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Main Theoretical Ideas Behind How Engagement Has Been Conceptualized

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Published: 16th Dec 2019

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Describe the main theoretical ideas behind how engagement has been conceptualized

Engagement is similar to other constructs in that it is not easily defined.  In a landmark Supreme Court ruling Jacobellis v. Ohio (1964), Justice Stewart used the phrase “I know it when I see it.”  The justice was referring to the concept of obscenity.  In that regard, defining the concept engagement is similar to defining the concept of obscenity.  Most will say “I know it when I see it” but can’t describe the concept well enough for someone to understand and recognize engagement.  Engagement is a topic of discussion and research, but few can articulate an operational definition that can be measured.  More than 30 years ago psychologists and researchers in education had attempted to define the concept of engagement.  These definitions have included but are not limited to “engagement, engagement in schoolwork, academic engagement, school engagement, student engagement, student engagement in academic work, student engagement in/ with school, and participation identification” (Smiley & Anderson, 2011, p. 18; Appleton, Christenson, & Furlong, 2008).  Limited agreement exists on the definition due mostly to the context in which the definition is applied.  To illustrate this, what one sees as engagement in math is not the same as what one would see in physical education.  The purpose of this paper is to describe the theoretical ideas behind how engagement has been conceptualized, provide samples of how engagement has been measured in the educational literature, and how the concept of engagement has been utilized in physical education research.

The following is a timeline to show how the concept of engagement has been defined over the last 33 years.  This timeline is but a snapshot of all of the research conducted, but it is an adequate representation.

  • Natriello (1984) described engagement in the context of student engagement as “student participation in the activities as part of the school program” (Appleton et al., 2008, p. 371); Natriello, 1984, p. 14).   Although Natriello identified several variables that make up engagement, his research focus was on the student’s academic and social success.  He saw engagement with two dimensions, academic and behavioral.   All of this leads to the linking of the concept of engagement to drop-out rates as a result of disengagement. He believed engagement was influenced by academic, behavioral, and social evaluations by teachers and peers.
  • Mosher and MacGowan (1985) defined engagement in the context of student engagement in/with the school as “the attitude leading to, and the behavior of, participation in the secondary school’s programs” (Appleton et al., 2008, p. 371; Mosher & MacGowan, 1985, p. 14).  The researchers went on to explain the engagement has multiple determinants, will impact the student and school-related outcomes and that engagement research should be longitudinal.  They acknowledged that influences such as family, teacher, school, classroom and the student affect engagement.  This research concluded that engagement has no theoretical framework, and no means of measuring it existed.  It appears that these researchers focused more on student behavior as it relates to being in school rather than behavior in the classroom.
  • Finn (1989) defined engagement in the context of participating in school and identifying with the school through a sense of belonging and valuing what school offered discussed different models used to understand dropping out of school as a process that begins in a student’s early elementary years rather than an event (Appleton et al., 2008, p. 371; Finn, 1989).   Students that participate in class and school activities gain a feeling of identification to the school.  He saw engagement as two-dimensional, behavioral and emotional engagement.  The main of this line of research was to explain the phenomenon of dropping out of school.
  • Skinner, Wellborn, and Connell (1990) defined engagement in the context of general engagement as the “initiation of action, effort, and persistence on schoolwork, as well as their ambient emotional states during learning activities” (Appleton et al., 2008, p.371; Skinner, 1990,et al., p.24). The authors believe teacher behavior can have an impact on perceived control.  Their study showed that teacher behavior did affect students’ perceived control.  This study focused on students behaviors in the classroom.
  • Newmann, Wehlage, and Lamborn (1992) define student engagement in the context of academic work as “the student’s psychological investment in and of effort directed toward learning, understanding, or mastering knowledge, skills, or crafts that academic work intends to promote” (Appleton et al., 2008, p. 371; Newmann et al., p. 12).  The student teacher relationship helps to make clear the importance of engagement.  Differences in social-cultural backgrounds and attitude toward school were the factors distinguished as the causes affecting engagement of students in their academic work.  The connection and identification with the school were also identified as a factor that influences authentic work.
  • Finn (1993) defined engagement in the context of participation and identification in/with school.  He posited the definition as “involvement in school as it relates to student achievement” (Appleton et al., 2008, p. 371; Finn, 1993, p. 6).    Decreasing dropout rates and understand why students choose to drop out of school was the basis of this chapter. A two-dimensional view of behavior with participation and achievement with overall school performance were the aspects he conceptualized as engagement.
  • Skinner and Belmont (1993) defined engagement in the context of general engagement as “sustained behavioral involvement in learning activities accompanied by positive emotional tone” (Appleton et al., 2008, p. 371; Skinner et al., 1993, p. 572).  The goal of the study was to examine the relationship between teacher behavior and active engagement in class.  The concept of student engagement was investigated as it pertained to what is happening in the classroom and included the dimensions of behavioral and emotional.
  • Finn and Rock (1997) defines engagement in the context of participation and identification with the school (Appleton et al., 2008, p. 371; Finn & Rock, 1997).  The purpose of this study was to understand how some low SES minority students were more academically successful than their peers.  Three levels of engagement were investigated; they include student’s compliance with rules, student initiative, and participation in school life make up the taxonomy of engagement.  He identifies engagement in school and its relationship to reducing dropout rates.
  • Marks (2000) defined engagement in the context of student engagement in academic work as the “psychological process.  Specifically, the attention, interest, investment, and effort students expend in the work of learning” (Appleton et al., 2008, p. 371; Marks, 2000, p. 154).  The purpose of this study was to determine how student background affect engagement if school initiatives hinder engagement due to student backgrounds, and how subject matter influences engagement.  Marks indicated that research on engagement in the classroom has been scant.  He saw two dimensions of engagement to include affective, behavioral participation.  The focus of this study was on academic work in the classroom.
  • Audas and Willms (2001) defined engagement in the context of general engagement as “the extent to which young people identify with their school and derive a sense of well-being from their academic work” (p. iii).  They acknowledged that engagement is multidimensional and researchers have not developed a consensus on a definition.  The authors identified a four-dimensional concept with the factors as participation, belongingness, teacher relationships, and the value of achievement in school.  This chapter focused on the relationship between engagement and dropout rates.
  • Furlong, Whipple, St. Jean, Simental, Soliz, and Punthuna (2003) defined engagement in the context of school engagement through the student, the peer group, the classroom, and the school-wide contexts as they relate to the affective, behavioral, and cognitive subtypes (Appleton et al., 2008; Furlong et al., 2003).  The purpose of the article was to address the concept of school engagement.  The authors identified a three-dimensional model of engagement that included affective, behavioral, and cognitive as the components in four different contexts of peer, schoolwide, classroom and student.  Part of this literature review focused on student engagement in the classroom.
  • Jimmerson, Campos, and Greif (2003) defined engagement in the context of school engagement as “a multifaceted construct that includes affective, behavioral, and cognitive dimensions” (Appleton et al., 2008, p. 371; Jimmerson et al., 2003, p. 11), which include: “a) academic performance, b) classroom behavior, c) extracurricular involvement, d) interpersonal relationships, and e) school community” (Jimmerson et al., 2003, p. 12).  The authors adopted a three-dimensional concept of engagement that included affective, behavioral, and cognitive components
  • Chapman (2003) defined engagement in the context of student engagement as a “students’ willingness to participate in routine school activities, such as attending classes, submitting required work, and following teachers’ directions in class” (Appleton et al., 2008, p. 371; Chapman, 2003, p. 1).  The purpose of this review was to outline engagement as the literature has presented it and to identify the means that were used to measure engagement.  A three-dimensional model with the domains of affective, behavioral, and cognitive engagement were identified.  This article addresses some aspects of engagement that others have not, but does not address the concept of what it means to be engaged in a task or activity.
  • Fredericks, Blumenfeld, and Paris (2004) defined engagement in the context of school engagement as multifaceted meta-construct and included behavioral (participation in school activities and not dropping out), emotional (belongingness to the school and willingness to do work), and cognitive (exerting effort to master skills; Appleton et al., 2008, p. 317; Fredricks et al., 2004).  The authors provided a three-dimensional concept of engagement.  The author’s focus was on improving student engagement to improve student performance which in turn improves school performance, which only addressed engagement of the student in the school, not engagement in the classroom task.
  • Klem and Connell (2004) defined engagement in the context of student engagement in/with the school as ongoing engagement (aligned with behavioral, cognitive, and emotional engagement) and reaction to challenge which is how students cope with negative circumstances.  The authors adopted a three-dimensional concept of engagement.
  • Appleton, Christenson, Kim, and Reschly (2006) define engagement as a “multi-dimensional comprised of four subtypes: academic, behavioral, cognitive, and psychological” (Appleton et al., 2008, p. 371; Appleton et al., 2006, p. 429).  The authors refer to engagement as a ‘burgeoning construct” (Appleton et al., 2006, p. 431) that is difficult to measure.  The authors agreed on a four-dimensional concept of engagement.  They believe that the student perspective, rather than the teacher, is a better indicator of the student experience.  This study focused only on the cognitive and psychological aspects of engagement.
  • Yazzi-Minta (2007) defined engagement in the context of student engagement as being about the relationship that develops between “the student’s relationship with the school community: the people (adults and peers), the structures (rules, facilities, schedules), the curriculum and content, the pedagogy, and the opportunities (curricular, co-curricular, and extracurricular)” (Appleton et al., 2008, p. 371; Yazzi-Minta, 2007, p. 1).  This article was a review of the student responses to the High School Survey of Student Engagement (HSSSE) of 2006.  Identified a three component concept of engagement for analyzing the survey which was “cognitive/intellectual/academic, social behavioral/participatory, and emotional engagement” (Yazzi-Minta, 2007, p. 7). The focus of this was the student engagement in the school, the activities surrounding the school, and the students feeling about why they attend school.  Along with this, there was also a focus on dropout rates, classroom boredom, time spent on homework, support from adults, school structure, and curriculum.
  • Archambault, Janosz, Fallu, and Pagani (2009) define engagement as a multidimensional construct that includes behavioral, affective, and cognitive engagement.  The aim of the study was to examine these indices as predictors of dropout.
  • Reeve and Tseng (2011) introduced the concept of agentic engagement.  They define agentic engagement as “students’ constructive contribution to the flow of the instruction they receive” (Appleton et al., 2008, p. 371; Archambault et al., 2009, p. 258).  This new aspect of engagement adds to the three component structure of behavioral, emotional, and cognitive to create a four-dimensional concept.  The agentic concept tries to measure how the student’s intentional positive reaction to the class and the teacher can change the flow of the lesson to make it more meaningful for the learner.
  • Harris (2011) believed that a distinction between engagement in schooling and engagement in learning is warranted.  Engagement in schooling includes behavioral, academic and psychological while engagement in learning includes cognitive engagement.  In the review for this study, the author recognizes a four-component structure of engagement to include behavioral, academic, psychological, and cognitive engagement.

As far back as 1984 researchers have attempted to define engagement as a construct and in time some consensus seems to have begun.  In the past years, some researchers viewed engagement as academic and social success as it related to dropping out of school. Natriello (1984) conceptualized a continuum of engagement and disengagement.  His aim was to address engagement as a means of curtailing the drop-rates in the country.   Finn (1989) viewed engagement through participation in school and identifying with the school.  He understood dropping out to be a process that was the result of a cycle caused by failures that began in elementary years.  If ignored, the student’s disengagement would eventually lead to the student dropping out of school.  Finn (1993) revisited his prior work and aligned student behavior with participation and achievement.  Again, he believed that an increase in participation and greater achievement would decrease dropout rates.  Finn & Rock (1997) conducted a study on low SES minority students that were more successful than their peers when it came to academics. The researchers concluded that an improved student relationship with the school could reduce dropout rates.  Audas & Willms (2001) thought that increased student participation, belongingness, improved teacher relationships, and students valuing of achievement would lessen dropout rates.   Yazzi-Minta (2007) conducted an analysis of the HSSSE from 2006 and concluded student disengagement could stem dropout rates.  Archambault et al., (2009) examined how the indices of engagement can be predictors of dropout.

Others have investigated how engagement fits in the classroom but not engagement in a task.  Skinner et al., (1990) focused on teacher behavior and how it impacted students perceived control.  Skinner & Belmont (1993) focused on teacher behavior as well and determined through path analysis that teacher behavior was critical to student engagement in the classroom.  Marks (2000) recognized that research on engagement in the classroom was meager and attention to student academic work in the class was needed to assess engagement.  Reeve & Tseng (2011) introduce the concept of agentic engagement which tries to measure how the student can positively influence the flow of classroom instruction.

Several researchers have sought to define engagement through literature reviews in hopes to find common themes from past research.  Mosher & McGowan (1985) investigated engagement by conducting a review that referenced more than 60 studies. The authors concluded that engagement has no unifying theoretical framework and no means of measuring it.  Newmann et al., (1992) reviewed five different projects and the different characteristics each offered as the characteristics relate to engagement.  The authors determined that engagement was a psychological investment that stems from the effort put towards academic work.  Furlong et al., (2003) attempted to define terms and classify research findings through a literature review of engagement.  Three perspectives, “psychological, educational, and developmental” (p. 99) and four contexts “student, peer, classroom, and the school environment” (p. 99) of engagement were identified.   Jimmerson et al., (2003) review aimed to define terms related to engagement and identify how it has been measured. The authors were able to establish that engagement consisted of cognitive, behavioral, and affective aspects.  Chapman (2003) wanted to clarify terms and explain how the terms are used in different ways to assess engagement.  He labeled the terms cognitive, affective and behavioral as criteria to be used for measurement.  The types of measurements discovered included self-reported surveys, checklists and rating scales, direct observations, student work analysis, and case studies.

Three studies focused on teacher behavior and the impact it has on student engagement.  Skinner & Belmont (1993) included 14 teachers and 144 children in a project to research how teacher behavior affected student’s emotional and behavioral engagement. Data collected was based on teacher and student reports.  The researchers concluded that the teacher-student relationship is critical in elevating student motivation.  Skinner et al., (1990) completed a study that included 200 students and 12 teachers.  The aim of this research was to test a model to assess how teacher behavior influenced student perceived control and how that impacted academic performance and its contribution to engagement in school.  The researchers concluded that teacher behavior could enhance or hinder student engagement.  Harris (2011) believed that engagement in school included behavioral, academic, and psychological engagement while engagement in learning related to the cognitive aspects.  The analysis of data collected from 20 Australian teachers resulted in the conclusion that teacher focus on affect and participation can slow cognitive engagement.

Over time the concept of engagement has evolved substantially.   In the mid-eighties and early nineties, a two-dimensional approach to engagement was recognized by Natriello (1984) and Finn (1989, 1993).  Natriello saw engagement as academic and behavioral. In 1989, Finn developed the taxonomy of engagement that focused on involvement in school.  He believed that participation in school leads to behavioral and emotional engagement.  In 1993, Finn stated that involvement in school was through participation and achievement in school. Marks (2000) developed a model based on three different frameworks.  The first, by Bronfenbrenner (1979) focused on the ecological concept of support.  The second by Newmann (1992) addressed engagement through authentic instructional work.  The third was proposed by Finn (1989, 1993) and it addressed engagement through orientation toward school work.  All together Marks model contained two dimensions of engagement to include affective, behavioral participation.

Finn & Rock (1997) used the taxonomy of behaviors and identified three levels of engagement.  Level one was participatory behaviors in academic work, level two was taking the initiative, and level three was participation in extra-curricular activities and school life.  Furlong et al., (2003) identified affective, behavioral, and cognitive as the components that make up engagement in the four different contexts of peer, schoolwide, classroom and student.  Jimmerson et al., (2003), Chapman, (2003), and Archambault et al., (2009) all adopted a three-dimensional concept of engagement that included affective, behavioral, and cognitive components, while Frederick et al., (2003), Yazzi-Minta (2007), and Klem & Connell (2003) also adopted a three-dimensional concept that included behavioral, emotional, and cognitive components.  The terms affective and emotional are close in meaning as far as they are related to one’s feelings.

In 2001 Audas & Willms conceptualized a four-dimensional form of engagement that included participation, a sense of belonging, relatedness to teachers, and valuing success in school. The authors of this review acknowledge that the research on engagement had not matured when this was written.  Appleton et al., (2006) defined engagement as having academic, behavioral, cognitive, and psychological components.  A survey validation study was conducted on the Student Engagement Instrument (SEI).  The instrument was administered to 1,931 ninth grade students. They found that the instrument had an adequate fit.  Since the research on engagement was relatively new at this time, the researchers believe that the SEI could prove to be a valuable tool for future studies.  Harris (2011) also adopted a four component model that included two main categories.  The category of engagement in school focused on behavioral, academic, and psychological engagement while the second category focused only on cognitive engagement.  Reeve & Tseng (2011) conceptualized a four component framework as well.  This framework introduced the new dimension of agentic engagement.  The concept of agentic engagement is described as how a student’s involvement in the lesson and the interactions with the teacher can improve the lesson and alter the flow of the lesson to make the learning more relevant to the student.  Students that involve themselves in this type of behavior are thought to be agentically engaged.

As it has been shown here, the concept of engagement has evolved since researchers began to attempt to define the concept.  It has moved through predicting dropout rates to understanding how students act and react to class lessons.  Researchers have moved from a two-dimensional framework to a four-dimensional framework.  The definitions and the components of the multidimensional frameworks are still not unified.  Attempts to develop observation tools and scales to measure have been somewhat successful, but they still need attention for improvement and revision.

Provide samples of how engagement has been measured in the educational literature

There have many studies that have used engagement as a construct for investigation.  Over the years the definition has evolved, and the means of measuring engagement have varied.  A few observation tools and some teacher rating scales have been developed, but the most common way of measuring engagement appears to be through a self-reported survey.  Many times these surveys have been adapted from the original to put the questions or statements in the correct context for the classes the research was conducted.  Additionally, when these questionnaires were modified and utilized, the researchers conducted validity and reliability tests to give their study greater relevance.  In the following section, some of the different means of assessing engagement are discussed.  The research that is featured is a small sample of the whole body of research available.  The purpose of the study, the definition of engagement, the description of the measure, and the basic results of the research are emphasized.

Observation tools provide researchers with an opportunity to investigate a research question without interfering with the flow of the instruction.  This gives researchers an advantage because they are able to observe the class in a normal state.  The disadvantage with observation tools is they require the observer to spend part of the time writing and part of the time observing.  Additionally, to become effective at using an observation tool correctly, it requires practice and preparation.  Another disadvantage is some of the observation tools are designed to observe and score the class as a class and not individuals.

Reeve, Jang, Carrell, Jeon, and Barch (2004) defined engagement in the same way others have defined previously.  “Engagement refers to the behavioral intensity and emotional quality of a per- son’s active involvement during a task” (Connell, 1990; Connell & Wellborn, 1991; Fiedler, 1975; Koenigs, Fiedler, & deCharms, 1977).  The purpose of this study was to investigate if high school teachers could develop improved motivating styles following a workshop and if student engagement was responsive to those developments.  The goal was to have teachers become more autonomous supportive and to increase student engagement.  Student engagement needed to be determined to evaluate teacher behavior.  An observation tool was employed to measure the level of autonomy support the teacher provided and student engagement.  The relevant parts of this discussion included two measures of student engagement from the observation tool.  First, how actively involved the students were during a lesson (task involvement) and how the students’ attempted to take control of their learning experience (influence attempts).  Task involvement was defined as the “attention, effort, verbal participation, and positive emotion” the students’ showed (Furrer & Skinner, 2003; Wellborn, Connell, & Skinner, 1989, p. 157).  Influence attempts were defined as a “students’ active attempts to influence the flow of classroom events” (Fiedler, 1975; Koenigs, Fiedler, & deCharms, 1977, p. 157).  These were presented in a bipolar format with a high engagement score of a seven on right side of the page and a disaffected score of one on the left side of the page (e.g., gives u easily or persists).  A high score means a majority all of the students expressed intense behavior.  Influence attempts used the same criteria as the Hit Steer observation system (Fiedler, 1975).  This system assesses how many times the teacher tries to affect students positively and how many times the students’ work to positively affect the teacher.  The researchers observed the class on three different occasions.  The results showed that as teachers employed more autonomously supportive behavior, the students’ engagement improved (Reeve et al., 2004).  Additionally, the researchers concluded that student engagement is susceptible to changes in teacher behavior.  In this study, an observation tool was used to measure student engagement.  The tool requires the observer to rate the entire class at the same time.

A frequently used observation tool to measure engagement in the classroom is the Behavior Observation of Students in Schools (BOSS; Shapiro, 2004).  Shapiro designed the BOSS with the expressed intent of observing children identified as potentially failing.  Additionally, the tool was used to investigate ways of preventing students from dropping out.  The tool allows to observer to code student engagement in five ways:  active engagement, passive engagement, and off-task passive, off-task motor and off-task verbal.  Observers visit the class several times of a few days and observe for 30 minutes each time.  The researcher observers for 15 seconds and then has 15 second to record their observations.  This process repeats until the session is over.

Teacher rating reports of student engagement is a less common means of assessing engagement.  The level of student engagement is a result of teachers observing a class or a student.  In 1990 Skinner, Wellborn, & Connell a study to test the connection between self-perceived control and academic performance among children was conducted.  Teacher input on student engagement and disaffection determined an engagement score for each child.  The teachers were not allowed to observe their own class.  The students were rated based on two criteria.  The first criteria were active participation in class (e.g., involved in discussions, pretends to be working).  The second criteria were the student’s expression of emotion and the tone of that expression (e.g., sad, uninterested).  The teachers assessed the students using a 10-item scale.  It was found that engagement was destabilized by feelings that outside influences caused an outcome and by children lacking knowledge on effective strategies that could improve outcomes.  Positive and negative attitudes towards their ability predicted engagement levels.  Additionally, students that believed that their effort was considerable in strategy and capacity experienced greater levels of engagement.  In this study, students did not answer a questionnaire or survey to determine engagement.  Teachers determined the student’s engagement levels.

The self-report survey or questionnaire seems to be the most common form of evaluating student engagement.  Appleton, Christienson, Kim, and Reschley, (2006), validated the SEI to assess the psychometric properties of the instrument.  The authors define engagement as having behavioral, cognitive, psychological and affective components (Appleton et al., 2006).  The original SEI contained 30 items to measure cognitive engagement (importance of school) and 26 items to measure psychological engagement (relationships with others).  An example of the cognitive items is “What I’m learning in my classes will be important in my future” (p.436), and an example of a psychological item is “My teachers are there for me when I need them” (p.436).  The scale was administered to 1,931 ninth grade students.  The scale used a 4-point Likert scale format and was orally administered.  The results led the researchers to settle on the six-factor model.  The factors pertaining to cognitive engagement were control and relevance of school work, and future aspirations and goals, extrinsic motivation and the factors for psychological engagement were the teacher-student relationships, peer support for learning, and family support for learning.  This instrument has been used many times by other researchers to measure psychological and cognitive engagement.

In the past researchers and educators defined engagement by how it impacted dropout rates.  At the time, dropout rates were thought of as a reflection of disengagement (Ensminger, Lamkin, & Jacobson, 1996; Finn, 1989).  It was the intent of Archambault et al., (2009) to examine if behavioral, affective, and cognitive engagement could be used as predictors of dropout. An 18 item survey was completed by 11,827 students in the seventh, eighth, and ninth grade. The behavior components were school attendance and discipline.  The affective components were students liking school and interest in school.  The cognitive components were a willingness to learn French language arts and willingness to learn mathematics.  These six concepts were used to represent academic success.  The six concepts were designed to assess latent constructs of the three components of student engagement and would converge for a global construct of engagement.  An example of a behavior item is “been rude to your teacher” (p. 656).  Behavior engagement was measured with a four-point Likert scale with one being never and four being quite often.  A seven-point Likert scale measured affective and cognitive engagement with one as “strongly agree” and seven as “strongly disagree.”  An example of an affective item is “I like school” (p. 656), and an example of a cognitive item is “How much effort are you willing to spend in mathematics?” (p. 656). The results are congruent with Finn (1989) and indicated that engagement is connected to school dropout.

To investigate how the teacher styles of autonomy support and structure correlate and if student engagement can be predicted by these teaching styles,  Jang, Reeve, and Deci, (2010), gave 1,584 ninth to eleventh grades students Fredricks et al.’s, (2004) three-component questionnaire, which features behavioral, cognitive, and emotional aspects to assess engagement.  The questionnaire had four items and used a 7-point Likert scale with one being “not at all true” and seven being “extremely true.”  The stem of the statements was “During this class…”  An example of a statement is “I paid attention” (p. 594).  The results showed that both autonomy support and structure teaching styles had a strong correlation with classroom engagement Jang et al., (2010).   Additionally, both class behavioral engagement and self-reported engagement could be predicted by autonomy support. However, the structure teaching style only predicted class behavioral engagement.  The researchers concluded the when students are provided with more of a structured setting; one could expect students to show higher degrees of “attention, effort, and persistence (i.e., behavioral engagement)” (p. 597).

The concept of the fourth dimension of engagement was put forth by Reeve and Tseng (2011).  The concept of agentic engagement is defined as “students’ constructive contribution to the flow of the instruction they receive” (p. 258).  Put simply; a student is thought to be agentically engaged if the student attempts to change the direction of the lesson to create a more effective learning experience for themselves and the other students.  The researchers’ intent was to validate a measure for agentic engagement, determine if agency was a separate part of engagement, and to ascertain if agency was vital to education.  To measure agentic engagement, five items based on the Hit-Steer Observation System were used (Fiedler, 1975; Koenigs, Fiedler, & deCharms, 1977). Originally developed for observation in the classroom, this system measures the number of times students’ attempt to positively affect the teacher (a ‘‘hit’’) and if those attempts change the teacher’s actions or not (a ‘‘steer’’).  An example from the questionnaire is “During class, I ask questions” (p. 259).  Behavioral engagement consisted of five items based on) Task Involvement Questionnaire which were adopted from the first part of the Perceived Behavioral Engagement Questionnaire.  An example is “I listen carefully in class” (p. 259).  Emotional engagement contained four items for emotional engagement and for cognitive engagement, eight items from The Learning Strategies Questionnaire (Wolters’, 2004) derived from the Motivated Strategies for Learning Questionnaire (Pintrich, Smith, Garcia, & McKeachie, 1993).  Example are “I enjoy learning new things in class” (p. 259) and “Before I begin to study, I think about what I want to get done” (p. 259).  A 22 item questionnaire to assess the four aspects of engagement was developed to evaluate the four components of engagement.  Results indicated that agentic engagement linked with students’ motivation, engagement, achievement, agentic engagement was separate from the three other components engagement, and agentic engagement was able to predict student accomplishment (Reeve & Tseng, 2011).  Furthermore, agentic engagement explained the variance in the achievement of students.

Harris (2011) had a phenomenography qualitative approach to answering how do teachers from Australia define engagement and what methods do they use to engage their students?  This research consisted of structured interviews that lasted 45-60 minutes, had seven questions, and asked 20 secondary school teachers.  The what and the how aspects emerged as the themes.  The what aspect had six categories which included  the following:  (1) behavior – following the rules; (2) enjoying – student interest in school; (3) motivated – student motivation to participate and capacity to succeed; (4) thinking – what occupies their thought; (5) seeing purpose – viewing school as needed reach goals; (6) owning learning – acknowledging the significance of school and taking responsibility for learning.  The how aspect had three categories which included:  (1) delivering – giving student assignments and using consequences for not finishing as a way to persuade them, (2) modifying – change the activity to make it more attractive to the student, (3) collaborating – work together with students to create a program better matched to what students need.  This study showed that behaving and delivering were related and this is congruent with previous research (Vibert & Shields, 2003).

The purpose of this study was to present agentic engagement as a way students can achieve greater success in school (Reeve, 2013).  The researcher defined agentic engagement as “the two-fold student outcome of higher achievement and greater motivational support” (p. 581).  A 21 item scale modified from the Agentic Engagement Scale (AES; Reeve & Tseng, 2011) using a 7-point Likert scale was introduced.  Agentic engagement was measured with seven items, five from the original AES 2 new candidate items.  Behavioral and emotional were measured using five items for each factor from the Engagement Versus Disaffection with Learning Measure (Skinner, Kindermann, & Furrer, 2009).  Cognitive engagement was measured using four items from the Metacognitive Strategies Questionnaire (Wolters, 2004).  Two Hundred Seventy-one college students were asked to complete the survey.  Study one showed the AES is psychometrically accurate.  Study two indicated the AES had internal consistency, therefore, the scale was reliable and valid.  Study three showed strong internal consistency and also predictive validity (Reeve, 2013).

Describe how the concept of engagement has been utilized in physical education research and comment upon the adequacy of these definitions

The concept of engagement has studied physical education in many ways.  Typically the concept has been applied to understand why students choose to or choose not to participate in an activity.  The term “engagement” has been used in different ways as well.  Some researchers conceptualize engagement as effort while others use it to describe parts of motivation.  Appleton et al., (2008) posited that motivation is not enough for one to be engaged.  This means and individual could be motivated and still not display engagement (Connell & Wellborn, 1991; Furrer & Skinner, 2003).  However, it is essential to recognize the importance of evaluating engagement while keeping motivation in mind. The following examples provide a picture of the different ways researchers in physical education have tried to understand engagement.

The purpose of the Yli-Piipari & Kokkonen (2014) research was to examine the role motivation plays in student engagement.  Student effort in physical education was measured using three items from a subscale of the Intrinsic Motivation Inventory (IMI; McAuley, Duncan, & Tammen, 1989).  An example of one of the items is “I try very hard in this physical education class” (p. 257).  These statements were given to 763 sixth graders.  The design was a 5-point Likert scale that ranged from one (strongly disagree) to five (strongly agree).  The intent was to measure student effort in physical education class.  One of the obvious issues with this study was the conflation of engagement with motivation, effort, and persistence.  As mentioned earlier motivation and engagement are distinctly different.  Effort and persistence seem to describe not define engagement or motivation.  Results showed student performance and engagement can be somewhat explained by student motivation.   Also, girls’ and boys’ beliefs and values determined performance.  Girl’s engagement was determined by attainment value, and boy’s engagement was determined by intrinsic interest values.

In physical education, when instructors speak about performance, they are typically referring to performing a skill correctly.  A student can put forth a sizable amount of effort and still not perform the skill correctly.  The objective means of assessing performance is for an instructor is to use norm or criterion based performance standards.  The performance could be product or process driven.  When instructors evaluate engagement, they use a more subjective means to decide if a student is engaged or not.  A student can be engaged while they are not performing a skill.  The student could be cognitively engaged while they are watching other perform.  When the researchers conflated engagement with motivation, effort, and persistence, the construct of engagement seemed to be diluted.

Garn & Sun (2009) defined engagement as effort through persistence in preparation for the PACER test. The purpose of this study was to apply approach–avoidance goal theory to more accurately explain the process that students’ go through and the effort they put forth in preparing for the PACER test.  A self-reported index to gauge student engagement in preparing for the PACER was used.  Guan et al.’s, (2006) Achievement Goal Questionnaire—Physical Education (AGQ–PE) provided four items for the questionnaire.  The statements were modified to include the word PACER so the students would think about the fitness test while they completed the survey. An example is “I put a lot of effort into preparing for the PACER test” (p. 407).  The researchers used effort and engagement interchangeably nor did they examine student engagement during the task of performing the PACER.

Beavans, Fitzpatrick, Sanchez, & Forrest (2010) conducted a study to determine if instructional methods and student attributes could predict student engagement.  The authors defined engagement as a significant element of students’ activity in physical education class (Fairclough & Stratton, 2005; Ntoumanis, 2005; Standage, Duda & Ntoumanis, 2003).  Three statements from Resnick et al.’s, (1997) PE Engagement Scale were modified for this study.  The words “physical education’ was added to the statements to make them relevant to the context of PE.  Results indicate perceive competence could predict activity levels, improved body image had appositive impact on engagement, and regardless of perceived competence, too much traditional game play had a negative impact on engagement.   Other research has concluded perceived competence is critical to engagement (Ntoumanis, 2001; Sproule, Wang, Morgan, McNeill & McMorris, 2007).The authors do not adequately define engagement as a construct and view engagement with motivation as it relates to competence).  It seems the authors were more concerned with why students disengage rather than why students engage. There was no focus on the level of engagement of the student during task involvement.

Garn, Ware, & Solmon (2011) conducted a study framed in contemporary goal theory with the purpose of investigating the relationships between achievement goals, social motivation orientations, and effort.  Four items were used from the Achievement Goal Questionnaire-Physical Education (AGQ–PE; Guan et al. 2006) to measure effort.  Goal orientations were a significant regulator of student self-reported effort.  Researchers concluded if students were able to gain physical and social competence, they would put forth more effort and that means the students are engaged.  Effort can be substantial and the student still may not be engaged in the task.  The authors use effort and engagement interchangeably.  There was no focus on engagement in a task or during a task.

Pearlman (2015) used an adapted version of the PE self-report engagement scale (Skinner, Furrer, Marchand and Kindermann, 2008) to assess how engagement and effort were impacted by multiple types or relatedness supportive settings in high school physical education.  It appears motivation, engagement and effort showed significant improvement for those in a class with high relatedness-support compared with classes with low relatedness support.  The authors used motivation, engagement, and effort together as a dependent variable to describe affective outcomes. The research was concerned with the effect that social settings had on the engagement of the a-motivated student, however the authors never properly defined the term engagement.  Engagement and effort are associated with motivation (Subramaniam, 2009; Ferrer-Caja& Weiss, 2000).  The focus of this research was on the atmosphere of the class and the level it supported the basic psychological needs of the students and the impact the support had on student engagement.  The approach to engagement here is how and why the students are engaged or not.  There was no discussion or acknowledgement of level student engagement in the task.

Barnes & Spray (2013) conducted a study to establish the reasons why children compare themselves to others in physical education.  The authors defined engagement as the opposite of disaffection as it relates to social constructs.  Skinner et al.’s, (2009) engagement and disaffection measure was adapted by adding “PE” in front of the word “class.”  Two examples are “I try hard to do well in PE” (p. 1065) and “I pay attention in my PE class” (p. 1065).  Results indicate perceived related standing in class (PRSC) and perceived ability compared to another (PRSI) impact perceived self-concept (PSC), engagement, and disaffection.  The researchers based the study on what are the children’s perceptions of other students’ judgement s about their physical appearance, and performance.  As mentioned previously, the focus of this study was on the reasons why a student chooses to or chooses not to engage.  The was no mention the level of engagement in a task.

Derri, Vasiliadou, & Kioumourtzoglou (2015) defined engagement as “the length of time at least 51% of the class is motor engaged in the teaching-learning process” (p. 240).  The purpose of the study was teacher behavior focused and the impact on student behavior and engagement.  The Time Management form (Graham, 2001) was used to record student engagement.  According to Darst, Zakrajsek, and Mancini (1982), motor engaged meand motor appropriate, motor inappropriate or motor supporting.  Motor appropriate means a person performs an activity to be highly successful, while motor inappropriate means the ask may be too easy or too difficult but the person may still be engaged.  Motor supporting means a person may not be in motion but they are assisting another person in performing the activity.  Defineing engagement through motor engagement may have some degree of task engagement, but it does not address the level or degree of engagement.

Shen, McCaughtry, Martin, Fahlman, & Garn’s (2012) study address how behavioral and emotional engagement in physical education could be predicted by peer and teacher relatedness.  Behavioral engagement was defined as “students’ perception of their effort, attention, and persistence in PE” (p. 236).  Emotional engagement was defined as how much the student was involved emotionally in class.  Examples of emotional are “When I am in PE class, I feel good” and “PE class is fun.” (p. 236).  The strongest predictor of engagement was relatedness to the teacher.  Emotional and behavioral engagement could be increased by a greater sense of relatedness.  Girls’ were more likely to engage if the felt stronger relatedness to the teacher.  This study focused more on the effect of teacher and peer behavior on an individual’s engagement.  The authors believed engagement in PE is contingent upon being recognized and accepted by their peers.  No mention of the level of student engagement during a task, only reasons why or why not students are engaged.


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