Factors that Influence Year 7 Students’ Engagement and Achievement in Mathematics

Doctoral Studies Completed Theses – 2014 Archive

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Karen Skilling

PhD thesis, conferred 2014

Improving student engagement in mathematics, particularly during the critical transition from primary to secondary school, is a significant issue in education. Addressing this challenge requires a clearer understanding of the motivational and contextual factors influencing student engagement and achievement outcomes in mathematics. The aims of this research are to explore the factors that contribute to shifts in student engagement in mathematics as they move from primary to secondary school and to examine teacher practices that promote higher levels of engagement in mathematics by first year high school (Year 7) students.

The investigation comprised two qualitative studies. Study 1 utilised semi-structured interviews to elicit perceptions about the factors influencing student engagement from 36 Year 7 students and 31 teachers across 10 secondary schools in the Sydney metropolitan area. Low and high achieving students whose engagement levels in mathematics had shifted to being significantly more engaged or disengaged in the past year (from primary to secondary school) were interviewed. Importantly, factors relating to student interest, enjoyment, persistence and study management skills were found to impact differently on students displaying upward or downward shifts in engagement regardless of their achievement levels.

Study 2 used case study to investigate the beliefs and practices of four teachers of low and high achieving ‘engaged’ Year 7 mathematics classes. Data gathered from lesson observations, pre- and post-lesson interviews and a survey highlighted teacher beliefs and practices that were uniquely tailored to specific class contexts. In particular, instructional strategies that directly addressed students’ interests, values, competencies and their self-efficacy were crucial for promoting engagement in mathematics.

Together, these findings extend our understanding of the engagement construct and provide further clarity to practical issues surrounding improving student engagement levels in mathematics for high and low achieving students.

Supervisor: Associate Professor Janette Bobis