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2 The Nature end Conditions of Engagement WHAT IS ENGAGEMENT?1 Engagement in schoolwork involves both behaviors (e.g., persistence, effort, attention) and emotions (e.g., enthusiasm, interest, pride in success; Connell and Weliborn, 1991; Johnson, Crosnoe, and Elder, 2001; Newmann, 1992; Skinner and Belmont, 1993; Smerdon, 1999; Turner, Thorpe, and Meyer, 1998~. It is important to consider mental or cognitive behaviors (attention, problem solving, using meta-cognitive strategies) as well as observable behaviors (active participation in class, completing work, seeking assistance when having difficulty, taking challenging classes) be- cause relying only on observable behaviors as evidence of engagement can be deceiving. (Who hasn't had the experience of appearing engrossed in a lecture while writing a letter, making a grocery list, or daydreaming?) At- tention to mental behavior is important because only genuine cognitive engagement will result in learning. Students also can be socially engaged in school by participating in extracurricular activities, having friends at school, feeling a sense of loyalty 1One might distinguish between "engagement" and "motivation" with motivation as the precursor (the reason for being engaged) and engagement as the psychological experience or behavior. But in everyday contexts, people tend to use these terms interchangeably, presum- ably because motivation is inferred from observed emotions or behavior. Thus, the word "motivated" is just as likely as the word "engaged" to be used to describe someone who appears to be concentrating intently or to be actively involved in a learning activity. 31
32 ENGAGING SCHOOLS to the school, and more generally by believing in the legitimacy of school. Promoting social engagement may have considerable value because it ap- pears to motivate youth to attend and to stay in school (Johnson et al., 2001; Newmann, Wehiage, and Lamborn, 1992; Tinto, 1993; Wehiage, Rutter, Smith, Lesko, and Fernandez, 1989~. This is why dropout preven- tion efforts often focus on keeping at-risk students socially attached to school (Finn and Rock, 1997~. Motivation to attend school is not sufficient, however, because stu- dents can participate actively and enjoy the social affairs of school without making meaningful academic progress. Although assessing proximal goals such as increasing attendance and reducing dropout rates can mark progress that reassures us that we are moving in the right direction, ultimately we need to achieve the more ambitious goal of promoting deep cognitive en- gagement that results in learning. Our focus is aptly captured in Newmann's (1992, p.12) definition of engagement: " . . . the student's psychological investment in and effort directed toward learning, understanding, or mas- tering the knowledge, skills, or crafts that academic work is intended to promote. " The levels of both behavioral and emotional engagement can vary- from paying minimal attention (as in the lecture example) to actively pro- cessing information (e.g., making connections to previously learned mate- rial, critically analyzing new information); from being minimally interested to feeling excited and enthusiastic. Csikszentmihalyi (1975,1988) describes the ultimate cognitive engagement as a state of "flow," in which people are so intensely attentive to the task at hand that they lose awareness of time and space. We are not proposing that all high school students be in a constant state of flow, but we have seen youth deeply and enthusiastically engaged in schoolwork and we believe this high standard should be our goal. The nature of the work may vary from puzzling over a mathematical problem or reading a novel to trying to design an eye-catching Web page. Whatever the task, the goal is attentiveness and active problem solving that will promote learning, understanding, and the development of new skills. Both the form and consequences of engagement are influenced by stu- dents' reasons for engagement (Ames, 1992; Linnenbrink and Pintrich, 2000; Meece, 1991; Nicholls, 1983~. For example, students who attend class and complete assignments to avoid punishment or bad grades are less likely to become engaged beyond a superficial (just get it done) level, whereas students who complete assignments because the material captures their interest or because they experience a sense of pride in accomplishment are more likely to go beyond the minimal requirements and become actively and deeply engaged. This distinction between coerced and voluntary en- gagement is important, and we return to it later. Just as there are many forms of engagement, there are many forms and
THE NATURE AND CONDITIONS OF ENGAGEMENT 33 reasons for disengagement from not paying attention and not completing homework to cutting classes and school. Behavioral problems are also evidence of disengagement and often a precursor to leaving school (or being asked to leave; Finn, 19891. The ultimate disengagement is to drop out of school. But because dropping out is usually preceded by less dramatic forms of disengagement (e.g., absenteeism, poor attitudes toward school), it is viewed as the final stage in a dynamic and cumulative process (Fine, 1991; Finn, 1989; Newmann et al., 1992; Wehiage et al., 19891. THE CONTEXT MATTERS People often refer to motivation as a personal quality and describe some students as motivated and others as unmotivated. Teachers usually prefer to teach students who they perceive to be "self-motivated." Indeed, students enter high school with well-developed beliefs, dispositions, and behavioral patterns. But these personal beliefs and dispositions developed partly as a consequence of the educational environments they experienced. There is considerable evidence for the power of the educational context, even as late as high school. If teachers could observe one of their own students in other classes or learning contexts, they would see substantial variation, making it difficult to characterize any one student as uniformly high or low on motivation. The same adolescent who is unable to pay attention in one classroom for more than a few minutes may persevere on demanding cognitive tasks in another class or in an after-school program. Within-student variation in engagement also is seen in class attendance rates, with students skipping some classes substantially more than others (Davidson, 19991. The committee believes that all youth, even the most alienated, deserve a chance to regain the enthusiasm for learning that they most likely had as young children. We recognize that students vary in their abilities, disposi- tion toward learning, and level of engagement when they enter high school, and that many students living in poverty endure serious hardships and have family responsibilities, such as providing income and sibling care, which make it difficult to actively participate in high school. School contexts, however, make a difference, and can diminish, if not eliminate, negative effects of poverty on student engagement. Our focus, therefore, is on what schools can do to engage (or reengage) adolescents in learning. PSYCHOLOGICAL MEDIATORS OF ENGAGEMENT There is substantial empirical evidence on the educational conditions that promote intellectual engagement. The evidence suggests that the effect of the educational context on engagement is partially mediated by three sets
34 Educational context (e.g., school climate, organization, composition size) and instruction ENGAGING SCHOOLS Beliefs about competence and control > Values and goals Social connectedness Academic engagement FIGURE 2-1 A theory on educational conditions that promote intellectual engage- ment. of psychological variables beliefs about competence and control, values and goals, and a sense of social connectedness. This theory is represented in Figure 2-1. For example, in schools that meet teachers' needs for resources, profes- sional development, and collegiality, teachers are more likely to be caring and effective. Such teachers are much more likely to give students a feeling of being cared about, and to promote students' confidence in their ability to succeed and the belief that academic success is important for future goals. These positive beliefs and feelings, in turn, should lead to high levels of effort and persistence. In contrast, teachers in large, impersonal schools with a climate of low standards are likely to give up on students and teach a watered-down curriculum that engenders in students doubts about their ability to succeed, the belief that academic work has little personal value, and generally negative feelings toward the teacher and school. These beliefs and feelings lead to low effort or ultimately to dropping out of school altogether. The importance of these psychological variables in affecting student behavior is supported by studies of out-of-school programs that engage youth effectively. Successful programs address adolescents' needs for com- petence, control, and a sense of belonging (Catalano, Berglund, Ryan, Lonczak, and Hawkins, 1999; Eccles and Barber, 1999; Eccles and Templeton, 2001; Hawkins, Catalano, Kosterman, Abbott, and Hill, 1999; Kahne, Nagoaka et al., 2001; McLaughlin, 2000~. We elaborate on these three sets of psychological mediators next, and later summarize what is known about how educational contexts affect them. Perceptions of Competence and Control (I Can) Students will not exert effort in academic work if they are convinced they lack the capacity to succeed or have no control over outcomes
THE NATURE AND CONDITIONS OF ENGAGEMENT 35 (Atkinson, 1964; Eccles et al., 1983; Skinner, Weliborn, and Connell, 1990; Skinner, Zimmer-Gembeck, and Connell, 19981.2 They need to know what it takes to succeed and to believe they can succeed. Thus, the student who doesn't believe she can do the homework assigned will not attempt it; the student who believes he is incapable of passing the courses he needs to graduate will not exert much effort in class and may stop coming to school altogether. The effects of feeling incompetent on the decision to leave school were demonstrated in a national longitudinal study that tracked the educational careers of more than 13,000 eighth graders. About 32 percent claimed they dropped out because they could not keep up with schoolwork (Berktold, Geis, and Kaufman, 1998, Table 61. Perceptions of incompetence may also contribute to the disproportionate number of low-income students and students of color who drop out of high school. In Ferguson's (2002) survey of more than 100,000 7th through 11th graders in 15 school districts, students from families with low socioeconomic status and students of color reported less understanding of teachers' lessons and comprehension of the material they read for school. Although they spent nearly as much time on homework as the other students in the same classes, they were much less likely to complete their homework. One high school student interviewed by Davidson and Phelan (1999, p. 259), in their ethnographic study of urban high schools, succinctly de- scribes the typical helpless reaction to feeling incompetent: "Mr. Yana, when he talks I just can't follow what he's saying. So I just give up."3 Students' beliefs about their academic competence may affect behavior in the United States more than in some other countries because Americans tend to have a concept of intelligence that is inherited rather than developed 2Self-determination theory posits that feelings of competence and control are basic human needs and that people will not be engaged or otherwise function effectively in environments that do not meet these needs (Cornell and Wellborn, 1991; Ryan and Deci, 2000a; Ryan and La Guardia, 2000). Perceptions of competence and control are also central in social psychol- ogy theories of learned helplessness (Diener and Dweck, 1978; see Dweck, 2000). Substantial bodies of research, both experimental and embedded in real classrooms, provide support for the importance of perceptions of competence and control for promoting academic engage- ment (reviewed in Stipek, 2002). 3This study of students' experiences of high school (Davidson and Phelan, 1999) followed 48 students in four urban high schools in two large California school districts over a 2-year period. Students were selected to represent the diversity of race/ethnicity and academic perfor- mance of ninth graders. Research methods included repeated interviews, surveys, class obser- vations, and shadowing of a subsample of students. The study focused on conditions in classes and schools that affected students' engagement and success.
36 ENGAGING SCHOOLS through effort (Dweck, 19991. Although Americans are not alone in em- bracing a notion of ability that is stable and that limits the effects of effort on performance, they do so more than people in the Asian countries that have been studied (Chen and Stevenson, 1995; Stevenson and Stigler, 19921. A student who believes that academic ability is fixed anal that she is low in ability has little hope for success and therefore little reason to try. The notion of fixed intelligence may be particularly problematic for students of color. Steele and his colleagues have shown repeatedly that high-achieving African-American students, as well as Latino students and women (in math) perform relatively poorly on tests when the tests are introduced as measures of their intellectual ability (e.g., Cokley, 2002; Gonzales, Blanton, and Williams, 2002; Steele and Aronson, 1995, 19981. Steele coined the term "stereotype threat" to explain the effect, suggesting that anxiety about not being able to contradict a stereotype (e.g., that African-Americans have relatively low intelligence or females are not good in math) undermines students' performance. Students' judgments about their ability can be global or specific. The years of failure in school that many urban high school students have expe- rienced can lead to general judgments of incompetence that bring about low expectations for success in any academic subject, and consequently perva- sive low effort. Perceptions of ability usually vary from subject to subject (I'm good at math, but not in foreign languages), and they can certainly vary from one context to another, depending on factors discussed later. Students' perceptions of their competencies can be difficult to change because they interpret feedback and their own performance outcomes through this lens. A student who believes she is smart and expects to succeed is likely to attribute success on a test or assignment in part to her ability, and poor performance, when it occurs, to low effort or a poor strategy. This pattern of attribution reinforces an optimistic view of the future, even after a setback, because it implies that spending more time studying or changing the strategy will lead to improved performance. In contrast, a student who believes he is not smart is likely to attribute failure on a test to his low ability and success to luck or an easy test. Such attribu- tions reinforce his expectation for continued failure. Because students make attributions that are consistent with existing beliefs, it is difficult to raise expectations in students who have had years of failure experiences in school and have come to believe they lack the capacity to succeed. Even for students who have confidence in their academic ability, if they believe their achievements will not be recognized because the teachers are racist or prejudiced against them, or that rewards are dispensed on the basis of behavior they aren't willing to engage in (e.g., ingratiating themselves with the teacher), they are not likely to put much effort into trying to do well in school. Studies have shown that low effort for some students also
THE NATURE AND CONDITIONS OF ENGAGEMENT 37 can be traced to a failure to understand what it takes to succeed (Skinner et al., 19981. The rules of the game are not always made clear, or they are not consistently applied. Even when the rules are clear and consistent, some students need help to understand them. Students' beliefs about their competencies and expectations for success have a direct effect on their intellectual engagement; they also lead to emotions that promote or interfere with engagement in schoolwork. Stu- dents who have negative views of their competence and low expectations for success are more anxious in learning contexts and fearful of revealing their ignorance (Abu-Hilal, 2000; Bandalos, Yates, and Thorndike-Christ, 1995; Harter, 1992; see Hembree, 19881. They anticipate embarrassment and humiliation, and are thus reluctant to ask questions even when they are confused (Newman and Goldin, 1990; Ryan and Pintrich, 19971. Some- times they exert less effort on tasks to provide an alternative explanation to low ability if they fail ("I could have done it if I tried, but I didn't fee! like doing it"; Covington, Spratt, and Omelich, 19801. Self-confidence and expectations for success also affect academic inter- ests and values. In one study of a diverse group of middle school students, changes in students' perceptions of their competence in a class over the course of a semester was a powerful predictor of changes in their interest in the course topic (whereas changes in interest did not predict changes in perceptions of competence; MacIver, Stipek, and Daniels, 19911. Similarly, Jacobs, Lanza, Osgood, Eccles, and Wigfield (2002) found, in a longitudi- nal study of children from grades 1 though 12 that declines in competence beliefs accounted for much of the age-related decline in valuing academic work. Students enjoy academic tasks more and learn more when they fee! competent (Gottfried, 1990; Harter, 1992) and when they expect success (Bandura, 1993, 1997; Pajares, 1996; Schunk, 19951. Feelings of compe- tence give them a feeling of personal control, which has been shown to be critical for enjoyment, effort, and actual learning (deCharms, 1976, 1984; Deci and Ryan, 1985; Ryan and Deci, 2000a). Values and Goals (I Want to) Even if students believe they can succeed in school, they won't exert effort unless they see some reason to do so. Adolescents can have many reasons for engaging in academic work, and typically there is a complex set of reasons for engaging in any one task. For example, a student may take real pleasure in learning, or she may have internalized the values of learning and getting a good education. Some reasons for doing academic work are weakly, if at all, connected to learning and academic achievement. For example, a student may not enjoy schoolwork or value education, but may see high school graduation as a means to achieving a long-term goal, such -
38 ENGAGING SCHOOLS as getting a good job. Another student may desire an extrinsic reward (e.g., being able to play football) that has been made contingent on some form of engagement or academic outcome, or he may want to avoid punishment or disapproval for poor performance. Reasons for being engaged vary in the degree to which they come from within the self (giving students a feeling of self-determination that they are working because they want to) in comparison to being imposed exter- nally (giving them a feeling of being coerced that they are working be- cause they have to). The nature of students' reasons, especially the degree to which they fee! self-determining and autonomous versus coerced and con- trolled, has important implications for the quality of their effort and their learning. We will elaborate below on the implications of various reasons high school students might have to be engaged in academic work. Intrinsic Interest Ideally, students take pleasure in learning. They engage in academic work because they are interested in the topic and take pride in their achieve- ments. The advantages of intrinsic motivation have been shown in many studies, although not specifically involving urban high school youth. For example, researchers have found that students who are intrinsically inter- ested in an activity are more likely than students who are not intrinsically interested to seek challenging tasks (Pittman, Emery, and Boggiano, 1982), think more creatively (Amabile and Hennessey, 1992), exert effort (Downey and Ainsworth-Darnell, 2002; Miserandino, 1996), and learn at a concep- tual level (Ryan, Connell, and Plant, 19901. Internalized Values Some students are diligent whether or not they enjoy a particular course or activity because they have adopted values related to schooling. They believe it is important to work hard in school and get an education not to achieve a particular outcome or reward, but because it's the right thing to do. The internalization of academic values has not been well studied, but there is evidence that students who believe in the importance of school are more productively engaged (e.g., attend more regularly, complete home- work, pay better attention) than students who do not value education (Taylor, Casten, Flickinger, Roberts, and Fulmore, 19941. Academic values are assumed to develop just like any other values. When children observe significant others expressing and modeling particu- lar values, such as trying hard in school, and when they are recognized and supported for behavior consistent with those values, they adopt the values as their own and behave in ways consistent with them (Cornell and Well-
THE NATURE AND CONDITIONS OF ENGAGEMENT 39 born, 1991; Downey and Ainsworth-Darnell, 2002; Ryan, Connell, and Groinick, 1992; Ryan and Deci, 2000a; Ryan and La Guardia, 19991. The more students have internalized positive education values, the more au- tonomous they feel, and the more they voluntarily persist in the face of challenge and in the absence of immediate rewards. Negative values presumably are internalized through the same process. Students who spend their time with adults and peers who devalue school and who are not encouraged and reinforced for their efforts on schoolwork may develop antiachievement values. To them, it is just as reasonable not to exert effort (or at least appear not to be exerting effort) as it is for other students to be diligent (see Chapter 3, this volume). A few theorists have argued that students of color, especially African- American youth, often develop antiacademic values because they do not see any tangible return to schooling (For~ham, 1988; Ogbu, 1992, 1997; Osborne, 1995, 19971. Ogbu and others propose that African-American youth do not expect their own success in school to be rewarded with jobs and higher incomes. According to the theory, the youth buffer themselves psychologically from the failure they believe is inevitable in an unfair soci- ety that is biased against them by disidentifying with academic achievement values and by developing a strong identity with their own race that is "oppositional" to the dominant culture. Although there are case studies that are consistent with Ogbu's notion of Misidentification, large-scale sur- veys, summarized in Chapter 5 in this volume, do not support these claims. Antiachievement subcultures may exist, but the evidence does not suggest they are pervasive among students of color. However, there is evidence that connects beliefs about the potential returns to education directly to academic engagement. Students' percep- tions of social injustice and discrimination have been associated with low engagement and persistence in school, and perceptions of opportunities and connections between effort in school and success in the workplace have been associated with high engagement and persistence (Fine, 1991; Mickelson, 1990; Taylor et al., 19941. Extrinsic Goals and Incentives Students also may become engaged in schoolwork because they see courses and activities in school as having some utility value. Succeeding in them is a means to achieve goals that might not be related to the course or activity itself. The most prominent extrinsic rewards in school are good grades and social recognition. Ideally, such forms of extrinsic motivators would not be the only or even the most salient reasons for students to exert effort in school. Realistically, however, external incentives are powerful motivators if they are believed to be genuinely available. Because a substan-
40 ENGAGING SCHOOLS tial proportion of students in urban high schools serving economically disadvantaged youth have never received high grades or recognition for the academic accomplishments, the challenge is to convince them that these rewards are within their reach and have value. Long-term goals can also be important. For example, understanding chem- istry and biology would have considerable utility value for a student aspiring to be a doctor, but may be seen as having little value to a student who has no expectation for any higher education. Analyses of the National Education Longitudinal Study (NELS) data conducted by Downey and Ainsworth- Darnell (2002) provide correlational evidence for the importance of believing that school is a means to long-term goals. Tenth-grade students of all ethnic groups who agreed with the statement "Education is important to getting a job later on" were rated by teachers as less disruptive and exerting more effort, and reported that they spent relatively more time on homework. Educa- tional and occupational aspirations also predict mobility and dropping out, even controlling for the effects of achievement. Utility value related to academic work usually requires some future time perspective, and an understanding of the links between immediate tasks and long-term goals (Husman and Lens, 19991. It also requires a belief that the goals are linked to school, and that they are genuinely obtain- able. Research on urban high school youth suggests that they are often poorly informed about the utility value of particular high school courses and ac- tivities for college entry (Davidson, 1996; Yowell, 19991. For many stu- dents, the problem is not a lack of aspiration or even expectation, but a lack of knowledge about what is required to achieve their educational and pro- fessional goals (see Chapter 7, this volume). Sometimes students will work if something they desire is made contin- gent on being productively engaged, or if some undesirable outcome will occur if they do not do the work. Policies such as making scholarships and a driver's license contingent on staying in school, making participation in team sports contingent on maintaining a C average, or giving gift certifi- cates to fast food restaurants for every book read are based on the assump- tion that behavior can be influenced by extrinsic incentives. In the past decade, many programs have been created that offer college scholarships to motivate students to work hard and complete high school. For example, the state of Georgia's HOPE program offers scholarships for students who complete high school with at least a B average and enroll at an eligible Georgia public college. Students must also maintain a B average while in college to retain the scholarship. Florida similarly offers "Bright Futures" scholarships. "I Have a Dream," "Gear-Up," and "Project GRAD" offer scholarships as well as additional supports, such as men- toring, tutoring, enrichment programs, and college visits. The effects of the
THE NATURE AND CONDITIONS OF ENGAGEMENT 41 scholarship incentive on student engagement are usually difficult to deter- mine from available evidence because records are often poor, there is no control group to which students in the program can be compared, or the effect of the scholarship cannot be untangled from the effects of other aspects of the program. One well-regarded evaluation of Georgia's HOPE Scholarship program (Dynarski, 2000) cautions that modeling a national scholarship program on the Georgia incentive will likely widen the already large racial and socioeconomic-level gaps in college atten- dance. Dynarski's study suggests that the HOPE Scholarship program has successfully increased the college attendance rates in Georgia, but at the expense of widening the gap between Blacks and whites as well as between low- and high-income families (Dynarski, 2000, also see Cornwell and Mustard, 20021. The danger of higher income families taking advantage of a system without income restrictions, as well as the observed pattern of students reducing course loads in order to maintain the necessary B aver- age, is an important caveat to consider (Glenn, 20031. Extrinsic rewards for intellectual engagement may be effective, and for some students, they may be the only effective strategy, at least initially. But there is considerable evidence to suggest that extrinsic rewards should be used cautiously and no more than necessary. The effects are often superfi- cial they promote compliance (showing up, getting the work done), but not deep cognitive engagement. For example, researchers have found that students who are motivated primarily by the anticipation of rewards do not exert effort when tasks are difficult, and they do not take on challenging new work or put forth effort when they do not expect a reward (see Lepper and Henderiong, 2000; Ryan and Deci, 2000b; Stipek, 2002, for reviews). The short-term positive effects of extrinsic rewards also can be undone by negative long-term consequences on attitudes toward school and toward learning (it's just to achieve the reward). Furthermore, when students are motivated by a desire to achieve extrinsic rewards, they do not fee! autono- mous, as though they are doing work because they want to; the feeling of being controlled undermines deep engagement on challenging tasks (deCharms, 1976, 1984; Deci and Ryan, 1985; Ryan and Deci, 2000a). Reliance on "carrot and stick" approaches can be particularly prob- lematic for secondary students, who, for many reasons, do not value the rewards typically available in schools, and may want to appear independent rather than compliant. The promise of good grades and the threat of bad grades will have no impact at all on the behavior of students who don't care about grades. A student who is a member of a peer group that devalues or ridicules high academic performance may consider a good grade or public recognition to be a punishment, not a reward. Students who have experi- enced years of failure are likely to conclude that no amount of effort will lead to such a reward. In brief, extrinsic incentives that are genuinely achiev-
42 ENGAGING SCHOOLS able are often necessary. However, they should not be the only strategy for motivating students. Social Connectedness (I Belong) Sociologists have long promoted the value of "communality" and col- lective identity in the workplace (Blauner, 19641. This notion also applies to schools. Students who fee! disrespected or socially isolated are not likely to function effectively at school, and they may simply leave to seek more psychologically comfortable environments. Although feeling psychologi- cally connected to school is not sufficient for meaningful engagement in academic work, it is probably necessary for many students. Bryk, Lee, and Smith (1990) speculate that the importance of positive interpersonal rela- tionships is amplified by modern life, in which traditional sources of per- sonal support, such as community, religious institutions, and extended fam- ily, are often unavailable. When asked about factors that affected their ability to connect with school and learning, the urban high school students interviewed by Davidson and Phelan (1999) focused on caring adults. Half of the students referred to the importance of meaningful relationships with adults and teachers who showed an interest in them as individuals (see also Davidson, 1996, 19991. In the Public Agenda (1997) phone survey, 64 percent of students claimed that they would learn a lot more if their teachers "person- ally cared about his students as people." (Only 30 percent claimed that most of their teachers did care.) Students who quit school before graduation frequently report that they dropped out in part because "nobody cared." In the national longitudinal study that tracked the educational careers of students who were 8th graders in 1988, 23 percent of the students who dropped out cited feeling that they did not belong as a reason (Berktold et al., 1998, Table 61. The research on belonging in educational contexts is relatively new, and the direction of causality has not been definitively established. Never- theless, many correlational studies have shown that students who report caring and supportive interpersonal relationships in school have more posi- tive academic attitudes and values and are more satisfied with school (Baker, 1999; Battistich, Solomon, Kim, Watson, and Schaps, 1995; Ryan and Deci, 2000a; Shouse, 1996a; Skinner and Belmont, 1993; Wasley et al., 2000; Yowell, 19991. They are also more engaged in academic work (Cornell and Weliborn, 1991) and they attend school more and learn more (Bryk and Driscoll, 1988; Bryk, Lee, and Holland, 19931. Some experimental studies with college students by Baumeister and colleagues (Baumeister, Twenge, and Nuss, 2002; Twenge, Catanese, and Baumeister, 2002) support the hypothesis that feeling a sense of belonging
THE NATURE AND CONDITIONS OF ENGAGEMENT 43 is crucial to cognitive engagement. Their work shows strong negative ef- fects of social exclusion on cognitive performance (Baumeister et al., 2002) and self-regulation (Twenge et al., 20021. Stucly participants who were macle to fee! socially exclucleci or rejected showed a clecline in cognitive test performance (on IQ tests and the ORE), as well as an increase in self- clefeating behavior like taking irrational risks and procrastinating. Such finclings are powerful because of the studies' experimental designs, and may well apply to inclivicluals in eclucational settings as well as in controlled . . cone ltlons. Ferguson (2002) founci in his large survey of high school students that African-Americans were particularly responsive to teachers who showed that they cared about their learning. When asked why they worked hard when they clici, 47 percent checked the option, "my teachers encourage me to work harci." The proportion of African-American students who referred to teacher encouragement was notably higher than for other ethnic groups and higher than the proportion of African-American students who claimed that when they worked hard, it was because the teacher clemancleci it (15 percent). In aclolescence feeling connected and accepted by peers in school may be as important as feeling connected to teachers. Research consistently shows the critical role that positive, supportive peer relationships play in aclolescents' mental health and well-being (e.g., Berncit, 1996; Parker, Rubin, Price, and DeRosier, 19951. Although studies have not specifically connected peer relationships to engagement in school, inasmuch as they promote positive mental health, they might be expected to support stu- clents' ability to be constructively engaged in learning. Close relationships to other students is also likely to promote attachment to school. A sense of belonging involves an identification with the values and goals ot schooling as well as a teeilng of connecteciness to others in the school, both students and teachers. Thus students whose values and culture conflict with those of the institution, or who see schoolwork as meaning- less, may also fee! that they clon't belong. Case studies suggest that a sense of belonging might be affected by the combination of a stuclent's own ethnic identity and the ethnicity of the students in the school and their classes. Davicison's (1996) intensive stucly of 55 students in urban schools provides many examples of the ways in which students of color silenced themselves and limited their participation because they clicin't fee! like they belonged. As one African-American stuclent explaineci: I can never ask a question fin advanced math] cause everyone is so smart in that class.... In biology, I could just ask questions with no pressure. I feel better when there's more diversity because there's different people around you. You're not alone, you know. Only one who's not the same as all the rest (p. 39~. . . . .. .. . ..
44 ENGAGING SCHOOLS Summary To summarize, the effects of high school contexts on student engage- ment are partly mediated through their effects on psychological variables- especially beliefs about competencies and control, values and goals, and social connectedness. Efforts to enhance student engagement, therefore, need to consider the effects of policies and practices on these psychological variables. The next section summarizes research that examines the condi- tions that promote positive beliefs, values, and a feeling of belonging. ENGAGING LEARNING CONTEXTS Research on both school and out-of-school contexts provides substan- tial empirical evidence that can be used to guide efforts to improve adoles- cents' academic engagement. We describe here what can be gleaned from the achievement motivation literature about the qualities of engaging learn- ing contexts. We limit our summary to principles of motivation that have strong empirical support and broad applicability, although many of the studies cited do not include urban youth. The research evidence that we summarize briefly is reviewed extensively in Brophy (1998), Pintrich and Schunk (1996), and Stipek (20021. --= ----r -A - - --r r - Promoting Perceptions of Competence and Control A fair amount is known about practices that promote perceptions of competence and control over achievement outcomes. Tasks that are chal- lenging but achievable are essential. Students do not develop a sense of competence when they are given easy work, and they certainly do not develop confidence in their abilities by doing work that is too difficult for them. Adjusting tasks to students' skill levels is also important because learning is an active process, and learners' preexisting knowledge, skills, beliefs, and concepts influence how they make sense of new information (National Research Council, 19991. If preexisting levels of skills and under- standing are not considered, students will transform and distort new infor- mation according to what they already understand. This principle of "optimal challenge" may be the most important as well as the most commonly violated. It is violated because it requires con- siderable skill and is difficult to implement in a classroom of students with varying skill levels. Teaching that produces meaningful gains in skills and understandings requires assessing students' understanding frequently and in different ways, and building on students' incomplete or naive under- standings and false beliefs. Related to optimally challenging tasks is the second essential ingredient
THE NATURE AND CONDITIONS OF ENGAGEMENT 45 ot a context that supports students' self-confidence and the belief that their efforts will lead to success high expectations (Eccles et al., 1983; Wigfield and Harold, 1992; see Chapter 5, this volume). Many studies show that schools in which students achieve high levels of performance have high expectations for student learning and hold students to high standards (Baker, Terry, Bridger, and Winsor, 1997; Evans, 1997; Lambert and McCombs, 1998; Lee et al., 1993; Lee and Smith, 1999; Marks, Doane, and Secada, in press; Phillips, 19971. Phillips (1997) found that the level of "academic press" (offering demanding curricula and having high expecta- tions for learning, without pressuring performance or undermining au- tonomy) was a more powerful predictor of student learning than was the degree to which there was a positive, democratic social environment. Re- searchers have concluded that a focus on learning partly explains why students attending Catholic schools perform better academically, even when adjustments are made for population differences (Bryk et al., 19931. A student in the Davidson and Phelan (1999, p. 249) study of urban youth referred to academic press in his description of a teacher who made him fee! connected: "he pushes you to think about college math, as a freshman, like last year he used to push me into taking math." He continues, "like he'll call ton the telephone] . . . 'Have you done your work?' " Expectations can be conveyed directly (e.g., "I know you can do it". But studies suggest that subtle and even counterintuitive responses to stu- dents' achievement efforts can affect their achievement-related beliefs. There is evidence, for example, that under some conditions students interpret pity or sympathy following poor performance as an indication that the teacher believes they did the best they could do and are not capable of doing better (Graham, 19841. They reason that the teacher would be angry if he thought they hadn't tried and were capable of a better performance. In a study by Wentze! (2002), students' perceptions of their teachers' expectations for their learning was a strong predictor of how responsibly they engaged in their academic work, how helpful they were to classmates, how interested they were in class, and how much they desired to learn. Rutter, Maughan, Mortimore, Ouston, and Smith (1979) also provide cor- relational evidence for the importance of clarity in expectations. They found that schools with a high degree of consensus on goals and enforcement of rules where there was little ambiguity about expectations had the best attendance and student participation and the lowest levels of delinquency. Most high school students do not fee! particularly pressured to do well in school. A recent national representative survey of more than 2,000 stu- dents asked them: "Overall how much do teachers encourage you to do your best?" (MetLife, 20011. Students' choice of "very much" fell from 50 percent in the 7th and 8th grades to 36 percent in the 11th and 12th grades. Pressure was especially lacking at all grades for students from low-income
46 ENGAGING SCHOOLS families. Whereas 47 percent of the more affluent students claimed that their teachers really encouraged them to do their best, only 30 percent of students from low-income families made this claim. Low-income students were also more likely to claim that their teachers expected their schoolwork to be "just OK" (18 percent) than were high-income students (0.8 percent). Surveys also show that high school students want to be challenged. In a telephone survey of 1,000 randomly selected public high school students, 66 percent claimed that they would learn a lot more if their teachers would "challenge students to constantly do better and learn more." Only 33 per- cent reported that their teachers did this (Public Agenda, 19971. An espe- cially high proportion of African-American students (79 percent compared to 63 percent of white students) claimed they would learn more if their teachers challenged them more. In case studies, low-income students of color report a disproportionate number of negative comments about their ability, which, as one African- American student explains, take a toll: "If somebody keeps telling you you're gonna be nobody, you're going to take that in and you're going to say 'Well damn, I'm going to be nobody. Look at my grades, they're right' " (Davidson, 1999, p. 3511. Another urban student interviewed by Davidson (1999, p. 351) gives an example of a comment made by a teacher passing out paper for students to do a collage: "I don't think you'll do it, but I'll give it to you anyway." Many researchers have documented low expectations and standards in schools serving low-income children (Hallinger, Bickman, and Davis, 1996; Hallinger and Murphy, 1986; Leithwood, Begley, and Cousins, 1990), and low expectations prevail for students placed in lower tracks (Oakes, 1985, 19901. Yet when these students are asked about teachers who are motivat- ing, they often describe teachers who hold them to high standards and provide the support to achieve those standards ("he just sticks with you all the way till you get something right"; Davidson and Phelan, 1999, p.249), and they complain about teachers who don't seem to care whether they learn. One urban high school student laments: "I give up on my test or homework because I don't understand it. When the teacher comes around to collect it, I put it in my book bag and no one notices that I didn't hand it in. They don't notice" (Cushman, 2002, p. 81. Students of color may be at particular risk of experiencing low expecta- tions. More than a third of the students of color interviewed by Davidson (1996) perceived differential expectations from teachers that were based on students' race. A Filipino-American student gives the following example: "If she's talking about a bad neighborhood, she'll say the Black kids. The whites are all in the good neighborhoods and stuff" (p. 411. A Mexican- American student describes the behavior of another teacher: "When he talks about people that will end up on the streets . . . and then he turns and
THE NATURE AND CONDITIONS OF ENGAGEMENT 47 looks at all the Mexicans. I want to get up and tell him off or just walk out" (p. 411. McLaughlin and Talbert (2001) documented teachers' behavior in schools in which the population of students had shifted from relatively high-achieving, middle-class students to less skilled, low-income students. They found that many teachers lowered their expectations and watered down instruction to the extent that the students had no hope of ever catch- ing up. Equally destructive was the response of a second group of teachers, who continued to teach the regular curriculum without any adjustment, making it inaccessible to students with low skills, but then complaining about their low skills and motivation. A third group of teachers showed an effective response; they built on students' current skills and level of under- standing while pushing them hard to master the high school curriculum. Many students who enter high school with very low skills need extra educational resources such as tutoring and summer- or after-school pro- grams to develop their skills and confidence. Although all students should be able to master the basic high school curriculum, some require substan- tially more assistance and time. Without additional support, they will have difficulty making progress. Consequently, they will develop (or maintain) feelings of incompetence, and they will not want to engage in intellectual work. The challenge is to provide these extra supports in a way that does not fee! punitive and interfere with opportunities to engage in other activi- ties, such as sports and jobs. A third critical area related to students' perceptions of competence and control is evaluation. Evaluation is pervasive in high school and affects each student every day. The potential impact of evaluation on perceptions of competence and future expectations is enormous. The research evidence indicates that evaluation should be based on clearly defined criteria, im- provement, and achieving goals or standards, and it should provide specific and useful feedback that can guide future efforts (see Stipek, 2002, for a review). In addition, evaluation practices should be varied to give students opportunities to demonstrate their competencies in different ways. Promoting Academic Values and Goals Research has not examined the qualities of educational context that promote a commitment to education, although studies of the development of other values provide clues. The factors that appear most likely to con- tribute to student beliefs about the value of education are (1) being rein- forced for behaviors reflecting educational values, (2) having role models who express their own commitment to education, and (3) being encouraged by others, including teachers, counselors, and peers, to seek and take ad- vantage of educational opportunities.
48 ENGAGING SCHOOLS In contrast to general values related to education, both experimental and classroom studies tell us a great deal about the specific practices that enhance students' desire to be engaged in intellectual work. Choice is a critical ingredient. Students are more likely to want to do schoolwork when they have some choice in the courses they take, in the material they study, and in the strategies they use to complete tasks (Cordova and Lepper, 1996; Deci, Nezlek, and Sheinman, 1981; Eccles, Early, Fraser, Belansky, and McCarthy, 1997; Guthrie, Wigfield, and VonSecker, 2000; Iyengar and Lepper, 1999; see Ryan and La Guardia, 19991. These findings are consis- tent with sociological theory and organizational studies suggesting that alienation, not engagement, is produced by work situations that create feelings of powerlessness (see Blauner, 19641. A large body of primarily experimental studies demonstrates that em- phasis on rewards and other extrinsic reasons for engaging in an activity can undermine intrinsic interest in the activity (see reviews by Cameron and Pierce, 1994; Deci and Ryan, 1985; Kohn, 1993; Ryan and Deci, 2000b; Tang and Hall, 19951. For example, reminding students that they need to complete assignments because a passing grade depends on it, rather than pointing out what they will learn, focuses their attention on the extrinsic reasons for doing schoolwork and thus promotes the feeling that they are doing it because they have to, not because they want to do it. Students need to know the criteria for evaluation and the consequences of their behavior, and some students may need extrinsic incentives to get started. But constant reminders of the extrinsic consequences of their behavior are usually unnec- essary and are likely to undermine high levels of cognitive engagement. Other practices that undermine the desire to engage in activities were articulated by some of the urban youth interviewed by Davidson and Phelan (19991. The students in their study expressed feelings of alienation associ- ated with authoritarian discipline policies, policies that limited their aca- demic options or ability to make decisions, rigid and distrustful teachers, and teachers who did not encourage students to express their perspectives and opinions in class. One student suggested that authoritarian policies promoted rebellion, not academic engagement: "This year, twith] our new administrator guys it's like we're in a prison or something . . . as a result, I think people are more rebellious. Because he won't trust you with any- thing" (Davidson, 1996, p. 461. Giving students some choice and autonomy is not the same as eliminat- ing structure. To the contrary, students need to have limits, and choices need to be given in the context of clear expectations. The importance of structuring students' learning experiences was made clear by the urban ninth graders interviewed by Yowell (19991. Nearly all of the mostly Latino students in her study expected to go to college. Despite these high aspira- tions, they reported that they often skipped school and did not do their
THE NATURE AND CONDITIONS OF ENGAGEMENT 49 homework. Ironically, they blamed their behavior in part on their teachers. Referring back longingly to elementary school, one student explained, "teachers made sure we finished our homework and made sure we turned it in" (p. 18 ). Some students complained that in contrast to elementary school, their high school teachers said little when they didn't do their work, and rarely informed their parents of problem behavior. Parents usually did not hear of their truancy, for example, until they had missed more than 20 classes and it was too late to make up the work. Ninth graders may require more attention than students in the later grades of high school, but many older students also need assistance and support in completing their work. Taken together, research evidence suggests the value of choice, but within a structure. It does not support either a free-for-all or a military approach. Research also provides evidence on what makes learning experiences more enjoyable, thus motivating to students. Making school more interest- ing and fun may be a powerful strategy for engaging students or at least increasing attendance. In the most recent MetLife (2002) survey of 7th through 12th graders, the most frequent explanation for both skipping school (37 percent) and dropping out of school (76 percent) was that "school was boring." A summary follows of the particular qualities of activities that engage students' interest and enthusiasm (see also Stipek, 20021. It is noteworthy, and probably not coincidental, that these same qualities have been shown by cognitive scientists to promote deep, concep- tual understanding (see National Research Council, 19991. Emphasis on High-Order Thinking Research on learning shows that students become cognitively engaged when they are asked to wrestle with new concepts, when they are pushed to understand for example, by being required to explain their reasoning, defend their conclusions, or explore alternative strategies and solutions (National Research Council, 19991. When asked to provide reasons for being unengaged in schoolwork, many of the economically disadvantaged students in the Davidson and Phelan (1999) study complained that they had little opportunity to convey or address conceptual misunderstandings. After describing a math class in these terms, one urban student added, "I was smart in math until I got her and I got stupid" (Davidson, 1999, p. 355~. In contrast, when describing a particularly motivating teacher, another stu- dent explained: "You ask him a question, and he . . . gives you the clues, and then you have to figure it out yourself.... I like that, because he makes you think" (Phelan, Davidson, and Yu, 1998, p. 1361. Challenging work, mentioned earlier as being important for promoting feelings of competence, also has been shown to promote greater interest and enjoyment. Research evidence contradicts a common stereotype of
so ENGAGING SCHOOLS urban youth that they prefer easy work that requires little effort. In a study by Turner et al. (1998), for example, students used a daily log to rate each task they were given on how skillful they were in completing the task, how challenging the task was, and how they felt about the task. They reported the highest levels of engagement on tasks for which they rated both their skills and challenge as high. When level of challenge was rated as lower than their skills, students were not very intrinsically motivated or engaged. Accountability and a focus on learning were also important. In observations of the students' classes, the researchers found that teachers in classes rated as high in challenge and high in intrinsic motivation were more likely to hold students accountable for understanding. In another study, high school students rated classes that challenged them as being more engaging (Newmann, 19921. Furthermore, observers' ratings of the level of challenge and the degree to which high-order thinking was required in classes were strongly correlated to their ratings of student engagement. When students were asked to identify, independently, the most interesting and worthwhile class they took in the past year and the class that made them "think the hardest," nearly 60 percent named the same class. The association was especially strong for students from low-income families. Active Participation Students enjoy and exert more effort when they are active participants than when they are passive. Over the long term, they are more likely to engage when they are asked to conduct rather than read about experiments; to participate in debate and role playing rather than listen to a lecture; or to create a mode! and complete projects rather than answer questions about how a process works (Davidson, 1999; Guthrie et al., 2000; Mitchell, 19931. In the Public Agenda (1997) telephone survey of 1,000 high school students, 67 percent claimed that they would learn a lot more if their teachers used "hands-on projects and class discussion," compared to 14 percent who claimed they would learn more if their teachers lectured. When students in Boaler's (2002a) study of British students who expe- rienced different approaches to mathematics instruction were asked what they like about mathematics, the most popular response given was "activi- ties." They were also able to explain why they enjoyed activities more than the textbook and workbooks they often used. A prominent theme was being able to work autonomously and take pride in their achievement: "you learn more by doing something on your own" (p.381; "you fee! more proud of the projects when you done them yourself. If it's just working through the book, you can't fee! proud" (p. 381; "because you had to work out for yourself what was going on, you had to use your own ideas" (p. 681.
THE NATURE AND CONDITIONS OF ENGAGEMENT Variety 51 In explaining her distaste for a particular English class, a student in the Davidson and Phelan (1999) study explained: . . . we read, read, read and that's all we do. It's like every week it's the same routine. On Mondays you come in and do your vocab definitions. And then Tuesdays you read the story, Wednesday keep on reading the story, Thursday answer the questions, and Friday you do a test.... It's boring to do the same thing every day . . . we should have like more discussions of the stories that we read and have group work. That would make the class more interesting. Plus that each week have a different class project (p. 258~. Her attendance was directly affected. She had 62 absences in this courses compared to 28 in her science class, which involved more active learning. Students in Boaler's (2002a) study also complained about instruction that was repetitious. As one student explained: "The books are a bit boring, the chapters . . . repeat the same questions over and over again, like when they explain something they do the question and then you have to do about 20 of them at the same time" (Boater, 2002a, p.371. When another student was asked how he would change math lessons in his class, he said he would: " . . . have one lesson a week on the booklets, one on activities, one where you get a problem and you have to solve it just a variety" (p. 371. Collaborative Activities Most students enjoy working together (Davidson, 1999; Johnson and Johnson, 1985; Mitchell, 19931. Individual accountability is important, but students' engagement in the learning process can be enhanced by allowing them to work in pairs or small groups on activities that require sharing and meaningful interactions. Students are also more receptive to challenging assignments when they can put their heads together rather than work in isolation. Collaborative work also can help students develop skills in coop- eration. Furthermore, it helps create a community of learners who have responsibility for each other's learning, rather than a competitive environ- ment, which is alienating to many students, particularly those who do not perform as well as their classmates (Cohen, 19941. One challenge to successfully implementing a collaborative learning activity is the inherent status inequities that arise in the social system of the classroom. Those students who are seen as having high academic status typically do more talking and often control the group tasks in a collabora- tive learning activity, while the low-status students will have a hard time being heard or persuading the other members of the group to even listen to
52 ENGAGING SCHOOLS them (Cohen, 19971. Cohen and Lotan (1997) address these "status condi- tions" of students in the underlying principles of "complex instruction" a mode! of pedagogy that involves students actively and equitably in mean- ingful, challenging group work. These principles include: (1) constructing tasks that are open ended; (2) incorporating multiple intellectual abilities; (3) bolstering group interdependence and enforcing individual accountabil- ity; and (4) connecting activities through central concepts and big ideas of the disciplines (Lotan, 1997, p. 1071. In this mode! of collaborative learn- ing, teachers delineate the multiple intellectual abilities a group of students must bring to each task, emphasizing that each student will have his or her own strength to contribute to the group process. Another mode! for col- laboration that increases the chance of equal contributions is the "Jigsaw Classroom," which has been shown to improve the learning, engagement, and enjoyment of low-performing students at all grade levels (Aronson, Stephan, Sikes, Blaney, and Snapp, 19781. The mode! creates interdepen- dency among students in a group by giving each member a critical element of the task. Meaningful Connections to Students' Culture and Lives Outside School Students enjoy learning more, and they learn better, when topics are personally interesting and related to their lives (Meece, l 991). A high school English teacher gives the following example of connecting the curriculum to students' experiences: "when we began To Kill ~ Mockingbird, I asked them to remember their childhood and was there anyone on their block they were afraid of" (McLaughlin and Talbert, 2001, p.281. A math teacher describes another meaningful connection: "Graphing skills for example. I make up a bunch of crazy data like compare the profits of Metallica versus Billy Idol.... And I get a 90 percent return rate on homework" (p. 291. Giving choices increases the likelihood that students will work on some- thing of personal interest. Another strategy for making schoolwork more relevant and interesting is to invite students to express opinions. Describing a class that she found particularly engaging, one urban high school student explained, "Like if you read something and everyone interprets it differ- ently, she Ethe teacher] wants to hear everyone's opinion.... You learn different points of view and how to analyze different things.... It's not just memorizing facts and then spitting them back to the teacher" (Davidson, 1999, p. 3491. Providing opportunities for students to take responsibility and engage in work they believe offers value to their communities also enhances the personal meaningfulness of school (McLaughlin, 20001. As one adolescent commented on the experience of community service:
THE NATURE AND CONDITIONS OF ENGAGEMENT It gives me a sense of responsibility, like what you've got to be When you have a job].... You've got to be there on time, work hard at it, and get done what needs to get done. That's why I am part of this Lprogram] because I needed that responsibility (p. 6~. Promoting a Sense of Belonging 53 Wentze! (1997) provides evidence on the kinds of behavior that adoles- cents interpret as caring. She asked students: "How do you know when a teacher cares about you?" and "How do you know when a teacher does not care about you?" In their responses to the former question, students de- scribed teachers who tried to make classes interesting; who talked and listened to them; who were honest, fair, and trusting; and who showed concern for them as individuals by asking whether they needed help, mak- ing sure they understood what was being taught, and asking them if some- thing was wrong. In response to the second question, students described teachers who were boring or off task; who continued to teach when stu- dents weren't paying attention; who ignored, interrupted, embarrassed, insulted, or yelled at students; and who showed little interest in them per- sonally by forgetting their name, not doing anything when they did some- thing wrong, and not trying to explain something when the student didn't understand. In a second study by Wentze! (2002), students' perceptions of how fair their teacher was predicted their interest and enjoyment and their desire to learn. Negative feedback (e.g., scolding) was associated with low engagement in the form of disruptive behavior and violation of rules. Newmann (1992) suggests that a sense of fair treatment is also critical to feeling connected to school. He cites studies suggesting substantial ineq- uities related to race and income in some schools in expectations, quality of instruction, and due process. Such inequities are likely to disengage stu- dents who are treated unfairly. Adolescents who perceive differential treat- ment by teachers and counselors based on race are also less likely to value school (Roeser, Eccles, and Sameroff, 19981. In the Davidson and Phelan (1999) study, students stressed two types of teacher behaviors that were important to them learning some- thing about their lives outside of school and communicating directly and regularly with them about their academic progress. They mentioned subtle behaviors that demonstrated concern about their academic success, such as stopping to clarify a point when a student appeared confused and asking why they had missed school. One student noted, "You go in and you're not there for a day and they notice and they say, 'Why are you tardy?' And they care" (p. 2501. One adolescent explained in a study in which urban high school students were asked what advice they would give to a new teacher: "If there's confusion on my face I want you to see it. If there's disagreement
54 ENGAGING SCHOOLS I want you to say, You disagree? Why?" (Cushman, 2002, p. 2). Another student complained about a particularly unmotivating teacher: " . . . he's just writing things on the board . . . He don't look at the class like, Do you understand? he's just teaching it to us. He sees that a couple of students understand it and he moves on. He doesn't make a space for us to ask" (p. 81. Students also mentioned humor, which seemed to lessen the social dis- tance between teacher and student. Another theme in their comments con- cerned fair and respectful disciplinary practices that included student input. Why does a caring teacher promote student engagement? One student explained that teachers' concern made students want to give back: "We owe her something now, now it's like we can't say 'we don't know this.' . . . We gotta do it tour work], we owe her that, you know" (Davidson, 1999, p. 3461. Another student, who had highly variable attendance for different classes, attributed her regular attendance in one class to the teacher caring about her as a person, explaining: Like whenever I'm absent or whenever we plan to cut or whatever, I say "No, I have to go to fifth period," all I care about is fifth period.... I have to go to that class (p. 347~. Some evidence suggests that a sense of belonging may, under some circumstances, be associated with the degree to which a student's own ethnic background is similar to that of other students. Finn and Voelk! (1993) found that "at-risk" (mostly minority) students in their study rated the school community (quality of teacher-student relationships and whether the school has "real school spirit") more positively when they attended schools with relatively high proportions of minorities. Using a nationally stratified sample of high school students (AddHealth), Johnson et al. (2001) similarly found that students reported greater attachment to school (feeling close to people at school, feeling a part of their school) when they attended schools with proportionally more students of their own race. School racial composition was not, however, associated with students' reports of their engagement in academic work. In brief, students fee! like they belong in educational settings in which they are treated fairly and with respect, and in which adults show they care about them as people. One way that students judge how much teachers care is by whether they hold them to high expectations and make an effort to ensure they are learning. BEYOND THE CLASSROOM No teacher, however good or committed, can engage students in aca- demic work in a school context that does not support the kinds of practices described in this chapter (see Chapter 41. Feelings of incompetence and no
THE NATURE AND CONDITIONS OF ENGAGEMENT 55 control over outcomes produce the same disengagement in teachers as in students (Tschannen-Moran, Hoy, and Hoy, 19981. To protect their own sense of competence, teachers often attribute poor student performance to external factors over which they have no control, such as low student capacity, unsupportive homes, and lack of resources. Some teachers give up hope and stop trying. School administrators need to apply what is known about maintaining confidence and feelings of control and belonging in students to create supportive settings for teachers. Teachers' efforts in individual classrooms can also be undermined by school organization and policies. For example, tracking diminishes stu- dents' choices and the access of relatively low-skilled students to peers with positive academic values. Highly competitive school environments in which only high-performing students are recognized publicly undermine many students' sense of competence. Students are not likely to develop a sense of belonging in schools that are organized in ways that make it difficult for teachers to know and develop personal relationships with students, or in schools that tolerate racism or bullying. Schools that do not promote a sense of community and shared purpose among teachers are not likely to provide clear expectations and goals or to promote a sense of connected- ness and belonging among students. If teachers spend all of their workday engaged directly with students, they will not have sufficient time to prepare appropriately challenging and culturally meaningful instruction and activi- ties that involve collaboration and higher order thinking. Teaching that engages students takes much more time to plan than the repetitive textbook teaching that many teachers resort to because of the other demands on their time. School policies also affect the degree to which students fee! encouraged and supported in their learning. For example, a policy of contacting parents after only a few unexplained student absences, providing additional help for students who fall behind, and helping students gain access to commu- nity resources to meet basic physical and psychological needs conveys to students that people care about them and want them to learn. Efforts to make school a comfortable and accessible place for parents are also impor- tant; one example is translating information into languages that parents speak (see Chapter 3, this volume). Efforts to increase student engagement therefore must involve the whole school. We elaborate on school-level policies and practices in Chapter 4. BEYOND THE SCHOOL Student motivation is affected by policies made beyond the school as well as in the school. For example, policies at the state or district level related to curricula, textbooks, and resources for science laboratories and
56 ENGAGING SCHOOLS technology have direct implications for the kind of instruction teachers can offer. Recent policies that promote greater accountability and stricter stan- dards may have particularly powerful implications for student engagement (Hanushek, 1997; National Research Council, 19961. In 2001, 17 states required students to pass a state-administered exit examination in order to graduate, and 7 more had committed to implementing graduation exams within the next several years. Four states required students to pass a state- wide exam as a condition for grade promotion, and four more were in the process of implementing this policy. Other states (e.g., Alabama and Florida) used participation in extracurricular activities as an incentive for students to maintain a specified grade point average (Education Week, 20021; 19 states take students' driving privilege away or refuse to grant a license based on failure to attend school or poor academic performance (Martinez and Bray, 20021. Similar policies have been implemented by a number of school districts, including New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Boston. Studies have not examined the effects of high-stakes testing for promo- tion or graduation on student motivation and engagement, and research assessing the effects on achievement is mixed (Bishop, 2002; Frederickson, 1994; Jacob, 20011. The evidence is clear, however, that they increase the likelihood of retention (Jacob, 2001; McDill, Natriello, and Pallas, 1986; Roderick and Engel, 20011. For example, during the 1999-2000 school year, more than half of all ninth graders entering Boston's comprehensive high schools could not read well enough to learn at the high school level. In an effort to rectify this problem, Boston Public Schools required, for the first time, that 9th graders pass a reading examination in order to be promoted to 10th grade. Although many students made sufficient progress during the school year to be promoted to 10th grade, more than one-third of the 1999-2000 freshmen had to repeat 9th grade the following year. Accountability approaches that increase retention have a serious down- side. The evidence is mixed on whether retention improves academic per- formance (Alexander, Entiwisle, and Dauber, 1994; McCoy and Reynolds, 1999; Pierson and Connell, 1992; Sheppard and Smith, 1989), and virtually all the empirical studies to date suggest that retention, even in the lower elementary grades, significantly increases the likelihood of dropping out (Balfanz, McPartland, and Shaw, 2002; Fine, 1991; Goldschmidt and Wang, 1999; Grissom and Shepard, 1989; Jimerson, 1999; Kaufman and Bradby, 1992; Neild and Balfanz, 2001; Roderick, 1994; Roderick, Nagaoka, Bacon, and Easton, 2000; Rumberger, 1995; Rumberger and Larson, 19981. For example, Rumberger (1995) found that students who were retained in grades 1 to 8 were four times more likely to drop out between grades 8 and 10 than students who were not retained, even after controlling for socio-
THE NATURE AND CONDITIONS OF ENGAGEMENT 57 economic status, eighth-grade school performance, and a host of back- ground and school factors. Emerging evidence suggests that exams required for entering and gradu- ating from high school may also promote dropping out (Balfanz and Letgers, 2001; Haney, 2001; Lee, 2001; Mizell, 2002; New York City Board of Education, Division of Assessment and Accountability, 2001~. In Chicago reports are beginning to document students dropping out at a younger age, as well as in higher numbers (Lee, 2001~. These negative effects of high- stakes testing appear to be stronger for students of color (Balfanz and Legters, 2001; Haney, 2001~. In addition to their more direct effects on student engagement and motivation, school accountability and high-stakes testing can have indirect effects on students through their teachers. A study of school reform in a Texas school district (Berends, Chun et al., 2002) indicates that high-stakes testing can undermine the willingness and ability of teachers to engage students in meaningful learning. This occurs because teachers fee! com- pelled to teach what is on the test, which often results in broad, superficial coverage. The multiple-choice format of typical tests promotes the teaching of isolated facts and skills rather than conceptual understanding and critical thinking. In an effort to raise test scores, some schools are imposing double- period test preparation sessions and requiring teachers to "teach to the test." Although such practices may improve high-stakes testing results, their effects on student motivation are questionable at best. Although systematic studies are not available on the effects of high- stakes testing on student motivation, the research on motivation described in this chapter provides clues about what we can expect. The key concepts are perceptions of competence and control. Most likely, high-stakes testing has little effect on the motivation of the highest achieving students who are confident they will achieve ambitious educational goals. High-stakes testing should increase the motivation of students who are just getting by, but know they could do better. The risk of being retained in grade or denied a high school diploma may lead them to exert more effort on schoolwork than they would otherwise (National Research Council, 1996; Roderick and Engel, 2001), but only if they believe they have the capacity to succeed. These positive effects, however, may come at the expense of students performing at the lowest level. As Roderick and Enge! (2001, p. 221) suggest, high-stakes testing may benefit some by "making sacrificial lambs of the most vulnerable." Many students, especially in urban schools in economically disadvantaged communities, have experienced years of failure in school, and their skills lag far behind even minimal standards. Simply asking them to achieve higher standards without providing them with the assistance and support they need is more likely to discourage than to moti- vate them. Research on motivation has shown clearly that people do not
58 ENGAGING SCHOOLS exert effort when they do not expect their efforts to lead to success. To the contrary, a perception that success is out of reach leads to helplessness and withdrawal. Standards and high expectations are critical, but they must be genu- inely achievable if they are to motivate student engagement. The committee's endorsement of challenging work and high standards does not imply en- dorsement of high-stakes testing. If it is implemented, however, it is essen- tial that it is accompanied by a great deal of support and resources devoted to helping students achieve the standards. We base our conclusion prima- rily on achievement motivation research that does not involve high-stakes testing. But there is some evidence from research at the middle grades that high-stakes testing for promotion may lead to improved student achieve- ment when it is combined with extra instructional resources for low-achiev- ing students (Roderick and Engel, 20011. Raising standards without pro- viding this kind of support will be counterproductive. A WAYS TO GO Research on factors that motivate students to be engaged in academic work is not definitive, but it provides a solid foundation that can be used to guide practice. Currently, the practices supported by research are least likely to be observed in schools serving the students who need them most. Many developmental studies have shown substantial declines in achieve- ment motivation and engagement in learning as children progress through school (Jacobs et al., 2002; Stipek and MacIver, 19891. Steinberg, Brown, and Dornbusch (1996) also found a decline from 7th to 9th grade in the number of students who claimed to fee! a part of their school or close to people at their school. Perhaps not coincidentally, studies comparing edu- cational practices at different levels suggest that the practices known to promote motivation are also less likely to be seen at the secondary than at the elementary level. For example, at the point that autonomy needs are most powerful in adolescence school environments usually become more controlling (Eccles and Midgley, 19891. Perhaps this is why all of the 56 Latino 9th graders that Yowell (1999) interviewed named an elementary school teacher when asked who their favorite teacher was. Furthermore, the schools serving adolescents who are at greatest risk of becoming seri- ously disengaged from school are the most likely to be large, impersonal, and highly controlling, and to convey low expectations for academic suc- cess. Although examples of schools that promote high levels of engagement and achievement for low-income youth and students of color are few and far between, they are the proof we need to move forward with some confi- dence that progress can be made. The MetLife (2001) survey mentioned
THE NATURE AND CONDITIONS OF ENGAGEMENT 59 earlier, found that even among the low-income students in their sample, 89 percent claimed that the statement "I really want to learn" applied to them. In the 2002 survey, 84 percent of the students claimed that they worry about doing well in school (MetLife, 20021. The remaining chapters in this volume give further guidance for creating high schools that maintain stu- dents' desire to learn and to succeed by showing how the general principles of motivating contexts described here look in real schools.