice of combining the items into general scales precludes examining distinctions among the types of engagement (Fredricks et al., 2004). Finally, current measures often do not tap qualitative differences in the level of engagement, making it difficult to distinguish between the degrees of behavioural, emotional, or cognitive engagement (Fredricks et al., 2004).

Prospects for Participatory Approaches This review has accounted for many of the key issues with regard to student engagement in schooling, from why studying school engagement is important, to definitional ambiguities, and critical aspects of schooling (climate, student voice, relationships with teachers and peers) that shape our thinking about student engagement. Another key dimension that cannot be


overlooked is the research itself. That is, most research focused on student experience is focused ,,on not ,,with students (Cook-Sather, 2007). More recently, Cook-Sather (2007) has called for an increase in qualitative work, and for changes in the roles of both researcher and student. For example, research ,,on posits the researcher as distanced, authoritative and as the sole author of meaning derived from qualitative research approaches such as observations and interviews. On the other hand, research ,,with calls upon both researchers and students to reconceptualize themselves in new, more collaborative relationships (Cook-Sather, 2007).

To actively participate in accountable decision making, schools need access to finegrained data that can be collected, interpreted and acted upon in local settings. This study will employ a participatory research method whereby students and teachers in two urban Canadian high schools can themselves, construct a context-specific definition of what student engagement means to them. This approach will be facilitated by concept mapping, an approach that creates opportunities for "conversations across methods as ways of generating additional insights regarding the phenomena under study as well as the methods that are being used" (Greene, 2008, p.23). Concept Mapping The literature describes the use of concept mapping in two ways: that related to student learning and curriculum development; and that related to program evaluation and planning. Concept mapping is a graphic technique for promoting social interaction and exchange by creating the conditions for the understanding of thoughts and how they might be linked with each other (Khattri & Miles, 1994). In other words, concept mapping is a type of structured


conceptualization which can be used by groups to develop a conceptual framework which can be used for program planning and development, as well as for evaluation purposes (Trochim, 1989).

Sequential Stages in Concept Mapping Figure 1 depicts the stages, moving from left to right, in the concept mapping approach. The process begins with an evaluation/research question. In the present study, the primary research question seeks to have students (S) and teachers (T) produce a jointly authored definition of student engagement (see again, Figure 1). To construct the map, "ideas first have to be described or generated, and the relationships between them articulated" (Trochim, 1989, p.1). This step is typically accomplished by holding focus groups with each stakeholder group and engaging them in a brainstorming exercise. In this instance, students and teachers were asked to generate short statements and/or phases about what student engagement meant to them. Once the ideas have been generated they are subsequently sorted and rated, then entered into the concept mapping software for multidimensional scaling and cluster analysis. Next, the system produces a series of concept maps which are to be used with stakeholders in a process of joint meaning making. Ideally, these interpretation sessions would produce group ownership and commitment to ongoing strategic planning and improvement efforts.


Figure 1 Concept Mapping Stages





Note: Sample (T) Teachers, (S) Students

The main difference between Trochims concept mapping and other common mapping processes is that the method described in this illustration is particularly appropriate for group use and generates a group map which makes it attractive for use with different stakeholder groups. According to Wandersee (1990, p.927), concept mapping "relates directly to such theoretical principles as prior knowledge, subsumption, progressive differentiation, cognitive bridging, and integrative reconciliation." In other words, mapping is a theory of meaningful group learning. This is echoed by Novak (1990) who contents that concept mapping is an effective method for teaching and learning to become more fully understood by both teachers and students as the entire process is premised on group understanding.


Theoretical Foundations of Concept Mapping Methodology

An understanding of the psychological, sociological and philosophical foundations from which the concept mapping process is derived is important to the use of its application in this study. These foundational understandings assist in clarifying how concept mapping evolved. It is precisely these evolutionary tenants from which contributions to ongoing research and practice can be elicited. Work in cognitive theory by Ausubel (1968) played a key role in establishing the psychological foundations from which contemporary concept mapping theory and methods evolved. Like pictures, concept mapping today produces a visual representation of accessible information in a specific orientation. Generally, theory in cognitive mapping emphasizes humans systematic acquisition, storage access and utilization of knowledge (Golledge, 1986). In schemata theory, discussed by Milligan (1979) and Sholl (1987), concept mapping processes directly parallel the schema system.

Schema systems are active processes by which mental pictures or understanding of something learned is developed (Smilkstein, 1991). People acquire knowledge only to the degree by which they have constructed schemas from learning experiences. Concept mapping technologies are embedded in cognitive learning theory. In general, the acquisition and storage of knowledge delineated in cognitive learning theory directly parallels concept mapping steps defined by Trochim (1989). In learning theory, learners are stimulated to activate related knowledge in a particular area. Similarly, participants in concept mapping processes are encouraged to access related knowledge on the area under focus during the brainstorming phase.


Cognitive learning processes of guiding learners to develop new structures or knowledge about the structures is paralleled by the processes in concept mapping of generating and developing items and interconnections.

Like cognitive learning theory, concept mapping processes consolidate new structures and knowledge. In cognitive learning theory, under appropriate conditions, learners acquire a more unified, complex understanding of the phenomena in question. In concept mapping the consolidation of information is demonstrated by the aggregation of information displayed using individual or group maps. These maps help participants develop broader and more common understandings of the information displayed.

While cognitive theory provides structure for the perceived acquisition and integration of knowledge, sociological principles provide the processes for understanding the connections in terms of "social processing" (Garling, 1984). Huberman and Cox (1990) contend that the acquisition of knowledge is an interactive process between and within the environment. It is these interactive networks that are precisely the foundations on which concept mapping variations rely. In other words, group and individual constructs are established during an interactive process in conjunction with individual experiences and strategies. Concept mapping relies heavily on these interactions in creating construct maps that reflect these communications. This position is consistent with a long line of psycho-sociological research emphasizing the importance of socially constructed thoughts that make learning at both individual and group levels possible (Bandura, 1986).


In social processing, the acknowledgement and rationalization of thought construction is defined through the interactions of people. Similarly, in concept mapping, knowledge is constructed through an interactive link between participants. Open discussions, interviews and focus groups generate the items to be used in the application. In concept mapping, people construct and understand the maps as networks among thoughts of individuals within groups. In essence, the final group map is a visual representation and acknowledgement of thoughts constructed through social interactions between people.

As in other research, concept mapping processes can be situated in a variety of epistemological stances. Traditionally, cognitive theory relied heavily on "scientific" inquiry and was immersed in decidedly positivistic or logical empiricist approaches and principles. This stance allowed the social sciences to simulate the apparent objectivity assigned to the natural sciences. Historically, interpretivist epistemology arose from the critiques of positivism in the social sciences. In particular, interpretivists disagreed with social science attempts to import standards and procedures of natural sciences in order to study human beings in society (Swandt, 1994). Philosophically, interpretivist researchers construe meaning as the primary focus in exploring the nature of social reality. "Facts" are not entities waiting to be discovered in the natural, objective world. Instead, they are social constructions of the ways human beings experience actions through interpretive activities. Concept mapping methodological techniques and strategies fit with the tenets of interpretivism established here. Since qualitative methods are often associated with interpretivist research, concept mapping approaches that reflect these structures support the interpretivist paradigm effectively.


While interpretivisits emphasized the world of experience as it is lived and felt through social interactions, constructivists stressed the construction of knowledge (Swandt, 1994). At the risk of oversimplifying, constructivists assume that the terms by which the world can be understood is predicated by social interchanges among people. Variations in concept mapping approaches that surfaced in constructivist approaches, adhered to these more adaptive social functions of cognition. More interactive processes with individuals and groups were evidenced in these concept mapping applications. While concept mapping as a tool tends to be used in ways consistent with interpretivist and constructivist paradigms, as a methodology it is free of ties to any particular philosophical orientation to knowledge and ways of knowing (RizzoMichelin, 1998). In this respect, it is similar to several qualitative methodologies that could be applied in preordinate (Miles & Huberman, 1994) or emergent (Lincoln & Guba, 1985) ways.

From another epistemological perspective, concept mapping can also be employed as a critical theoretical tool and as an aid to encourage participants to gain a deeper understanding of their circumstances thereby fostering self-determination and responsibility. Such approaches would be highly participatory and engaging for participants (Fetterman, 1994). As a critical tool, participants commit to social justice principles that are inevitably value centered. Within this frame, concept mapping can be used as a tool to shape knowledge in an emancipatory context. Interpretivist, constructivist and critical theory research paradigms are the foundations form which variations in concept mapping, and subsequent analyses of concept mapping output, arise. Despite epistemological differences, concept mapping applications are flexible and adaptable processes. It is however, the underlying paradigm that researchers bring to the inquiry process that guides which concept mapping approach will be adopted.


This review has highlighted many of the key ideas important in studying student engagement in school. Given that the literature pertaining to student engagement is broad the attempt here was to highlight important dimensions that would serve to inform the central research question of this study. That is, how do teachers and students define student engagement? As such, the review began by highlighting prior work that has established a solid base linking engagement to achievement. To be successful at school, students need to be ­ at some level ­ engaged with learning. If engagement can be established as critical to student learning, then many would question why so many students are not being served by our schools. Perhaps part of the problem lies in the definitional ambiguity of the construct of student engagement itself. Many definitional attempts have produced three categories of engagement, but it has been suggested that instead of examining engagement in silos the focus should be on positing engagement as a multidimensional construct. In this way, attempts to define engagement would capture its richness, depth, and complexity.

Next, the review highlighted factors that act to mediate student engagement within schools. In this study, engagement in schooling includes a focus on schools and the classroom. In this light, issues such as school climate, student voice, and students relationships with their teachers and peers were covered. Clearly, there is an incredible amount of research documenting the factors that mediate student engagement in schooling, yet the field of educational research appears to have little influence on the way schools operate. Perhaps researchers need to put more focus on altering current research methods and approaches. The final section of the review


explored the challenges of quantitative research approaches, and the prospects for participatory methods. Concept mapping, as used in this study, was reviewed and presents as an alternative approach in providing students and teachers with tools for inquiry.



In 1991 the Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation (WDGF) began a program of school improvement in Manitoba, Canada. It was conceived of as a pilot project to develop and test a Canadian school improvement model, with an emphasis on improving schooling particularly for students at risk. Manitoba was chosen for the pilot because it was an appropriate but manageable size for the planned initiative with a government that was open to foundation involvement (Earl, Torrance, Sutherland, Fullan, & Ali, 2003). Throughout the life of MSIP, the Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation have commissioned a number of evaluations to describe the role and influence of MSIP (see Earl & Lee, 1998, Earl et. al., 2003; Fullan, Kilcher 1996). MSIP has outlasted many other school improvement networks around the world and has become an integral part of education in Manitoba.

In this study, MSIP served as a context to investigate schools that were embarking on school projects aimed at increasing levels of student engagement within their buildings. From the outset, MSIP has had two core goals, 1) improving student learning, and 2) increasing student engagement. Student learning has been viewed as the heart of school improvement. In MSIP schools, learning is viewed as not strictly academic, but includes a broad range of knowledge, skills and attitudes. As Earl et al., (2003, p.15) note, "learning doesnt just happen. It requires intentional and sustained efforts by teachers and students." MSIP engaged in a variety of activities all aimed at improving the experiences of secondary students in Manitoba high schools. MSIP build networks of schools and districts interested in improving the outcomes for students.


A key component of this networking activity included MSIP acting as "critical friends" to schools within this network. That is, MSIP would provide both pressure and support to schools as they engaged in school-based planning, and data-driven analysis of issues and findings (Pekrul & Levin, 2007). School-based evaluation was a central focus of the MSIP initiative at the school level. Participation in the MSIP network required schools to produce an annual evaluation report based on data collection throughout a given year (Katz, Sutherland & Earl, 2003). MSIP advocated a distributed leadership model, and thus felt the involvement of students in school improvement efforts was critical for success. From its inception MSIP placed importance for students to act as partners in educational change. Programs designed to include students included the following: Students at the Centre (SAC), student conference "Make a Choice! Raise Your Voice", and an advocacy program "Student Voice: Voices of Today and Tomorrow (SVT) (Pekrul & Levin, 2007).

In the ongoing evaluation of MSIP, student engagement was identified as a precursor to learning. Attempts to gauge the "levels" of student engagement occurred on two levels: 1) students relationship with the learning environment (school atmosphere/climate, student voice in decision-making, student participation in school activities, and student relations with teachers, and 2) students relationship to their own learning (motivation to learn, confidence in their own ability to succeed, relevance of course/curriculum, interest in course/curriculum). This study, in part, extends the broader work of MSIP, and the site schools specifically, by probing deeper in the student engagement construct.


Two schools within the MSIP network were selected for inclusion in this study. These schools were included in this research to maximize the numbers of focus groups with both students and teachers while keeping constant several important features of the school. That is, the goal was to try and reflect diverse settings in a way that was realistic for a research study of this nature. Thus, limited capacity both in terms of "person-power" and resources meant the study had to be limited to two secondary schools. The schools were chosen for their similar characteristics in that both schools are in the same school division, had a focus on engagement in their school improvement plan, and had been involved with MSIP for over five years. Also, principals at both schools noted that they had allocated resources to the MSIP sponsored Students at the Centre initiative, a program formed to explore the potential of student voice in supporting positive change in high schools. Further, the schools are relatively similar in terms of demographics and socio-economic status. Both schools offer instruction in English only. School A, is an 8-S4 (12) structure, School B is an S1 (grade 9) ­ S4 (grade 12) structure. The two high schools are both located within a city and service a mainly working class environment with many parents working several jobs. Teen pregnancy is a serious concern within the province and manifests itself in the study schools with the inclusion of infant labs (day care) on school premises. During the time of data collection (2002), the principals at each school were female, in their mid forties, and had taken over their administrative positions within the past three years (both women had been former teachers in different buildings). At the time of this research, School As population was approximately 1,200 and School Bs was roughly 950.


School A For the two years prior to collecting data for this study, School A had been undergoing a process of amalgamation with the adjacent junior high school. The principal described this process as difficult. She explained that it meant that over 30 teachers had to leave the senior high school. She added that due to the instability, school planning as a whole had been difficult. At the time of my initial interview (September 2002), the principal appeared optimistic that the staffing and administration were finally stabilized so as to move forward as a S1 to S4 school.

The schools improvement initiatives were described as containing many programs under one larger project. A significant part of the larger projects aim had been making high school a more personal experience for each student. The principal put it this way, "having each student feel that staff have a genuine interest in knowing and understanding their goals, objectives and individual needs is integral to creating this culture." After additional probing regarding the specific programs in place within the school, the principal explained that one of their goals is to explore ,,their understanding of student voice, and to support more opportunities for student directed activities in the classrooms. One aim, she continued, was that such a forum would allow students to share their educational experiences with community including the provision of some response and dialogue.

Evidence of this focus included the implementation of the teacher advisor model, schools within school to create smaller settings for student learning, and implemented "self-directed days


Wednesdays." Students determine their own timetable by selecting form a menu of activities, opportunities for assistance and course assignments). The school has remained consistent in their school improvement approach as evidenced by the principals comments in 2002. This is how the principal described their current focus towards increasing levels of student engagement: I think on a personal level that for students in this school there are a lot of opportunities for them to connect with some really caring adults, informally and formally, which werent here before. I think that the self directed Wednesday has been a really important piece in terms of its impact on kids. Some of the data that weve collected or that the school has included comments from previous students who have commented that selfdirected days were really very valuable. They just werent sure that they recognized it at the time, but they did learn how to use their time. And when they went to university and had a free afternoon or whatever, they did have a sense that they were accountable and they were used to an agenda book ­ the kids all have an agenda book that is checked by their TA.

The principal described her understanding of student engagement as students being meaningfully involved in school life. She acknowledged the complexity of the engagement construct as she said, "we all come to view things through our own experience-coloured lenses." When asked to describe the level of success of the school improvement initiative, the principal noted that structural and programmatic changes had taken place but concurred that the classrooms had remained largely untouched by their school improvement focus.

School B The focus of the improvement program at School B has been described by the principal as focusing on student engagement and best learning practices. When asked for specific examples, the principal noted that they were working on the development of teacher advisor


system1 and ongoing curricular developments. She explained that the school development/improvement committee meets two Tuesdays per month (after school) and has roughly equal participation from teachers and students. The principal at School B described the culture of the school in this way, "this is the kind of place that everyone who walks through the door loves to work at right away, and weve got a warm caring staff". When asked to describe what student engagement meant to her, and more broadly for the school, she noted "providing multiple opportunities for student involvement & looking at impact in the classroom"

Changes in school structure that have resulted from the school improvement initiative include the implementation of "Wacky Wednesdays". The principal explained that each Wednesday the students experience a "scrambled" schedule. The pedagogical rationale for this initiative is to give students a change of routine. The principal also noted that she would initiate a complete timetable change for the 2003-2004 academic year. According to the principal, "I compiled in-class time and in reviewing the data I realized that we could add more instructional time by altering the timetable." At the time of data collection, the principal agreed that no specific classroom-related changes had occurred as a result of their school improvement project. The next chapter ­ methodology ­ will serve to explain how the study data was collected. The chapter is sub-divided into the six subsequent steps involved in the concept mapping method. Throughout this chapter, illustrative tables and diagrams will be presented to assist the reader in orienting them to the method.


The Teacher Advisory system was being implemented slowly at School B. During data collection, 2001-2002 the school had begun professional development with the teachers who would be mentors.



Ethical Considerations This study was cleared by the Human Ethics Committee of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto (2003). In addition, project approval was granted by the participating school division as well as the principals at the two school sites. Oral and written communication with each of the participants detailed the purpose of the research and discussed confidentiality, anonymity, and withdrawal rights. Participants in the study individually indicated informed consent by signing a release form (see Appendix A).

Undeniably, student engagement is a construct fraught with definitional ambiguity. As a participatory process, concept mapping holds the potential for group members to foster some ownership in the school improvement agenda. Specifically, Trochim and Lintons (1986) general framework for structured conceptualization was utilized as a tool so as to facilitate group conceptualization. That is, the authors propose a specific type of structured conceptualization process which they term "concept mapping" (Trochim & Linton, 1986). In concept mapping, ideas are presented in the form of a picture or map. To construct the map, ideas first have to be described or generated, and the interrelationships among them articulated. Multivariate statistical techniques ­ multidimensional scaling and cluster analysis ­ are then applied to this information and the results are depicted in map form. Table 1 illustrates the six sequential steps in Trochims model. Of course, Trochim and Lintons model is not the only way to accomplish concept mapping, as others have advocated that maps can be drawn free hand (Novak & Gowin, 1984; Rico, 1983), but the major difference from these approaches and


Trochims is that the latter method is particularly appropriate for group use. That is, this method generates a group aggregate map, and thus is better suited as a tool to investigate teachers and students views of student engagement as used towards a group (teacher and students) meaning making.


Table 1 Sequential Concept Systems® Stages in Structured Conceptualization

Step 1 Preparation

There are two major tasks which must be undertaken prior to the start of the actual group process: (a) facilitator decides who will participate in the process, and (b) facilitator works with the participants to decide on the specific focus for the conceptualization. A. Selecting the participants works best when it includes a variety of relevant stakeholders. Broad heterogeneous participation helps to insure that a wide variety of viewpoints will be considered and encourages a broader range of `buy in' to the resulting maps. There is no strict limit to the number of people who take part in the process. According to Trochim (1989, p.3), "one might, for instance have a relatively small group do the statement generation (e.g., brainstorming) and a much larger group perform the sorting and rating. In general, however, we have found that concept maps are better understood by people who have participated in all phases of the process than by those who have only taken part in one or two stages. B. In general, it is best if the final set of brainstormed statements are `of a kind', that is, share the same level of conceptual generality and grammatical structure.

Step 2 Generation of Statements

This step signals the beginning of the actual concept mapping process with the generation of a set of statements which ideally should represent the conceptual domain for the topic of interest. Typical of brainstorming exercises, people are encouraged to generate lots of statements and are told that there should be no criticism or discussion regarding the legitimacy of statements that are generated during the group sessions. Theoretically, there is no limit to the number of statements which can be generated, though large numbers of statements can impose serious practical constraints. According to Trochim (1989, p.5), "based on our experience, we now limit the number of statements to one hundred or less." Once the final set of statements has been generated it is valuable for the group to examine the statements for editing considerations.

Step 3 Structuring of Statements

The statements are then entered into the Concept Systems software and decks of cards are produced (each card in the deck contains one of the statements). This can also be done manually be using 3 X 5 cards and writing out a statement on each card. Next, the brainstorming groups (step 2) are reconvened and each person in the group is given a deck of cards. Each person is instructed to sort the cards in a way that makes sense to you. There are several restrictions: (a) all statements cannot be put into a single pile, and (b) all statements cannot be put into their own pile. The final activity in the structuring step involves participants rating each statement in each pile. Typically, this is accomplished using a Likert-type response scale (e.g., 1-to-5) to indicate how much importance, priority, effort or expected outcome is associated with each statement.

Step 4 Representation of Statements

Step 4 tasks: (a) data entry, (b), system generation of concept maps, and (c) decisions on final cluster solutions. A. All sorted and rated cards are entered into the software. B. The Concept Systems software performs twodimensional multidimensional scaling analysis to map the brainstormed statements into a two-dimensional plot. To represent the conceptual domain the system performs hierarchical cluster analysis. This analysis is used to group statements which presumably reflect similar concepts. C. All hierarchical cluster analysis procedures give as many possible cluster solutions as there are statements. The task for the analyst (and/or facilitator) is to decide on how many clusters that statements should be grouped into for the final solution. According to Trochim (1989, p.8), "there is no simple way to accomplish this task, essentially, the analyst must use discretion in examining different cluster solutions to decide on which makes most sense for the project at hand. Usually, assuming a set of a hundred or fewer statements, we begin by looking at all cluster solutions from about 20 to 3 clusters."

Step 5 Interpretation of Maps

The outputs from step 4 are then assembled. These outputs consist of: 1. The statement list 2. The cluster list 3. The point map 4. The cluster map 5. The point rating map 6. The cluster rating map 7. Pattern match Each of these maps is a concept map, and each tells something about the major ideas and how they are related. That being said, however, it is the cluster map that is usually the most directly interpretable map. Step 5 involves reconvening the brainstorming groups or broader groups of similar stakeholders for the interpretation exercise. The facilitator begins by giving the group the final set of brainstormed statements. Participants are then reminded that these statements were sorted and rated. Next, the cluster map and cluster rating maps are distributed. Each person is asked to read through the set of statements for each cluster and come up with name that seems to describe it. Then, the group works cluster-bycluster in an attempt to achieve group agreement on an acceptable name for each cluster.

Step 6 Utilization of Maps

At this point in the process the group(s) is redirected back to the original purpose for conducting the structured conceptualization. A number of suggestions for ongoing planning and use have been recommended: *discuss how the final concept map might be used to enhance the planning and/or evaluation effort *Each cluster could be assigned to a sub group to closely examine issues *the map can be displayed and prioritized in terms of immediate, short and longer term goals based on the priority ratings *for planning purposes the concept map can also be used as the framework for an outline of a planning report (clusters could be used as sub headings) *concept map could assist with measurement development (i.e., statements within clusters could be considered as survey items).


The remainder of this chapter will outline how the concept mapping process was conducted at the sample schools. As outlined in table 1 the first step in the concept mapping procedures involves convening a sample.

Step 1: Sample The sample of student and teacher participants was drawn from two MSIP secondary schools. As described in chapter one, this study was part of a larger MSIP study. The two schools in the present study have been involved with MSIP since its inception and both schools had increasing levels of student engagement as a primary focus as outlined in their school improvement plans. Due to their interest in student engagement and their willingness to work on additional research, each of the high school principals were contacted and invited to participate in the present study. After numerous conversations both principals enthusiastically agreed and assisted in the creation of the student and teacher focus groups. Ideally, the student groups would contain a mix of gender, grade representation, ethnicity and academic achievement level so as to better represent the demographics of the school. Similarly, the teacher group would contain a mix of gender, grade level expertise, and teaching experience. Another requirement of the sample was that the student group be subdivided to ensure representation from both grade 10 and grade 12 students.2 Students in grade 10 were selected as they are at the legal age whereby they must remain in school. Grade 12 was used as these students, for one reason or another, have made a choice to stay in school.


Grade determinations were most important for the overall evaluation work so as to utilize a targeted survey approach. For more information see Earl & Lee (1989). Further, these grade breakdowns are commonly used by large-scale student engagement survey work (Frase, 1989; Rumberger, 1995; NSSE, 2007).


The teacher sample varied with respect to gender, age, grade level (range S1 ­ S4), and years of teaching experience (range 2 yrs ­ 15yrs). Teachers varied with respect to their subject of expertise as focus groups were comprised of teachers from across teaching disciplines (e.g., mathematics, English, history, science, Phys Ed). All teachers were Caucasian, and taken together, these characteristics produced a ,,teacher sample that accurately reflected the wider teaching faculty at both schools. Principals at each school requested teacher volunteers via email requests and posters in the staff room asking for volunteers. Students were asked to volunteer by the principals and through teacher nominations. Ultimately, the student and sample was a mix of random, purposive, and self-selection which produced a final sample of 33 participants arranged in 3 groups of 8 and 1 group of 9 (see Tables 2 & 3 for brainstorming focus group characteristics).

Table 2 Student Brainstorming Focus Group Characteristics ­ Schools A & B


Total participants Gender breakdown Ethnicity


8 2 female, 6 males Caucasian, Aboriginal, Eastern European & East Indian


9 4 females, 5 males Caucasian, Aboriginal, Eastern European & African American


Table 3 Teacher Brainstorming Focus Group Characteristics ­ Schools A & B


Total participants Gender breakdown Ethnicity Teaching experience


8 6 female, 2 male Caucasian Mixed (range 1 year ­ 18 years)


8 4 females, 4 males Caucasian Mixed (2 years ­ 10 years)

The preliminary concept mapping activity required members of each group to generate statements in response to a focus instruction regarding their own definition(s) of student engagement. I facilitated four sessions, two at each school.3 Upon meeting the student and teacher groups, I spent some time introducing myself, having participants introduce themselves, explaining the nature of the study, and then each person was briefed about the specific requirements of the research. Next, all individuals were given a letter of informed consent and asked to sign it (see again Appendix A). Students and teachers at both schools were already familiar with the term student engagement, and appeared both curious and interested in the processes of the study. One student queried, "so, like, do I get to be in this for a few years?"

The initial focus group meeting with teacher and student groups followed Trochims concept mapping closely and consisted of brainstorming/statement generation sessions (Trochim,


To supplement the data obtained during the concept mapping brainstorming sessions, permission was obtained from respondents to audio tape these meetings. Each of the sessions lasted from sixty to 90 minutes, subsequently the tapes were transcribed verbatim.


1998). These sessions took on the nature of a free flowing focus group whereby participants had the opportunity to engage in discussion around the statements, and more general dialogue about what student engagement meant to them. This preliminary concept mapping activity included giving the participants the instruction: generate statements (short phrases or sentences) that related to [teacher/student] perceptions of student engagement. My role during these sessions

was to keep individuals on task, and to record all statements generated on chart paper. The following section will highlight the student lists, the teacher lists, and finally the unified "student engagement" list.

Step 2: Generation of the Student (Statement) List The School A student focus group was held over their lunch period with the permission (from the principal and relevant teachers) to retain the students into the next period as necessary. Students at School A produced an initial statement list comprised of forty-three statements (see Table 3). At first, students were surprised that their opinions were being sought. They repeatedly asked me thinks like, "so you really want to know what we think" and "this is really cool that you are asking us." The session lasted for approximately sixty minutes, and as more time went on students would ask, "what are you going to do with this stuff again" and "are they [administration] going to make any changes as a result of this research?"


Table 4: School A - Student Brainstorming List Item Short phrase or sentences that relate to Student Perceptions of Student Engagement Number 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Involvement in school activities (i.e., sports, robotics) Student council promotes decision making Phys Ed promotes leadership qualities School courses that enable you to "build something from nothing" Availability of extra-curricular programs (i.e., infant lab ­ child care) Hockey team has great school spirit Playing sports reduces boredom in school Increased teacher involvement in school activities (i.e., art and drama teacher) Style of the teacher (i.e., if the teacher is open and allows you to have your own ideas, relaxed class, feel more at home in this class) Students and teachers meeting each other half way (i.e., students show initiative and teachers will respond positively) Personality of teacher is important Older teachers have more difficulty relating to students ­ they grew up in a different time Strict teachers make you work harder as they have higher expectations I love teachers who try to make school fun Teachers who explain information, talk to you, and go out of their way to help you are critical for engagement Some teachers are hypocritical because they expect students to make school their first priority but teachers dont (i.e., teachers do not return assignments promptly) Teachers who are empathetic to students lives (i.e., some students have kids of their own) Variety in teaching style Lots of course options


11 12 13 14 15


17 18 19


20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33

Teachers who are understanding and want to help you with your problems School diversity is important ­ school is accepting of different social groups School safety is important School atmosphere is relaxed and comfortable (i.e., no gangs here) Student in this school stick together and help each other out The community is tolerant/understanding of the students here ­ weve come a long way Parental involvement is not a big factor in school life Parents are concerned only at report card time - assessment Students dislike the principal Some teachers here are mean Older teachers are more set in their ways ­ dont want to change with the times Younger teachers can relate to students ­ make you want to come to school more It is important how teachers make you feel when it comes time to graduate Teachers understand the parent-student report card relationship ­ teachers dont want to screw you The student body at this school is great Student attitudes in this school are amazing This school provides lots of different types of field trips It helps if students are involved in school life (i.e., MSIP conference crew, plays, student council) as it makes you more motivated to come to school This school gives student parents another chance at an education (i.e., infant lab) ­ open minded to realities of the world Internship program is good and the teacher who runs it will bend over backwards for you The principal is too judgmental, too strict and doesnt try to get to know the students Wacky Wednesdays are dumb. Nobody likes to go and its really confusing

34 35 36 37


39 40 41


42 43

This school has no "student space". We have nowhere to go when we are not in class The school policies at this school are unreasonable as we arent allowed to sit in the halls

A total of nine students from School B participated in the initial focus group. As with the group at School A, this session was held during the lunch period, and, was also granted permission to remain in the group into the next period if necessary. This group convened for approximately sixty minutes and produced an initial statement list of forty-six statements (see Table 5).

Table 5: School B Student Brainstorming List Item Short phrase or sentences that relate to Student Perceptions of Student Engagement Number 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Student involvement (i.e., student council, leadership) is important Having a say in classroom work is important Smaller classes make you feel more comfortable answering questions The teachers characteristics (i.e., caring, passionate) are critical to student engagement Classes that are meaningful and relevant to my life and interests The most important part of school is a teacher who cares about what he is teaching Teachers who let us think for ourselves Teachers who act as coaches/mentors A teacher who can change their teaching style to suit different learning styles


10 11

Teachers who compromise with students Self-directed days are great ways to let students structure their days (note ­ this idea was originated by a suggestion from a former student) This school listens to students ­ student voice The school council here does a good job at involving lots of students (i.e., planning dances and pep rallies) Younger teachers are more flexible and can relate better to students Lots of selection regarding sports The guidance department is knowledgeable and helpful This school used to have a bad reputation but the bad students are gone now The community is tolerant of the students here but students at other schools still dont respect us The grade 12s at this school are more responsible As you progress from grade 9 to 12 you just become more involved naturally Balance of student and teacher ideas Teacher reputation is important If you are doing bad in a class you are unmotivated I enjoy seeing my friends in my classes Friendships are the most important thing in school. If you have a fight with your friends, it affects everything Student-teacher relationships are key to engagement Students care about what teachers think, although teachers dont often realize it Smaller classes are better Should have choice in class work distribution Course selections are difficult at this school because the best courses fill up quick Important to build yourself a good reputation with teachers


12 13

14 15 16 17 18

19 20 21 22 23 24 25

26 27 28 29 30 31


There has been a high administration turnover here which makes student-admin relationships harder We have a 10-80-10 rule here (10% of the students wont do anything, 80% are willing, and 10% do everything) You used to be considered a nerd if you did choir, now it is a cool thing to do There isnt much programming for students who fall in the middle, lots for top and bottom end students Teacher reputation is the most important thing. Teachers need to have a connection with the students This school needs more younger teachers The older teachers need re-training, they often forget they are here for the students Curriculum needs to be studied. The differences between the three levels of math (academic, applied and consumer) are too severe This school is very multi-cultural and we learn a lot from the other cultures This school is safe because the people are caring We need more support for student ideas (i.e., student voice and MSIP) We need better organization of scheduling at this school Students who are more involved in school will be better, more rounded persons Involvement in school is rewarding Engagement is an individual choice as some students are loners by nature


34 35


37 38 39

40 41 42 43 44 45 46

Like the group at School A, this group was surprised that their input was being sought. However, it quickly became apparent that they did not hold the principal in high regard. I spent some time assuring students that their comments would be kept confidential. A common sentiment from these students was that the principal did not care what they thought and they felt


she was "trying to get them" in some way. After some discussion, we were able to get past their negative feelings toward the administration and have a productive brain storming session.

The next step in the concept mapping process is to unify a stakeholder group statement list (Trochim, 1989, 1993). That is, this application of the concept mapping design sought to discern student and teacher perceptions of student engagement for the purposes of better understanding. Individual student-level (and teacher-level) differences were not a concern for this study, the two student statement lists were merged one statement list representative of the views of "students" as a unified stakeholder group. Generation of the Teacher (Statement) List A total of eight teachers from School A participated in the initial brainstorming/ statement generation session. This group was held after school with food and beverages provided. These teachers seemed to genuinely take pleasure in the opportunity for dialogue as one could easily see that they enjoyed being together, and worked well as a team. For example, they engaged in an enthusiastic and lively discussion, and at times debated their perceived notions of student engagement (as well as approaches to pedagogy). The session went on for over two hours. At end of the session the teachers had produced a list containing twenty-seven statements (see Table 6).


Table 6: School A - Teacher Brainstorming List Item Short phrase or sentences that relate to Student Perceptions of Student Engagement Number 1 2 3 4 Exploration of ideas Balancing of student and teacher ideas Make material personal by establishing relationships Make material relevant by linking class work to society and community. Use practical examples Students who are engaged outside the classroom will likely be engaged while inside the classroom ­ individual nature Offer lots of extra-curricular activities as potential incentives to "hook" kids The school climate can act to engage kids even if they are not academically strong There exist many levels of engagement. The kids who are characterized as extreme attendance problems havent found their "hook" yet Staff engagement with school Different types of engagement. Some kids are highly academically oriented and some are more athletic Government policies influence engagement in schools (i.e., schools of choice legislation) Students need to take ownership in their learning The challenge for teachers is to appeal to a broad range of students and still make class work challenging without being unmotivated Types/levels of engagement. Highly motivated, overachievers need to learn how to prioritize Balance workload and comfort zones. You want all kids, at some point during a given week, to be in and out of their comfort zones. Encourage all students to do their best and become independent learners Need to balance school policy and the individual needs of students (i.e., if you havent attended a number of classes you cant play sports but what if sports if the "hook" that


6 7 8

9 10

11 12 13



16 17


brings this student to school in the first place?) 18 19 Teacher knowledge. What do teachers need to know to engage students? Teacher needs to facilitate an environment where a multitude of emotions can be expressed (i.e., anger, sadness, happiness) Students need to be able to trust teachers Teachers need to ensure that students feel they can take risks with their learning Teachers need to be completely involved in student learning School must be supportive of parental roles Unique course offerings Schools needs to be a place of strong support for students and their families (i.e., notion of neighbourhood school) School needs to be a safe place Staff should be visible within the community (i.e., live and coach)

20 21 22 23 24 25

26 27


At School B eight teachers volunteered to participate in the focus group. This session was conducted after school (again food and beverages were provided) and lasted approximately sixty minutes. The School B group was not as "lively" as the teachers at School A. Here, teachers seemed to want to get on task so they could go home. Teachers at school B did not appear as enthusiastic about the discussion. Instead, they stuck to their task of producing a list by calling out items to be recorded on chart paper. The dynamics of this group could have been affected by the principal insisting on being a part of the focus group discussion. Despite my ,,gentle urging her not to attend the group, she insisted that she would add to the discussion. This group produced a list containing forty-six statements (see Table 7).

Table 7: School B - Teacher Brainstorming List Item Short phrase or sentences that relate to Student Perceptions of Student Engagement Number 1 2 3 School should act as a "home away from home" Students need to be interested in some facet of the school Engagement takes on many forms (i.e., being present does not necessarily constitute engagement) Various levels of engagement within the school (i.e., socializing with peers can take on different forms of engagement) Unique school programming (i.e., MAP) School needs to offer social aspects School has a wide variety of program offerings (i.e., academics, athletics, extra-curricular) Large school can offer more choices Large school has more staff and therefore more chances of students connecting with an



5 6 7 8 9

adult in the building 10 11 12 13 Students want to be in a safe and comfortable place Class material must make sense to them Teachers need to offer incentives and instill competition Phys Ed program promotes life-long activity (i.e., engage in activities outside the curriculum ­ skateboarding) Variety of exposure to teaching styles Students who make a presence in your room are more engaged Cooperative learning is important Make your classroom an interesting place to be. Teach for a wider majority of students Seek out individual talents Gauge teaching to needs (i.e., In Senior 4 most students dont need teachers, they need mentors and guides) Ownership and relevance of tasks Find something students care about Place high expectations on students to encourage them to feel more valued Recognize "mark-oriented" Senior 4s (i.e., competition for scarce scholarships) Success breeds success. Get marking back to students in a timely manner Often the "mark" gets in the way of engagement. I dont believe in averaging marks Encourage engagement by using different testing strategies Trigger students imagination Make the material relevant. Put it in teenager terms Be aware and empathetic to student life styles Extra-curricular activities encourage closer student-teacher relationships Make a human connection. Show students that teachers are humans too!

14 15 16 17 18 19

20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31


32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40

Parents need to take responsibility for student learning Set standards based on ability Understand society we live in today Students need to be hungry for learning Students need a solid base for learning Teach skills only when students need it Teachers should emulate the behaviour they want to see Teachers need to be qualified as students can quickly pick up when you are not Shared teacher-student decision making to a point. Students need reference points to be able to make judgments Different levels and types of engagement Trust building is important Ask kids what they need Structure of class can help engagement levels (i.e., proper gender mix or not at all) Look for "hook". Get one student on board and you will quickly have seven more. Be entertaining Force students to share

41 42 43 44 45


As with the two student lists, the teachers lists were merged into a single list representing a unified ,,teacher stakeholder group. The next step was to merge the unified student and unified teacher lists into one master ,,student engagement list. Developers of the concept mapping software (Trochim, 1989; Trochim & Linton, 1986) recommend that a list of no more than one hundred statements be used with the ideal statement list at 60. Based on prior concept mapping studies, a statement list of sixty statements appeared to be both representative of all stakeholder


views as well as manageable (Cousins & Sutherland, 1998; Gans, 2002; Kane & Trochim, 2007; Michalski & Cousins, 2000; Sutherland & Katz, 2005; Trochim, 1989). This step was undertaken by the researcher and involved removing similarities and obvious redundancies within the larger item list. This step is akin to a type of formal content analysis whereby the researcher needs to ensure all main content themes are represented (Krippendorf, 2004). Every effort was made to preserve a balance between student and teacher generated ideas. That is, approximately thirty statements came from teachers and thirty from students.

Throughout this editing and reduction process, the proportionality of the original set of raw statements was preserved so that approximately a quarter of the 60 statements came from each of the four focus groups (see Table 8). This final list edit process is commonly done by the researcher/evaluator in the concept mapping process (Gans, 2002; Kane & Trochim, 2007; Krippendorf, 2004; Michalski & Cousins, 2000; Sutherland & Katz, 2005; Trochim, 1989). Though not recommended by the developers of the concept mapping system, the researcher reviewed this data reduction process with two doctoral students familiar with this research. Given that the researcher/evaluator was also the facilitator in the focus groups, they are intimately familiar with the content and context for each session.


Table 8: Combined Student & Teacher Items

Student Engagement Brainstorming Items (Teachers & Students)

1. Guidance Support 2. Parental involvement 3. Timely grading/assessment of student work 4. Opportunities for student leadership 5. Active role in classroom discussions 6. Teacher as friend 7. Teacher is passionate about teaching 8. Lots of program/course options 9. Student independence in learning 10. Variety in teaching style 11. Relevance of class material 12. Incentives to promote student learning 13. Extra-curricular activities 14. Changes in regular timetable 15. Small classes

31. High teacher expectations of students 32. School safety 33. Need for student space 34. Compromise 35. School spirit 36. Doing work in groups 37. Student ownership in learning 38. Balance of teacher & student ideas 39. Community involvement 40. Different types of school involvement 41. School policies 42. Teacher job satisfaction 43. Student input into learning 44. Trust 45. Having the same teacher/student more than once

16. Involvement in student council 17. Hiring of younger teachers 18. School reputation 19. Feel comfortable at school 20. Teachers reputation 21. Importance of friends/socializing 22. Changes in administration

46. Competition 47. Student attitudes/interest in classes 48. Have fun in class 49. Experience success in learning 50. Different assessment methods 51. Student motivation to learn 52. Demanding curriculum


23. Student-teacher relationships

53. Opportunities for teacher-student decision-making

24. Teacher professional development 25. School is accepting of different social groups 26. School is multi-cultural 27. Support for student ideas 28. Effective communication 29. Interesting classes 30. Involvement in sports

54. Teacher is entertaining/interesting 55. Mixed ability classes 56. Challenging class projects 57. Respect for others 58. Supportive principal/vice-principal 59. Smiling 60. Being recognized

Step 3: Structuring of Statements Next, these sixty statements were entered into the Concept Mapping System Software package to produce decks of cards. That is, each card in the deck contained one of the statements from the list, thereby producing a deck of sixty cards. The researcher produced a deck of cards for each participant in the focus groups so as to engage in the next step in the process. Student and teacher focus groups were reconvened (separately) and each participant was handed a deck of cards. They were asked to independently read each statement and sort them ,,in a way that makes sense to you. That is, place cards that they perceived to be similar in groups. The step had two rules: 1) participants could not place all cards in one pile, and 2) participants could not end up with sixty cards laid out. The students were particularly good at focusing on this task Teachers seemed to take longer to understand the nature of the activity, and one teacher in particular had difficulty sorting her cards. She continually wanted to overlay (as opposed to sort into piles) various cards that she felt were ,,interrelated. Once the statements


were sorted, participants were asked to individually rate each statement in each pile on a fivepoint scale in terms of their perceived importance (5 = extremely important; 4= very important; 3= moderately important; 2= somewhat important; 1 = not important). The meaning of the rating scale had to be repeated several times for each group and was ultimately written on the blackboard for easy reference. Overall, the sorting and rating process ran smoothly for all

groups. The sorted, rated cards were placed in sealed packages, labeled as T (teacher) or S (student), and subsequently entered into the concept mapping software.

Step 4: Representation of the Statements All sorting and rating data provided by each of the 33 respondents were analyzed as a single project using Concept Systems Software. The software provided a convenient means to perform the statistical calculations used to generate the initial concept maps, the refined maps based on stakeholder input, and to generate the pattern matches. The major calculations performed by the software include data aggregation, multidimensional scaling, cluster analysis, bridging analysis, and sort pile label analysis. Such statistical analyses are akin to a simplified version of hierarcial linear modeling. One could feasibly use various other statistical software such as SPSS or SAS to perform these analyses. That being said, however, the concept mapping system provided a user-friendly, windows-based application. The intent of this study is not to focus on the statistical properties of the method but rather to highlight one way in which stakeholders can collaboratively engage in this type of methodological process. The aforementioned statistical procedures ­ multidimensional scaling (MDS) and cluster analysis, and the application of such concept mapping techniques have been well described elsewhere


(see, Anderberg, 1973; Davison, 1983; Everitt, 1980; Gans, 2000; Kruskal & Wish, 1978; Trochim, 1989)

Each individuals sort data was used to generate all of the Concept Map results in the Concept System. First, each participants unstructured similarity sort piles are concerted into a binary matrix that is as large as the statement set itself. In this case, there were 60 statements in the set, so the matrix was 60 rows by 60 columns. For illustration purposes only, Figure 3 provides an example of this concept for a single participant and a 10-statement project. Following this example, if two statements were grouped together into a pile the corresponding row and column intersection has the entry ,,1 to indicate the relationship. Otherwise, a ,,0 is place into the row-column intersection to indicate that there is no relationship. The matrix is perfectly symmetrical along the diagonal axis because each statement must be sorted with itself. This explains why the value ,,1 appears at every statement row-column intersection. Thus, each participants sort information is converted into an N x N (where N = the number of statements in the set) binary symmetric matrix of similarities (for example, see Gans, 2000). By transforming a participants sort data in to a binary square similarity matrix, a common data structure is created that can be replicated for all participants. This allows each participants sort data to be aggregated with other project participants.

Using hierarchial cluster analysis procedures, the Concept Systems Software initially produces a concept map with a default number of six clusters. All hierarchial cluster analysis procedures give as many possible cluster solutions as there are statements. According to Trochim (1989), these clustering methods begin by considering each statement to be its own


cluster (i.e., an N-cluster solution). At each stage in the analysis, the algorithm combines two clusters until, at the end, all of the statements are in a single cluster. The task for the analyst is to decide how many clusters the statements should be grouped into for the final solution. There is no simple way to accomplish this task. Essentially, the analyst must use discretion in examining different cluster solutions to decide on which makes sense for the case at hand (Gans, 2000; Penny 2002; Trochim, 1989).

The goal is to examine which statements make sense in the various groupings. The recommended cluster size is typically a six to twelve cluster solution (Gans, 2000). Based on this knowledge, I examined all cluster solutions from six to twelve. Ultimately, I found that the nine cluster solution was conceptually clear (i.e., the cluster sizes and importance ratings were visually and statistically clear). Also, I asked several doctoral cohort members to look at the maps and try to determine which would be easiest to work with. Undeniably, the task of deciding upon a cluster solution requires the discretion of the analyst and would be ideal if participants could be involved in this decision-making process. The selection of the cluster configuration is most often done by the analyst (Trochim, 1989, 1993), however more recent web-based applications of concept mapping as well as the use of internet-based software (e.g., Skype) enable this step to be more collaborative.

The next step in the data analysis is to incorporate the rating information into the map. Until this point, the only data used as input for the analysis are each participants sort data. These sort data enable the Concept Systems to generate two-dimensional representations of the


brainstormed statement set. The rating information provides depth to those two-dimensional graphics. As described earlier, each participant rates their perceived importance of every statement in the brainstormed statement set on a Likert scale. Specifically, the rating measures importance on a 1 to 5 scale where 1 = unimportant and 5 = extremely important. This information is averaged for each statement in the set and represented in a "point rating" map. As Gans (2000) describes it, the average rating for a point falls within the range represented by the number of blocks associated with a statement. This ultimately enhances interpretation sessions

and orients participants to the next graphic, the "cluster rating" map.

The cluster rating map shows the final cluster solution and adds the same depth provided by the rating data in a similar manner to the point rating map. The rating value for a cluster is the average rating across all the statement ratings in the cluster. The cluster rating is represented as layers varying in height from 1 to 5. Each rating constitutes a rating range whose value is reported in the legend. The point cluster-rating map presents an image that has tremendous impact on groups during the interpretation session. Figure 2 provides an example of the point cluster-rating map for a project focused on what constitutes a fun, exciting and successful science-based learning experience for young people (see In this example, the thickest clusters (as indicated by the layer value) are deemed to be most important factors contributing to a fun and exciting science-based learning experience (for example, "characteristics of a good leader", "creating a supportive environment", and "fostering respect/group dynamics").


Figure 2: Example of Cluster Rating Map


The final analysis to be performed is the pattern match, which is essentially a graphic comparison of the cluster rating maps for two demographic sub-groups ­ in this case students and teachers. Pattern matching is powerful in its implications, particularly as a measure of stakeholder consensus regarding their views of statement importance within specific cluster map clusters. The results of a pattern match are represented both graphically (as a ladder graph) and numerically (as a correlation coefficient) between measures. The ladder graph is comprised of two vertical scales, one for each stakeholder group and is joined by sloping lines each corresponding to a labeled concept map cluster. The correlation coefficient associated with each pattern match ranges between ­1 and +1. Values near 0 indicate the absence of a match; values


closer to either pole indicate stronger matches. Negative values imply an inverse relationship (when one measure is high, the other is low and vice versa). Positive values imply a synchronic relationship (high with high and low with low). It is a standard Pearson r (product moment correlation) between the average ratings of the two variables, and it is useful to describe the strength of the relationship between them (see Figure 3 for an example of a study on program evaluation competencies ­ Both the theoretical basis and practical application of pattern matching have been well-described elsewhere (McLinden & Trochim, 1998; Trochim, 1985, 1989, 1990).

Figure 3: Example of Pattern Match


The slope of the lines in Figure 3 illustrate that, for example, students and non students were in agreement with the importance of field experience and in disagreement with items such as program philosophy and curriculum philosophy. Step 5: Interpretation of the Maps Ideally, the next step in this procedure involves conducting interpretation sessions with all participating stakeholder groups. Unfortunately, obtaining access to all four groups for a third time proved impossible. As such, I was only able to conduct interpretation sessions with one teacher group and one student group at each school. As well, not all of the original participants could attend. Interpretation session participant totals were, teachers (6) and students (5). Each session began with a brief recapitulation of the study to reorient and/or orient participants to purpose. Next, the point cluster rating map and the pattern match were distributed to all participants.

Due to time limitations, I had previously assigned cluster labels based on both focus group discussions and my own reading of the maps. Respondents were asked to challenge the cluster labels and offer new cluster names. The teacher group recommended that the cluster "engagement as a feeling" sounded too similar to the cluster "emotions", as such "engagement as a feeling" was changed to "engagement as a habit of mind". Their rationale was that engagement was more "a frame of mind", and "a state of being that could be determined and often observed". For their part, the student group felt that the cluster "education for students" should be changed to "students at the centre". Both name changes were subsequently approved by the alternate group. A discussion ensued about the rating maps. Once explained, both groups


seemed pleased that the Pearson r at .8 indicated they were quite similar in their views. As one student commented, "this is a really good sign, right?!"

In an attempt to reach more participants, copies of the interpretation session materials along with a brief report were forwarded to each of the principals in hope that they would distribute amongst staff and students (see Appendix B). Approximately, six months after the distribution attempt, I posted the results of the concept mapping processes on a web site ( to illicit further feedback and comments from participants and other interested school members. The final step (Step 6) in Trochims concept mapping process concerns using the data for ongoing planning and improvement purposes. Principals and various teachers at schools indicated that they would utilize the maps (specifically the cluster rating maps) for their ongoing school improvement work. The next chapter will outline the results of the concept mapping method. The outputs of the method will be presented in increasing complexity and detail.




The constructed maps are presented in order of increasing complexity and detail. As described above, (see again, Table 8) represents the total sixty statement list previously generated by students and teachers. In addition to generating the statements to describe their perceptions of student engagement, students and teachers also rated the relative importance of each item. Importance ratings allowed for pattern matching analyses to be performed between the two groups. The results of these analyses illustrated in Table 9 are the average ratings and bridging index scale. The bridging index scale is from 0.0 to 1.0. Lower values imply that a statement is sorted primarily with statements that are close to it on the maps and therefore more similar. It is useful to keep Table 9 on hand when examining the maps that follow.


Table 9: Student and Teacher Statements by Cluster Name Cluster Name Statement Average Bridging Rating Index * 3.83 4.04 3.65 4.30 3.70 3.65 3.00 Cluster Average: 3.74 1) Guidance support Professional educators 8) Lots of program/course options 17)Hiring of younger teachers 20)Teachers reputation 24)Teacher professional development 42)Teacher job satisfaction 58)Supportive principal/vice-principal 3.70 2.91 3.30 4.13 3.83 3.74 0.47 0.39 0.43 0.58 0.65 0.65 0.56 3.60 0.65 0.95 0.20 0.07 0.47 0.20 0.30 0.28 0.74

3) Timely grading/assessment of student work Aspects of pedagogy 10)Variety in teaching style 15)Small classes 28)Effective communication 31)High teacher expectations of students 50)Different assessment methods 52)Demanding curriculum

Cluster Average: 3.60


Variety in school policy/structure

2) Parental involvement



14)Changes in regular timetable 22)Changes in administration 40)Different type of school involvement

2.78 2.22 4.04

0.64 0.47 0.95 0.77 0.54 0.50 0.52 0.45 0.53 0.38 0.75 0.42 0.51 0.54 0.39 0.42 0.43 0.44 0.44 0.11

Cluster Average: 3.14 4) Opportunities for student leadership Beyond the classroom 13)Extra-curricular activities 16)Involvement in student council 18)School reputation 30)Involvement in sports 35)School spirit 39)Community involvement 41)School policies 4.00 3.04 3.52 3.17 4.09 3.52 3.52 Cluster Average: 3.59 21)Importance of friends/socializing Diversity Belonging 25)School is accepting of different social groups 26)School is multi-cultural 32)School safety 33)Need for student space 4.61 3.83 4.43 3.52 Cluster Average: 4.09 Student-Teacher interactions 5) Active role in classroom discussions 3.74 4.04 3.83

7) Teacher is passionate about teaching 9) Student independence in learning

4.65 4.00

0.21 0.13


11)Relevance of class material 29)Interesting classes 37)Student ownership in learning 38)Balance of teacher & student ideas 54)Teacher is entertaining/interesting 56)Challenging class projects

4.43 4.17 4.04 3.52 4.00 3.74 Cluster Average: 4.03

0.00 0.04 0.12 0.06 0.06 0.09 0.09 0.11 0.09 0.16 0.06 0.16 0.11 0.22

12)Incentives to promote student learning Students at the centre 27)Support for student ideas 43)Student input into learning 45)Having the same teacher/student more than once 55)Mixed ability classes

4.04 4.00 3.35 3.17 2.96

Cluster Average: 3.50 Engagement as a habit of mind 36)Doing work in groups 3.35

47)Student attitudes/interest in classes 48)Having fun in class 49)Experience success in learning 51)Student motivation to learn

4.39 3.91 4.30 4.09

0.21 0.21 0.07 0.16 0.20 0.18 0.42 0.56 0.48

53)Opportunities for teacher-student decision-making 3.65 Cluster Average: 3.95 6) Teacher as friend Emotions 19)Feel comfortable at school 23)Student-teacher relationships 4.70 4.26 3.35


34)Compromise 44)Trust 46)Competition 57)Respect for others 59)Smiling 60)Being recognized

3.65 4.48 2.91 4.74 3.78 3.83 Cluster Average: 3.97

0.50 0.34 0.52 0.34 0.36 0.54 0.45

The first map that the concept mapping software generates is the Point Map (see Figure 4). The numbered point map illustrates the sixty statements (master list) as they were placed by multidimensional scaling. Figure 4 illustrates that statements that were sorted together more frequently by participants (students and teachers) are closer to each other on the map. For example, looking at the bottom right corner of the map (see arrow) there are many statements that have been sorted in a similar manner by participants. Specifically, statement numbers 5 "active role in classroom discussions", 7 "teacher is passionate about teaching", 9 "student independence in learning", 11 "relevance of class material", 29 "interesting classes", 37 "student ownership in learning", 38 "balance of teacher and student ideas", 54 "teacher is entertaining/interesting", and 56 "challenging class projects" are located in close proximity. In contrast, looking at the far left side of the map, there are statements such as 2 "parental involvement", 40 "different types of school involvement", and 4 "opportunities for student leadership" that remain quite isolated indicating that these statements were not sorted in a similar manner by participants.


Figure 4 Point Map

39 16

30 13 41

35 18 33

25 26 32


4 40


5759 19 46 44 6



22 14 1 24 58 42 28 3 17

34 23


43 52 15 31 10 50 38 37 9 12 27 45


1154 7 29 5 56

48 36 53 51 49 47

The concept mapping software also organizes the points into conceptual clusters as represented by Figure 5. The nine-solution cluster map visually portrays the same clustering that appears on the point map in Figure 4. Like the points on the point map, the smaller clusters contain statements that are, from the participants perspective, more conceptually similar while clusters that are farther apart reflect conceptual difference. The closer the clusters are together on the


map, the more similar respondents felt the items to be. The clusters located at the bottom left side of Figure 5 "Students at the centre", "Engagement as a habit of mind", and "StudentTeacher interactions" are good illustrations of clusters that participants perceive to be similar. The size of the cluster itself also indicates how conceptually similar or dissimilar the individual statements were perceived to be by students and teachers. For example, larger more elongated clusters (see for example, "professional educators") indicate that both students and teachers did not think that many of the items (i.e., #1 "guidance support", #8 "lots of program/course options, #17 "hiring of younger teachers, #20 "teachers reputation", #24 "teacher professional development", #42 "teacher job satisfaction" and #58 "supportive principal/vice-principal") were conceptually similar. Conversely, the cluster labeled "diversity and belonging" is relatively compact indicating that both students and teachers perceived the items (i.e., #21 "importance of friends/socializing", #25 "school is accepting of different social groups", #26 "school is multi-cultural", #32 "school safety, and #33 "need for student space") to be similar.


Figure 5 Conceptual Cluster Map

Beyond the classroom Diversity/Belonging


Variety in school policy/structure

Professional educators

Students at the centre

Engagement as a habit of mind

Aspects of pedagogy

Student-Teacher interactions

The next set of maps integrates participant rating data into graphic outputs. The pointrating map in Figure 6 illustrates the average item ratings by all respondents. The square ,,piles beside each of the item numbers indicates average importance assigned to that item by participants. Recall that statements were to be sorted from one (not very important) to five (very important). The legend located on Figure 6 demonstrates that, at the low end, items rated less than 2 are denoted by one box and items that were rated higher than four are denoted by five stacked boxes. For example, items such as 57 "respect for others" and 19 "feel comfortable at school" were perceived to be very important for student engagement by both students and


teachers. Conversely, items 22 "changes in administration" and 52 "demanding curriculum" were not perceived by participants to be of central importance for student engagement. Figure 6: Point Rating Map

Figure 7 displays the same data from Figure 6 in a two-dimensional visual cluster format. Similar to the point-rating map, this graphic illustrates the average ratings by all respondents in a cluster format. The legend on Figure 6 indicates that the lowest rated items (i.e., 3.14 to 3.33) are denoted by a single ,,layer. Conversely, the highest rated items (i.e., 3.90 to 4.09) are


denoted with five ,,layers. The highest rated cluster by student and teacher groups was "diversity/belonging" (cluster rating = 4.09), followed closely by "student-teacher interactions" (cluster rating = 4.03). On the contrary, the lowest rated clusters were "variety in school policy/structure" (cluster rating average = 3.14) and "students at the centre" (cluster rating average = 3.50).

Figure 7 Cluster Rating Map

Diversity/Belonging Beyond the classroom

30 39 16 4 40

Variety in school policy/structure

35 13 41 18

25 26 32 33



57 59 19 46 44


8 2

Professional educators

22 14 1 24 42 17

6 20

Students at the centre

34 23

Engagement as a habit of mind


Aspects of pedagogy

55 12


Layer Value 1 3.14 to 3.33 2 3.33 to 3.52 3 3.52 to 3.71 4 3.71 to 3.90 5 3.90 to 4.09

52 15 31 10 50

27 45

28 3

48 36 53 51 49 47

38 11 29 54 37 7 5 56 Student-Teacher interactions 9


Figures 4 ­ 7 represent the foundation for students and teachers to build a shared foundation of meaning making (Fullan; 2001; Senge, 2000). That is, both stakeholder groups had input into defining what student engagement means to them. Throughout these processes, both students and teachers (within their respective groups) gained a sharpened understanding of their own orientation to student engagement by virtue of having to explain their thinking to others, and at the same time being exposed to the views of others.

After the maps were produced, another meeting with participants was convened. During this session, students and teachers were given a chance to examine the maps that they produced, they were able to ask questions, and ultimately were asked to give each cluster a label (name). This meeting is often called an "interpretation session" for it gives the participants an opportunity to analyze and discuss their maps. Ideally, when conducting interpretation sessions one would invite the respective stakeholder groups to meet. Unfortunately, due to time constraints, only the students were able to undertake this broad naming task. During the interpretation sessions, 2 broad "discourse regions" of similarity were identified (see Figure 8). The clusters labeled "diversity/belonging", "emotions", "students at the centre," "engagement as a habit of mind", and "student-teacher interactions" were referred to by the students as "internal (or intrinsic) characteristics of student engagement", clusters "beyond the classroom", "variety in school policy/structure," "professional educators," and "aspects of pedagogy" were referred to by the students as "extrinsic characteristics of student engagement". Clusters labeled "beyond the classroom", "variety in school policy/structure", ,,professional educators, and ,,aspects of pedagogy were referred to as external (or extrinsic)


characteristic of student engagement. As well, the clusters in the former region are typically larger and elongated indicating that they are less conceptually clear in the minds of students and teachers than the clusters on the later region. Looking at the item and cluster ratings of the entire map, what becomes apparent is that the items/clusters within the extrinsic characteristics discourse region of Figure 8 are rated lower than those items/clusters within the intrinsic characteristics discourse region. As well, the clusters in the extrinsic region are typically larger and elongated, thus indicating in an effective visual that they were less conceptually clear in the minds of students and teachers than the clusters in the intrinsic region.

" Figure 8 Cluster Rating Map with Discourse Regions

Beyond the classroom


Emotions Variety in school policy/structure

Engagement as a habit of mind Professional educators Students at the centre Aspects of pedagogy

Layer Value 1 3.14 to 3.33 2 3.33 to 3.52 3 3.52 to 3.71 4 3.71 to 3.90 5 3.90 to 4.09

Student-Teacher interactions

Extrinsic Characteristics

Intrinsic Characteristics


One of the pivotal questions arising in the context of this study is the extent to which students and teachers views about student engagement converge. Do students and teachers perceptions of student engagement differ? If so, in what ways? The final graphic output is the pattern match (see Figure 9) which represents a direct comparison of the student and teacher group ratings of statement clusters. This pattern matching technique permitted the identification of consensus and disagreement among the two stakeholder groups. Figure 9 shows fairly strong agreement between students and teachers (r = .8) on the general importance ratings of the student engagement items. The clusters that were considered to be most important for student engagement by students and teachers were ones that related to the individual, or for intrinsic purposes. This finding supports earlier work by Cousins and Sutherland (1998) who found individual characteristics to be most important to students and teachers with regards to student engagement. With respect to student engagement, both stakeholder groups had similar clusters rated in terms of importance. Students rated "diversity/belonging", then "student-teacher interactions", followed by "emotions" as being very important for student engagement. Generally, teachers were in close agreement with the students as to the most important rated clusters. Like the students, teachers rated "diversity/belonging" as most important with regard to student engagement", followed by "engagement as a habit of mind", and "student-teacher interactions." As well, students and teachers were similar in their views toward items that related to "beyond the classroom". These "beyond the classroom" items were rated as relatively important by both groups, but the teacher group rating this cluster only slightly less important that did the students. Another area of stakeholder convergence centered on the "variety in school policy/structure" items. Teachers gave this cluster an average rating of 3.27, whereas the students gave it a 3.02.


Where there was divergence between the stakeholder groups, it was most evident within the "aspects of pedagogy", "students at the centre", and "professional educators" clusters.

Figure 9: Teacher & Student Pattern Match

Teacher Diversity/Belonging

Student Diversity/Belonging 4.1 Student-Teacher interactions Emotions Engagement as a habit of mind

4.07 Engagement as a habit of mind Student-Teacher interactions Aspects of pedagogy Emotions

Professional educators Beyond the classroom Professional educators Students at the centre Beyond the classroom Aspects of pedagogy

Students at the centre Variety in school policy/structure 3.27 r = .8 Variety in school policy/structure 3.02

The remaining chapters will serve to integrate the findings of the study and offer some implications for practice and policy. This will be accomplished with particular reference the research questions guiding this work.



This purpose of this study was to explore how students and teachers at two mid western Canadian high schools engaged in a process of co-constructing a definition of student engagement. As noted in preceding chapters, the Manitoba School Improvement Program (MSIP) functioned as a ,,natural experiment within which to investigate the research questions posed in this study. Student engagement, as noted in chapter two is often held out as a key goal in school improvement efforts. MSIP, being a school improvement organization with student engagement as an espoused outcome, provided the context within which a participatory method such as concept mapping could be explored.

This chapter serves to integrate the findings of the overall study. This is done with reference to the research questions and methods employed. The remainder of this chapter is organized into three major subsections. The first section addresses the first research question raised in chapter one - how students and teachers at two Canadian high schools defined student engagement. The second subsection provides commentary on the second research question regarding the extent to which this study has been able to uncover areas of convergence and divergence in students and teachers perceptions of student engagement. The final subsection will address the third and final research question examining how student and teachers definitions of student engagement as uncovered here, compare to existing theory and research on the nature of student engagement and the mediating factors at school.


Research Questions RQ #1: How do teachers' and students' define student engagement? Prior research has established the need for student engagement to be redefined in a contextually relevant environment (Riviere, Sotomayor, West-Burns, Kugler, & McCready, 2008; Vibert & Shields, 2003; Willms, 2009). That is, an ongoing challenge for school administrators and policy makers is to understand the nuances of student engagement in their own context, a process that requires the active involvement of students and teachers who make up that context in schools, and perhaps more importantly, in classrooms. In this study, the concept mapping tool facilitated a process whereby the two primary stakeholders of student engagement ­ students and teachers ­ participated in a process of definitional clarity. Concept mapping provided a process whereby each individual developed a sense of personal insight or vision with respect to student engagement, then after becoming aware of this mental representation, they exposed it to the influence of others. Figures 4-7 represent the work of students and teachers in building a shared foundation. Throughout these processes, students and teachers (within their respective brainstorming groups) gained a sharpened understanding of their own orientation to student engagement by virtue of having to explain their thinking to others, and at the same time being exposed to the views of others. This capacity to ,,think together is promoted through the intentionally structured discourse. Such discourse opportunities allow for the creation of a shared ,,picture of the future that can foster genuine commitment by key stakeholders, as participants in the process, developing ownership over the vision (Greene, 2008; Mertens, 2009; Sutherland & Katz, 2005).


The preliminary activity in co-constructing a definition of student engagement included two groups of teachers and two groups of students to engage in separate brainstorming statement generation sessions. Lively and animated discussion ensued during these sessions in both the teacher and student groups. Students seemed particularly enthusiastic that their opinions were being sought, and that the administration had deemed these sessions important enough so as to permit them to miss their first class after lunch. The next task in the concept mapping process of working towards a shared definition of student engagement involved reconvening these groups so as to sort and rate the generated items. Upon receiving instruction on the purpose and mechanics of the sorting and rating task both teacher and student groups had little difficulty creating conceptual groupings of engagement items and subsequently assigning rating values. The final activity involving teachers and students required participants to take part in interpretation sessions. Throughout these processes, the teachers and students involved were continuously engaged in an open dialogue whereby they shared their own interpretations and began to come together as a group in working towards a shared picture of what student engagement meant to them. The final task for the participants involved interpretation sessions whereby the concept mapping outputs (maps) are reviewed, discussed, and assigned cluster names. Ideally, when conducting an interpretation session, the facilitator would invite the respective stakeholder groups (teachers and students) to meet together. Unfortunately, due to time constraints, only the two student groups were able to undertake this naming task. Teachers, however, when presented (at a later meeting) with named maps agreed and endorsed the student cluster names. Next, and perhaps the pivotal question arising in the context of this study, is the extent of convergence and divergence between students and teachers of the co-constructed definition of


student engagement. Specifically, the pattern matching analysis and corresponding graphical representation illustrated in Figure 9, identifies the issues that are most amenable to action or further exploration. RQ #2: What are the key dimensions of convergence and divergence between students' and teachers' definitions of student engagement?

The concept mapping software provided for the direct comparison of stakeholder convergence and divergence by virtue of a pattern match (see again, Figure 9). As previously described in chapter 3, the software calculates an overall correlation coefficient, then proceeds to break down, cluster by cluster, the level of stakeholder convergence and divergence. The brainstorming group sessions served to provide descriptive detail to the key dimensions. Overall, the students and teachers in this study had a fairly strong agreement on the general importance ratings of the student engagement items (r = .8). Generally, the findings here are consistent with prior research but perhaps what is new and useful is the ability to simultaneously examine areas of convergences, and more importantly divergence in student and teacher definitions of student engagement. Key Dimensions of Convergence In this study students and teachers most strongly converged on three clusters "diversity/belonging, ,,student-teacher interactions, and ,,variety in school policy/structure as evidenced by the lack of slope or little slope of the lines in Figure 9. I discuss each of these areas of convergence in turn.


Convergence Area 1: ,,Diversity/Belonging The convergence observed in the area of ,,diversity/belonging supports earlier findings by Willms et al., (2009) who found by asking students directly that "a sense of belonging" ranked among the most important variables with respect to students feelings of engagement with school. This is also consistent with the extensive body of work that finds students sense of belonging to the school community is critical for their engagement with school (National Research Council Institute of Medicine, 2004; Osterman, 2000; Solomon et al., 1996; Willms, 2000; 2003).

Interestingly, the nature of the concept mapping tool provided for a forward and backward analysis of the data (Greene, 2008). Recall, for example, that students and teachers were asked to generate a list of student engagement statements ­ separately ­ within brainstorming groups. Analysis of the brainstorming sessions (see Tables 3 ­ 6) revealed that the items relating to diversity and social awareness came from the student groups only. It was not until after they were presented to teachers during the sorting and rating exercise that they were rated highly. One student spoke of diversity in this way: This is a very multi-cultural school, like if youre white youre almost a minority and thats awesome because I can learn more if Im in a classroom that has Filipino, Japanese, Chinese and people that are of African and Native decent. And, there can be people from Europe and its really cool because you get to understand different traditions. And Overall, our school is very everybody feels like they


belong. If there are fights its usually, like, boyfriend/girlfriend stuff. Its almost never, like, Im white and you are black and I want to beat you up. Its more about who cheated on so and so...

These findings support the broad base of prior work examining students ethnicity and their engagement in school (for example, Coleman, 1996; Davidson, 1996; Epstein, 2001; Willms, 2000). The qualitative descriptions of the positive associations between students perceptions of belonging and the importance of the school community support earlier research linking the need to develop schools as communities (Baumeister & Leary, 1995; Furman, 1998; Osterman, 2000, Solomon et al., 1996). One student equated her sense of belonging to a powerful school community: I like people at this school. Compared to other schools and the people I know there, the people in our school are probably the best. Physically, our school looks like crap. Really, it is just horrible and its falling apart but the community here is probably the strongest that I know about.

Consistent with the literature on the importance of peers with respect to student engagement (Bauermeister & Leary, 1995; Fredricks et al., 2004; Goodnenow, 1993; Ryan, 2000), many students explicitly linked their friendships and socialization in terms of their sense of belonging at school. One student described the impact her friendships had with respect to learning this way: If you get in a fight with your friends it affects everything...all day. Like if me and [Laura] got into a big if I went to World Issues class and her and [Steven] were mad at me...I would not learn. Id


just shut down and it would ruin everything. Relationships are such a big thing to us.

The links between peer acceptance and behavior in classrooms has been well established within the literature (see for example, Osterman, 2000; Ryan, 2000; Solomon, Battistich, Watson, Schaps & Lewis, 2000; Wentzel & Asher, 1995; Wentzel & Caldwell, 1997). That being said, however, there is little research that provides a deep understanding of the nature and quality of peer relationships within the schools. What little we do know comes in scattered pieces of information gleaned from a variety of sources (Osterman, 2000). The present study contributes to our understanding of the nuances of the relationship between student engagement, sense of belonging and peer relationships. It appears, albeit from this small sample, students most strongly associate engagement to their sense of belonging at school. In turn, this sense of belonging is directly impacted by their relationships with peers. It is as though students negotiate a multitude of critical incidents (e.g., conflicts/issues with peers and friends) as they navigate through their school day with respect to their peers. Students reported that their relationships and interactions with peers directly affected the degree of motivation they had for school work.

Teachers also described the sentiment that the school fosters a sense of connection and belonging for the students. Teachers understood that the school itself was often viewed as a safe place for students. One teacher put it like this:


We talk about students who feel extremely safe here. I spoke with one student today who told me that this is the very best place he has ever been but he still struggles to make it to class. Probably his wellness and how he feels about himself is a priority for him and thats just fine with me.

The implication for student engagement research is the recognition that in order to capture the complexities and nuances embedded in this construct, engagement should be studied as a meta construct (Fredricks et al, 2004). That is, it often becomes difficult to make distinctions between the nuances of the behavioural, emotional, and/or cognitive dimensions of student engagement.

Convergence Area 2: ,,Student-teacher interaction Another important dimension of student-teacher convergence focused on student-teacher interactions. Much of the discussion in the brainstorming sessions, particularly from students, supported Woods (1996) findings in linking the degree of learning support and degree of mutually shared understandings between teachers and students in the classroom as critical in setting the stage for learning to occur within classrooms. The following exchange is illustrative of the varying perspectives teaches held about ,,negotiative discussion (Woods, 1996) within the classroom: Researcher: Do you make visible your expectations for students? If so, Do they ever challenge you? Teacher 1: Teacher 2: Teacher 3: Sometimes they challenge me No, not often, but sometimes I think...I think for the most part we do what we do


because thats what we think is in their best interest even though they [students] may not think so. And, so we just smile and tell them ,,no. Teacher 4: Teacher 1: [Laugher]...Yeah... theyll thank you later. Actually, I have to say that I enjoy when it happens, you know, when they ask about my expectations and I like to talk about it with them and make them feel as though they have a right to ask.

This quote is illustrative of the range of teacher responses in creating an atmosphere whereby students and teachers can interact in mutually beneficial ways (National Research Council Institute of Medicine, 2004; Gilbert, 2005; Scardamalia & Bereiter, 2001, 2003). Perhaps most importantly, this quote speaks to the necessity that teachers need to be open to, and willing to listen to what students have to say (Cook-Sather, 2002; Rudduck, 2007), and to be prepared to modify pedagogical approaches so as to include the voices and opinions of students so as to jointly author student learning (Fielding, 2001). Unfortunately, cross sectional studies such as the present one offer little insight into the longer term impact of realizing student voice within classrooms. Future research should include a longitudinal dimension to follow classrooms so as to document the degree of movement along the student voice continuum, with a goal of having every teacher make some movement in terms of nurturing student voice within their classrooms.

This notion of student voice permeated the discussion around the ,,student-teacher interactions cluster. Many students in both statement generation groups discussed how having a


,,say in their education was important to them, and that they wished teachers would listen to them more" If I could change something about this school I think it would be that we could maybe be heard a bit more. You know, teachers blame us. Really, they say that we dont voice our opinions and that we are not involved whatsoever, but really, if they would listen to us theyd probably find out a lot of us do have something meaningful to say. I think we need more guidance on how to do that. And, teachers should reach out a little bit too if they really want to know what we are thinking.

Convergence Area 3: ,,Variety in School Policy/Structure Finally, students and teachers strongly converged on the idea that the cluster they called ,,variety in school policy/structure held little relative importance to student engagement in their schools (Fielding, 2004). Recall from the context section that both schools had altered schedules on Wednesdays. According to the principals at each school, the intent was to promote student choice and increased flexibility in the students schedules. When asked what the students thought of this policy, students at School A were in unanimous agreement when they called it "stupid." Students at School B mentioned that they felt these "special" days were "not well organized" and "the administration hasnt been able to figure out how to make it work." For their part, teachers at both schools felt the change in schedules was either a "waste of time" or was viewed as "a pet project of the principal." This is consistent with a study of school reform by Datnow, Borman and Stringfield (2000) that found that school-based reform implementation faltered when there had not been careful attention to a schools climate and the programs


specific fit within that schools reform agenda. Scholarship in evaluation has provided a solid knowledge base that without participation in an initiative, there will be little chance of buy-in, and thus long term sustainability (see, for example, Cousins & Earl, 1995; Cousins & Whitmore, 1998). In sum, in this study I observed the most significant convergence between teachers and students perceptions of engagement in the areas of ,,diversity/belonging, ,,student-teacher interactions, and ,,variety in school policy/structure. Taken together, these three areas of convergence suggest that students and teachers are most in sync with the emotional, and to a lesser degree the cognitive dimensions of student engagement. Counterbalancing these areas of convergence, however, are several points of divergence. Key Dimensions of Divergence Teachers and students most strongly diverged on three clusters, ,,aspects of pedagogy, students at the centre, and ,,professional educators as reflected in the steep slope of the lines (see again, Figure 9). The concept mapping outputs facilitates analysis in several ways. Perhaps the easiest determination of a cluster that is conceptually unclear is by looking at its shape and layer value. The Cluster Rating Map (see again, Table 7), illustrates that the ,,professional educators cluster is large and elongated, displaying relatively lower rating values. That is, participants, on average, rated these items not to be of high importance. The other concept mapping output that is useful to examine is the slope of the lines in Figure 9. This information should be particularly useful to school administrators, faculty and students in terms of ongoing school-based improvement efforts. Recall from chapter three, that the greater the slope of the line in Figure 9 is indicative of the greater the amount of convergence on a given cluster by students and teachers. Thus, the clusters with the greatest slope may be an ideal place for ongoing


planning and improvement discussions to begin to bring the views of teachers and students more in line with each other.

Divergence Area 1: ,,Aspects of Pedagogy For their part, teachers rated ,,aspects of pedagogy higher than did the students. In their brainstorming sessions teachers spoke a lot about the importance of a challenging curriculum, and the need to set high expectations for students. More recently this thinking, though, can have detrimental consequences for student engagement, particularly among lower achieving students when not accompanied by high levels of support (see, for example, Galloway, Pope & Osberg, 2007; Pope, 2001; Willms, 2000). This body of research illustrates that high academic expectations can lead to increased student stress, and ultimate disengagement (Luthar & Latendress, 2005; Luthar & Becker, 2003). Thus, teachers who overemphasize aspects of pedagogy, particularly to low achievers, may actually cause these students to further disengage from schooling. Indeed, the divergence in thinking between students and teachers concerning various aspects of pedagogy is worthy of ongoing and deeper inquiry.

Another area of dissonance within the ,,aspects of pedagogy cluster revolved around the issue of student assessment. The concept mapping method permits the researcher to trace the discussion of assessment (cluster phase) back to the brainstorming sessions which enables the analyst to determine the source of dissonance. For example, student assessment was given a lot of attention only in the student sessions. Students brought up a wide range of issues related to assessment. The following interchange


between two students provides details to the statement ,,grading/assessment of student work found within the ,,aspects of pedagogy cluster: Student 1: With my science teacher, if you give him a short little paragraph, it will take him about four or five weeks to mark it. Student 2: Yah, and in the meantime you have other stuff to do, other stuff to worry about but you dont really know if youre doing the stuff before right or not... Student 3: I get really excited to get a mark back because then I am better able to focus my studying so I can do better on my next test or assignment.

This quote is illustrative of the recommendations by the National Research Council Institute of Medicine (2004) in fostering high school students motivation to learn that teachers should make a practice of routinely providing assessment feedback to students so as to promote behavioural, cognitive, and emotional engagement. Divergence Area 2: ,,Students at the Centre The concept mapping method permits the backward mapping of data analysis so as to ,,drill down to specific discussions of themes. This can be particularly useful in ongoing school improvement planning as related to student engagement so as to provide concrete examples for ongoing planning and discussions. The ,,students at the centre cluster was rated significantly higher by students than by teachers. It appears that teachers viewed this cluster as less important in terms of student engagement within their respective schools. This finding is important, particularly for school administrators, as both schools allocated resources to various MSIP sponsored "students at the centre" initiatives. As


previously mentioned, the students at the centre initiative was formed as part of a larger effort aimed at exploring the potential of student voice in supporting positive change in high schools (Pekrul & Levin, 2007). Although the benefits of having students play a central role in school reform are numerous and have been well documented elsewhere, the fact is that many student focused initiatives often fail to achieve a substantial degree of spread within school-based reform efforts (Coburn, 2003; Pekrul & Levin, 2007). In the present study it could be that teachers attending the brainstorming sessions had little or no knowledge of these types of activities being offered to students. Or, perhaps the organizers of the MSIPs did not adequately inform and/or involve teachers in the student-based initiative. Undeniably, the placing ,,students at the centre of education runs the risk of not being inclusive to teachers. And, as Rudduck et al (2007) points out, teachers are the gatekeepers of authentic student voice in schools. If teachers are not given the information and tools to: 1) understand the value student voice (Cook-Sather, 2002; Levin, 2000; McIntyre & Pedder, 2004; McIntyre et. a., 2005), 2) nurture an environment whereby student voice can grow (Fielding, 2001; Osterman, 2000), and 3) sustain a culture of student voice (Fielding, 2001; 2004), the chances for authentic student voice permeating a school culture are narrow at best. Finally, the cluster average itself (3.50) is indicative that this cluster was not deemed as important ­ overall ­ in comparison to other clusters by both students and teachers. Analysis of the within cluster items shows that the average per item ratings vary from 2.96 (mixed ability classes) to 4.04 (incentives to promote student learning). Two issues are noteworthy here. First, the title of the cluster may be misleading. That is, the items do not necessarily relate to students being at the centre of learning, nor do they directly compare to the MSIPs Students at the Centres goals. Second, this cluster


may have performed better statistically if a different factor configuration were selected. Recall from chapter three that the analyst must decide the cluster solution. This decision is not performed on a per cluster basis but rather on how all of the clusters spread on the map. This is precisely the kind of cluster that would be beneficial for use in ongoing school improvement planning efforts, efforts that attempted to involve more stakeholders (in this case students and teachers) from the school community.

Divergence Area 3: ,,Professional Educators The third significant area of divergence in student and teacher thinking is found in the ,,professional educators cluster. Figure 9 shows that students rated teacher characteristics as an important aspect of their feelings of engagement in school. During the brainstorming sessions, students spoke of their teachers personal attributes such as: involving students in class-based decisions/planning, expectations of students, and the importance of teacher professional development. The following student exchanged is an example of how students perceive involvement in the classroom: Student 1: I relate engagement to involvement. Like, class involvement means having a say in what kind of work you do. Student 2: Yah, even if you have a really bad course or something that is really hard like chemistry or physics...if you have a really cool teacher it just makes the class more fun...someplace you want to be. Student 3: Uh huh. Its almost like you are teaching yourself but they [teachers] are there to just open that door for you. You know? I know that they have a hard job because they try to make their teaching style exciting for so many different learning styles.


Other students spoke of student engagement as co-constructing and collaborating on classroom activities and routines in this way:

Our English teacher is very open. Hell give us a basic idea of what to do but its really your own ideas that you need to come up with. Also, its a relaxed atmosphere in that class and you feel more at home going there. He really meets the students half way.

The feeling of ,,meeting half way was elaborated on by another student who stated:

A lot of teachers expect us to make school our first priority but a lot of them dont make it their first priority. I see lots of them leaving the parking lot at 3:30pm

For their part, teachers did not speak of professional development or personal satisfaction from teaching, but mainly discussed their strategies to engage students in the classroom. Some teachers noted that it was their job to "move students in and out of their comfort zones" and "hooking a few students will allow you to bring in seven more." Another teacher described his personal ,,student engagement strategies this way: Good teachers integrate the everyday world into a microcosm in their classrooms, but for many teachers to step outside of their


door and see the totality of improving the school is completely foreign to them.

What is clear from this discussion of the ,,professional educators cluster is that students value the role teachers play in their sense of engagement to school, and it is absolutely necessary for teachers to listen to what students have to say about their feelings of engagement (Cook-Sather, 2002; Cook-Sather, 2007; Evans, 2002; Rudduck et al., 1996; Rudduck, 2007). Yet, to the extent that the student comments relayed above are indicative of a broader sentiment among students, they suggest that involving students in class decisions and planning, conveying expectations, and demonstrating that school is a priority for teachers as well, are central to student engagement. Teachers need to be the primary link between the classroom-level and the school-level. One teacher noted that "we need to stop taking a linear approach to school reform, an approach that goes school ­ classroom ­ teacher ­ students to one that looks more circular. We can do this by creating the structures for dialogue." This finding is strongly supported in the student engagement engagement literature (Cook-Sather, 2002; 2007; Rivière et. al., 2008; Rudduck, 2007). The participatory nature of the concept mapping design is one solution in overcoming this problem in more traditional research designs. For example, the method itself is participatory and as such permits the examination of more than one stakeholder simultaneously. Also, the concept mapping approach provides graphic displays of the degrees of similarity and differences in stakeholder thinking. Moreover, by taking part in this research, student and teachers were given the time and space to grapple with issues such as concept mapping in a structured and systematic way.


RQ #3: How do student and teacher definitions of student engagement compare to existing theory and research on the nature of student engagement and the school-level factors influencing student engagement?

Within the engagement literature, three types of approaches to student engagement can be identified: behavioural, emotional, and cognitive. Many studies of engagement include one or two of these approaches but rarely all three (Rivière et. al., 2008). Fredricks et al., (2004) suggest that to date, research has not capitalized on the potential of engagement as a multidimensional construct. The findings from this study support the multidimensional nature of student engagement. For example, students viewed their engagement in school (and classrooms) to their sense of belonging in school. That being said, however, engagement as tied to a sense of belonging at school was hinged in a large part to students peer relationships. Uncovering yet another layer to the complexity of engagement, students viewed their peer relationships to have a direct impact on their levels of motivation and academic achievement in school. Because there has been considerable research on how students behave, feel and think, attempts to conceptualize and examine portions of the literature under various ,,engagement labels can be potentially problematic by resulting in a proliferation of different constructs, definitions and measures that differ slightly, thereby doing little to improve conceptual clarity (Fredricks at al., 2004; Rivière et. al., 2008). Participatory methods such as concept mapping provide a tool for examining student engagement in a multidimensional manner. In particular, the qualitative nature of the brainstorming sessions permits a discussion that can accommodate the breadth and depth necessary for this type of construct. For example, students spoke passionately about the importance of friendships and peers as fostering a sense of belonging to school, yet this


discussion also touched on issues such as school climate, student-teacher interactions and student voice. Another relevant example of the difficulties in attempting to separate the dimensions of student engagement can be found in the survey instruments used for the overall evaluation of MSIP. The larger MSIP project, from which this study was spurred, began with the premise that student engagement is a precursor to learning and as such the evaluation work poised the student engagement construct along two broad dimensions: 1) students relationship with the learning environment (school atmosphere/climate, student voice in decision-making on school directions, student participation in school activities, and student relations with teachers) and, 2) students relationship with their own learning (motivation to learn, confidence in their own ability to succeed, relevance of courses/curriculum, interest in courses/curriculum) (Earl et al., 2003). This approach to measuring student engagement was broad in scope with regards to the scales embedded within the student engagement survey. The problem with this type of general scaling, however, is one of clarity. That is, the practice of combining items into general scales precludes examining distinctions among the types of engagement (Fredricks et al. 2004). In addition, conceptual distinctions are blurred because similar items are used to assess different types of engagement. For example, questions about motivation and ability are included as indicators of both behavioural engagement (Finn et al. 1995) and cognitive engagement (Connel & Wellborn, 1991; Newmann, Wehlage & Lamborn, 1992). In an attempt to overcome the problems with a lack of clarity in defining student engagement, this study employed a participatory approach that permitted treating student engagement as a multidimensional construct (Fredricks et al. 2004; Guthrie & Wigfield, 2000; Rivière et. al., 2008). The qualitative dimension of this study (i.e., brainstorming focus groups) permitted for discussion


that could serve as a starting point to begin to make distinctions between the degrees of behavioural, emotional, and/or cognitive dimensions of engagement. By doing so, this study builds on and extends prior research on student engagement. The findings from this study directly supported Bryk and Schneiders (2002) findings that building a climate of trust is particularly important in secondary schools because adolescents need a supportive and caring environment. Students and teachers strongly converged on the importance of student-teacher interactions as very important to student engagement. Similarly, teachers and students were similar in their orientations to the importance of student voice as related to student engagement in high school. Prior research on student voice separated findings into four clusters: autonomy, pedagogy, social and institutional (McIntyre & Pedder, 2004; McIntyre, Pedder & Rudduck, 2005; Rudduck, 2007; Rudduck & Flutter, 2004; Shultz & CookSather, 2007). Interestingly, items from the master brainstorming list (see again Table 8) can be inserted into one of the four categories as related to how students and teachers view the issue of student voice. Table 10 is not meant to be a complete exercise in mapping all 60 concept mapping brainstormed items into a single table, but rather provides an example of how study findings map onto the four clusters of student voice as represented in the literature.


Table 10: Mapping of Concept Mapping Items to Student Voice Literature Student Voice Cluster Autonomy Cluster Students being able to make choices and decisions about their work Concept Mapping Items 9) Student independence in learning 27) Support for student ideas 37) Student ownership in learning 43) Student input into learning Pedagogical Cluster Learning with clear expectations and that is connected to daily lives Social Cluster Collaborative work and being respected by teachers and peers 11) Relevance of class material 31) High teacher expectations of students

6) Teacher as friend 23) Student-teacher relationships 34) Compromise 38) Balance of teacher & student ideas 44) Trust 53) Opportunities for teacher-student decision making 57) Respect for others

Institutional Cluster Understanding of school-based procedures and policies

14) Changes in regular timetable 22) Changes in administration 41) School policies


This table is useful in explaining several features of study findings as they relate to the literature. The table is a good example as to how student and teacher generated items can fit into pre-existing clusters of student voice as related to promoting student engagement. Probing deeper, the table is useful in highlighting the multidisciplinary nature of the student engagement construct. For example, the concept mapping items generated by students and teachers were often given different labels within different categories. That is, the social cluster in Table 10 contains items that were separated into cluster names such as "emotions", "student-teacher interactions", and "engagement as a habit of mind." And, the concept mapping approach facilitates probing the data further to make determinations as to which stakeholder group initiated an agenda item, and in turn, analyze the degree of support given by both groups. For example, the notion of diversity/belonging was rated by both groups as the most important aspect of student engagement. Yet, by tracing back the origin of this construct one finds it was initiated only by the student group, then strongly supported by the teacher group. Without further study, one can only postulate as to why only the student groups initiated this idea. Perhaps it was due to the fact the both schools were considerably multi-cultural in their student population but the teaching staff was entirely comprised of white, middle class staff members. The strong divergence on the belonging/diversity cluster is well documented in the literature as important to nurturing and sustaining student engagement (CEA, 2006; Willms et al., 2009; Willms, 2000, 2003; National Research Council Institute of Medicine, 2004; Osterman, 2000; Solomon, Watson, Battistich, Schaps & Delucchi, 1996). What is different in the present study is the finding that it was the student stakeholder group that put the item on the student engagement agenda in the first place.


Overall, this study supported earlier work that speaks to the complexity of the student engagement construct (Cook-Sather, 2007; Cousins & Sutherland, 1998; Fredricks et al. 2004; Riviere et al. 2008; Smith et al. 1998; Willms et al., 2009). In particular, a multidimensional construct such as student engagement required a multidimensional methodological approach so as to include the voices of key stakeholders (students and teachers) in a participatory process. In this study, concept mapping provided a window to show how students and teachers articulate their perceptions about student engagement in a participatory approach, thereby permitting the investigator to ,,watch the unfolding of this process in sequential stages. Perhaps the greatest benefit to be derived from using the concept mapping approach was that it permitted student and teachers to simultaneously co-create a definition of student engagement. In addition to advancing our understanding of student engagement, another contribution of this study is to illustrate the value of using the concept mapping methodology to study student engagement. Participatory approaches strive to provide a shared knowledge base through direct involvement of stakeholders in the research process. Stakeholders build on collaborative insights in order to promote change within an organization, and thus the people affected by the change must be involved in creating that change. Participation and collaboration have been found to produce long-term commitment by building a culture of learning among those involved (Trochim, Marcus, Masse, Moser & Weld, 2008; Cousins & Earl, 1992; Cousins & Leithwood, 1986; Whitmore & Cousins, 1997). Conversely, several of the study findings that were either not reviewed or supported by the literature review are discussed below.


Students and teachers at the sample high schools were in strong agreement that issues concerning school policy and structure had little to do with feelings of student engagement. Perhaps this was due to the fact that there appeared to be little school wide buy-in for reforms initiated by the principals in both schools. For example, both schools were experimenting with altered schedules so as to permit students more flexibility in their daily schedule. One could postulate that attempts to alter the structure and/or policies as the school level were unsuccessful because they did not achieve buy in from a large segment of the school population (both students and teachers). Or, the lack of interest in this issue could be due to the fact that students and teachers felt student engagement to be more of a classroom level issue. Nonetheless, there is a broad and interesting literature that discussed the organization of the school in terms of promoting student engagement (Darling-Hammond, Ancess & Ort, 2002; McLaughlin & Talbert, 2001; National Research Council Institute of Medicine, 2004). This research illustrates the powerful way in which school structures can either facilitate or inhibit student engagement. Thus, future studies of student engagement need take the school organization literature and use it to better inform data collection activities so as to better understand from the views of students and teachers the importance of this area as related (or not) to student engagement.

Students spoke of classroom assessment as related to their emotional and behavioural sense of engagement in school work (Eccles, Alder, Futterman, Goff, Kaczala & Meece, 1983). That is, students mentioned that frequent and consistent feedback from teachers served as a motivator for continued cognitive effort. In their review, Hattie and Timperley (2007) note that feedback is one of the most powerful influences on learning and achievement but evidence shows that the type of feedback and the way it is given can be differentially effective. That is,


feedback has not effect in a vacuum: to be powerful in its effect, there must be a learning context to which feedback is addressed (Hattie & Timperley, 2007). The authors stress that the climate of the classroom is critical, particularly if disconfirmation and corrective feedback at any level is to be welcomed and used by the students (Hattie & Timperley, 2007). Moreover, research confirms the finding that feedback on learning occurs too rarely, and needs to be used in effective and constructive ways (Hattie & Timperley, 2007; National Research Council Institute of Medicine, 2004). Teachers should continually monitor the effectiveness of the curriculum and instructional practices so as to make determinations as to whether students are staying engaged behaviourally (e.g., attendance, completion of work), cognitively (e.g., efforts to understand and apply new concepts), and emotionally (e.g., enthusiasm for learning activities) (Timperley, 2003).



This study employed a participatory approach ­ concept mapping ­ for the purpose of illustrating how students and teachers could collaborate on a definition of student engagement. This capacity to ,,think together was promoted through an intentionally structured practice of discourse. Thus, as students and teachers developed shared understandings it was postulated that they would foster increased commitment to the results and subsequent school improvement planning efforts. As a direct result of this approach, we were able to probe more deeply into the complex student-teacher relationship in an effort to reveal key characteristics of student engagement. In this way, students could take a genuine and authentic role as co-collaborators in the process. For example, this is evidenced by student initiated items such as diversity and belonging, being taken up and embraced by all stakeholders.

The impact of the interpretation sessions (both after the maps were constructed and at future times so as to include a wider stakeholder group) highlights the contribution of the concept mapping approach as contributing to ongoing school improvement dialogue and planning. In other words, after the research and analysis processes are complete, the resultant maps can act as the ,,overall plan for ongoing student engagement work. The cluster maps, for example, can act as strategic goal areas with specific tasks assigned to it. Teams or individuals can be assigned to specific tasks to facilitate ongoing school-based improvement-oriented action. The graphic representation of convergence and divergence in stakeholder perceptions is useful for ongoing planning and school improvement work. In particular, the areas of divergence could be immediately taken up and assigned to a sub-committee for further attention and exploration.


This study adds to the student voice literature that speaks specifically to the necessity for teachers to listen to students (McIntyre, Pedder & Rudduck, 2005; Pekrul & Levin, 2007; Rudduck, 2007). In her own work, Rudduck (2007) concluded that when student voice was thoughtfully introduced, with respect for its fundamental principles, there can be considerable benefits for schools, for teachers, and for students (see also, McIntyre et al, 2005; Osterman, 2000; MacBeath, Demetriou, Rudduck & Myers, 2003). This process takes time, not only to create organizational structures but also to nurture a sympathetic professional culture to sustain it (Fielding, 2001). This new paradigm is challenging in that it pushes hard against current traditions and practices currently at play in high schools. Another key area linking students and teachers can be found with regard to the hidden/informal curriculum. Prior work and experience has shown that students have a more difficult time navigating the informal curriculum (i.e., relationships with teachers and peers) than the mandated one (Rivière et al., 2008). This finding has direct implications for the importance of belonging/diversity and friendships as uncovered in this study. Prior research has found a strong link between students sense of belonging and academic achievement (see for example, Willms, 2003, Osterman, 2000; Rivière et al. 2008). Many students who have a low sense of belonging tend to cluster into two groups, one that has relatively high academic achievement, and another that has exhibits performance indicators. This study suggests that one approach to addressing the issue would be to target this second group and possibly use the concept mapping tool to assist in uncovering deeper sources of disengagement, and areas of perceived lack of support. For instance, this study showed that teachers do not always have an accurate and complete understanding of how students view their


role as professional educators (in terms of involving students in class decisions and planning, convey expectations, and demonstrating that school is a priority for teachers too). Thus, educators may need more specifics about each group of students and what different factors are related to engagement.


CHAPTER EIGHT: IMPLICATIONS FOR PRACTICE AND RESEARCH This final chapter will serve two functions. First, commentary will be provided on limitations of this study. The second section will address some implications for practice and further research in this area. Limitations Several limitations that apply specifically to the concept mapping approach, and more generally to the study itself will be discussed. The concept mapping method presented several challenges in terms of organizing and coordinating follow up sessions with study participants. That is, it would have been ideal to hold the interpretation sessions in a whole-group (i.e., both students and teachers) setting. Unfortunately, time and logistical constraints did not permit this aspect of the ,,group think process to occur. To overcome barriers of time and location, the developers of Concept Systems now have a web-based version. Other possibilities to host brainstorming type focus groups would be to hold virtual meetings with the use of current commercially available software. Aside from the logistical constraints of the concept mapping method, there are several programmatic challenges associated with this tool. The determination of a ,,cluster solution currently resides with the analyst. Revisions to the method could include a participatory element whereby stakeholders could have input into the cluster decisions. Critics of the concept mapping approach have claimed that the rating task can fall prey to a ,,group think situation. This can occur with any sit down survey/test administration and it would be the facilitators role to ensure individuals work independently. The study itself was conducted with a small number of participants, and as such is open to problems of generalizability. As well, data collected herein


represent a cross section in time and as such this study represents but a snap shot of student engagement in one place and time. As mentioned previously, future research should include a longitudinal dimension to follow classrooms so as to document the degree of movement (if any) teachers make with respect to student voice. A goal would be to have every teacher make some movement in terms of accepting and/or nurturing student voice within their classrooms. In addition to the methods and software limitations previously mentioned, there are a number of conceptual limitations to this work that should be noted. This study focused on achieving some degree of conceptual clarity from two key stakeholder groups (students and teachers) on the construct of student engagement. That being said, however, the study had to be bounded in terms of a conceptual frame and associated literature review so as to be manageable and focused. As such, the study had to be narrowed to discuss some relevant literature while not including others. Literature that was not intentionally a focus of this work but that is informative to our understanding of student engagement includes the work on student disengagement, power, pedagogy, and the broader work in organizational behavior that includes school organization and structure. Concerning the limitations discussed and the results of this study, several areas of future research can be identified. This final section is subdivided into two parts. The fist will detail implications for school-level practice in terms of ongoing planning and school improvement work. The second section will provide insight into possible future directions research could take in the area of student engagement. In addressing the former point, three maps have been identified as assisting in ongoing planning work. Figures 10 though 12 below provide examples of how school administration, teachers and students can collaborate on their school engagement agendas. Figure 10 illustrates how school administration and/or school improvement sub committees


could use the concept mapping outputs for ongoing discussion and planning. Specifically, school-based working groups might consider starting with the points of greatest divergence between stakeholder groups as places where the most work in terms of consensus building needs to occur. Figure 10: Pattern Match as Discussion Generator (Points of Divergence)


Figures 11 and 12 utilize the cluster maps as areas for ongoing planning and discussion. Figure 11 provides an example where each cluster is used as a strategic goal area. Figure 12 presents similar information albeit in a more finely grained manner. That is, Figure 12 suggests breaking down each cluster into its statement set for discourse purposes.

Figure 11: Creation of Specific Objectives for Ongoing Discussion


Figure 12 Subdivide Objectives into Action-Oriented Tasks

In terms of ongoing research, this kind of study would benefit from several methodological approaches. Repeating the concept mapping process with adequate resources so as to ensure all steps were followed in a sequential manner would assist with the generalizability of future student engagement findings. Also, repeating the concept mapping process in multiple high schools within a given local would permit for broader participation of both students and teachers and thus ensuring the brainstormed items are indeed representative of the context.


Another interesting opportunity for the context of the present study would be to do a concept mapping study with schools both within and outside of the MSIP program. As a research approach, concept mapping is not without limitations as noted in the section above. That is, the phases of the design are often time consuming and can present logistic issues, particularly when the study is undertaken in vast geographical regions, and the software is not always intuitive. Taken together, though, this method is an effective way to obtain high quality data, in this case from students, because of its directive process. Students were able to participate equally in all phases of the research from conceptualization to analysis and interpretation. This approach proved to be an effective vehicle for student voice in educational research whereby students could present their ideas as a unified stakeholder group free from the influence of others (e.g, teachers and/or administrators) who may appear to hold more power in the school improvement agenda. The present study uncovered some interesting findings with respect to the importance of student friendships and peer groups as related to students sense of student engagement. The literature reviewed revealed that there is little research in this area that provides us with deep understandings of the nature and quality of peer relationships within the classroom context (Ryan, 2000; Osterman, 2000). Future qualitative research could delve deeper into the nature of social connections among students as an initial approach to untangle and understand the multidimensionality of factors at play. Overall, research in the student engagement domain could include longitudinal and observational dimensions. A longitudinal design is important so as to capture over multiple time points, the degrees to which students and teachers move closer on points of divergence. Also, a


longitudinal design is imperative to be able to document the movement of teachers towards a more collaborative approach to student-teacher interactions and student voice. Observational techniques are often overlooked as time consuming and labour intensive but this type of data collection would enhance the ability to ,,see distinctions in teachers differing approaches to student voice. Two fundamental issues need to be addressed so as to permit authentic student voice to be nurtured within contemporary high schools: a change in mindset and changes in the structure of educational institutions. Traditionally educational agendas have been formed and maintained by adults but it is time to rethink this approach and include students as co-collaborators in authoring their education. It would be instrumental to this process for teachers to understand the benefits that can be accrued when students have an authentic voice. That is, giving students a voice can improve current educational practices when teachers listen to, and learn from student, then they can begin to ,,see the world from the students perspectives. This study has added to the understanding that students have unique perspectives on what happens in schools and classrooms. For example, in the present study students were the drivers of the of the diversity/ethnicity agenda as related to student engagement. Undeniably the world is changing and there exist growing generational differences between students and their teachers. One thing is clear, schooling ,,as is needs to change so as to be current and effective. One promising approach is to involve students in innovative approaches to student voice. For example, students could be drivers of peer-led retreats, research projects, and internet-based student forums. A critical aspect of engaging students as collaborators is that they perceive themselves as partners. Evidence in other fields such as medicine can provide insight into how this transformation can occur. Medical education research


informs us that doctors who have been found to nurture positive patient-provider relationships and patient satisfaction are positively associated with quality care (Meredith, 2002). For their part, teachers need to assist in teaching students how to be partners in their education. This joint learning could help in moving teachers from their role as gatekeeper to one of collaborator.


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Letter of informed consent

To potential study participant:

I would like to invite your voluntary participation in a research study focusing on understanding student engagement with high school. I will be speaking with administrators, teachers and students to obtain their perceptions of student engagement.

I will ask individuals to participate in a face-to-face interview (administrators) or focus groups (teachers and students) lasting approximately one hour in duration. During the interview you will be asked questions about your understanding of student engagement, your views on your school's efforts to promote student engagement and the impacts you think have been achieved at your school. As the interview proceeds, I may ask questions for clarification or further understanding, but my part will be to mainly listen to your speak about your views, experiences, and opinions.

It is the intention that each interview will be audiotaped and later transcribed to paper; you have the choice of declining to have the interview taped. You will be assigned a number that will correspond to your interviews and transcript. The information obtained in the interview will be kept in strict confidence and stored in a secure location. All information will be reported in such a way that individual persons, schools, and school divisions cannot be identified.

You may at any time refuse to answer a question or withdraw from the interview process. You may request that any information, whether in written form or on audiotape, be eliminated from the project. Finally, I would encourage you to ask questions about the research and your involvement with it. At your request, I will provide you with a summary of the findings of this study.


Thanks you in advance for your participation,

Stephanie Sutherland Ph.D. Candidate, Theory and Policy Studies in Education Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto _________________________________________________________________________

By signing below, you are indicating that you are willing to participate in the study, you have received a copy of this letter, and you are fully aware of the conditions above.

Name: _________________________

School: _________________________

Signed: ________________________

Date: ___________________________




Student and Teacher Perceptions of Student Engagement:

A Concept Mapping Study Participants: Students, Teachers & Administrators ­ Seven Oaks School Division

Prepared by: Stephanie Sutherland OISE / University of Toronto Department of Theory & Policy Studies (Floor 6) 252 Bloor Street West Toronto, Ontario M5S 1V6

[email protected]

June 2002

_____________________________________________________________________________________________ Please do not cite or reproduce without permission of the author.



In the fall of 2001, two schools within the Seven Oaks School Division were approached to participate in a study focusing on increasing our understanding of student engagement. Each of these schools had been involved with the Manitoba School Improvement Program (MSIP) for a number of years. MSIPs philosophy has been, and continues to be, "to improve the learning experiences and outcomes of secondary school students, particularly those at-risk, by building schools capacities to become transforming schools that engage students actively in their own learning (Manitoba School Improvement Program Strategic Plan, 1995). Therefore, schools working with MSIP offered an ideal context to investigate students and teachers understanding of student engagement within an improvement oriented framework.

After an extensive review of the literature, I came to the conclusion that student engagement was indeed a slippery concept. Depending on a persons role, student engagement seemed to take on multiple meanings. That is, depending on ones position (i.e., student, teacher, administrator, academic, politician, etc.) there exists many degrees of meaning. For the present study, I thought it would be intriguing to have arguably the two most important groups in education - teachers and students - define the concept themselves. In doing so, I needed a methodology that was participatory in nature. Specifically, I needed a means to collect data that was authored by participants, a type of "bottom-up" approach. Concept Mapping was chosen as a method that


would best facilitate group level analyses.4 There were 8 teachers and 8 students from each of the two schools who volunteered to participate (32 participants in total).

The Concept Mapping Process

Brainstorming Sessions I approached the administration in the participating schools and was received with enthusiasm and with the conviction that a study of this nature was important and worthy of research. In November 2001 I traveled to Winnipeg and met with groups of teachers and students from the two schools. During these meetings, the groups (separately) engaged in brainstorming sessions based on the following statement: "generate short statements or phrases of what student engagement means to you". The student and teacher groups had little difficulty generating such statement lists. As per the Concept Mapping method, I took the statements (from teachers and students) and combined them into one master list. Care was taken to ensure equal representation of both student and teacher ideas. The final list consisted of sixty statements (see Table 1).

Sorting & Rating Task Next, I printed the statements on 3" by 5" cards. Again, I traveled to Winnipeg the following March (2002) and met with the same teacher and student groups from each of the two schools. Each person was given their own pile of the sixty cards and was asked to "sort the cards in a way that makes sense to you". There were only two rules, 1) you were not allowed to put all of the cards in one pile, and 2) you were not allowed to have sixty separate piles (containing one statement each). In completing this sorting task, everyone was really asked to think about how the different statements fit together ­ or not! After the sorting task was complete everyone was asked to rate each individual statement on a scale of one to five (five being really important to their understanding of student engagement, one being not very important).


For a more detailed description of Concept Mapping the reader is directed to: Trochim, W. (1989). An introduction to concept mapping for planning and evaluation. Evaluation and Program Planning, 12 (1): 1-16.


Generation of the Concept Maps

The next step was to enter the teacher and student generated data in the Concept System software. The computer program groups the data into clusters. These clusters represent a "best fit" according to how teachers and students sorted the statements. Table 2 illustrates how the statements were grouped into clusters. Figure 1 graphically displays the data contained in Table 2. If you look to the right hand side of Figure 1, you'll notice some smaller clusters, this means that both students and teachers sorted these items in a similar fashion (see especially, Diversity/Belonging, Students at the Centre, Engagement as a feeling and Student ­ Teacher interactions). Conversely, the larger, or more elongated the cluster appears are examples of groups sorted the statements differently (see especially, Beyond the classroom, Aspects of pedagogy, Variety in school structure and Professional educators).

Pattern Match

Based on the rating task (rate statements in importance from one to five), the software produces a pattern match map (see Figure 2). The two vertical lines represent the two groups involved ­ teachers and students. The horizontal lines represent the degree to which the students and teachers either converge or diverge in their perceptions of importance. From a cursory look at Figure 2, it appears that both students and teachers rated the statements contained under the heading "Diversity/Belonging" as most important. Whereas, both groups rated items under "School policy/structure" as least important with respect to student engagement. The areas that illustrate the most divergence in student and teacher rating were the clusters "students at the centre" and "aspects of pedagogy" (see again, Table 2 for statements within each of these clusters).

Why is this Important?

Specifically, this study is an example of participatory research that can help to stimulate discussion in schools; This study adds to the critically needed study voice perspective in education; This research can help drive school-level planning and reporting, and has the potential to increase the effectiveness of school-based projects focusing on the engagement of secondary students.


What's Next?

More detailed analyses; Change/edit cluster names Organize student and teacher discussion groups based on these findings; Utilize this data for ongoing school-based planning and reporting; Discuss how this data can impact division and school level policies.

Table 1: Combined Teacher & Student Items

Student Engagement Brainstorming Items (Teachers & Students)

1. Guidance Support 2. Parental involvement 3. Timely grading/assessment of student work 4. Opportunities for student leadership 5. Active role in classroom discussions 6. Teacher as friend 7. Teacher is passionate about teaching 8. Lots of program/course options 9. Student independence in learning 10. Variety in teaching style 11. Relevance of class material 12. Incentives to promote student learning 13. Extra-curricular activities 14. Changes in regular timetable 15. Small classes

31. High teacher expectations of students 32. School safety 33. Need for student space 34. Compromise 35. School spirit 36. Doing work in groups 37. Student ownership in learning 38. Balance of teacher & student ideas 39. Community involvement 40. Different types of school involvement 41. School policies 42. Teacher job satisfaction 43. Student input into learning 44. Trust 45. Having the same teacher/student more


than once 16. Involvement in student council 17. Hiring of younger teachers 18. School reputation 19. Feel comfortable at school 20. Teachers' reputation 21. Importance of friends/socializing 22. Changes in administration 23. Student-teacher relationships 46. Competition 47. Student attitudes/interest in classes 48. Have fun in class 49. Experience success in learning 50. Different assessment methods 51. Student motivation to learn 52. Demanding curriculum 53. Opportunities for teacher-student decision-making 24. Teacher professional development 25. School is accepting of different social groups 26. School is multi-cultural 27. Support for student ideas 28. Effective communication 29. Interesting classes 30. Involvement in sports 54. Teacher is entertaining/interesting 55. Mixed ability classes 56. Challenging class projects 57. Respect for others 58. Supportive principal/vice-principal 59. Smiling 60. Being recognized

Note: The above items were generated by teacher and student brainstorming sessions. Next, these items were combined to create a master list. Care was taken to ensure equal representation from each of the groups (teachers & students).


Table 2: Statements by Cluster (Student & Teacher Sorting Task) Cluster: Professional educators

1) Guidance support 8) Lots of program/course options 17) Hiring of younger teachers 20) Teachers' reputation 24) Teacher professional development 42) Teacher job satisfaction 58) Supportive principal/vice-principal


Variety in school policy/structure

2) Parental involvement 14) Changes in regular timetable 22) Changes in administration 40) Different types of school involvement


Aspects of pedagogy

3) Timely grading/assessment of student work 10) Variety in teaching style 15) Small classes 28) Effective communication 31) High teacher expectations of students 50) Different assessment methods 52) Demanding curriculum


Beyond the classroom

4) Opportunities for student leadership 13) Extra-curricular activities 16) Involvement in student council 18) School reputation 30) Involvement in sports 35) School spirit 39) Community involvement 41) School policies




21) Importance of friends/socializing 25) School is accepting of different social groups 26) School is multi-cultural 32) School safety 33) Need for student space


Student ­ Teacher interactions

5) Active role in classroom discussions 7) Teacher is passionate about teaching 9) Student independence in learning 11) Relevance of class material 29) Interesting classes 37) Student ownership in learning 38) Balance of teacher & student ideas 54) Teacher is entertaining/interesting 56) Challenging class projects


Students at the centre

12) Incentives to promote student learning 27) Support for student ideas 43) Student input into learning 45) Having the same teacher/student more than once 55) Mixed ability classes


Engagement as a habit of mind

36) Doing work in groups 47) Student attitudes/interest in classes 48) Having fun in class 49) Experience success in learning 51) Student motivation to learn 53) Opportunities for teacher-student decision-making




6) Teacher as friend 19) Feel comfortable at school 23) Student-teacher relationships 34) Compromise 44) Trust 46) Competition 57) Respect for others 59) Smiling 60) Being recognized



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