The Relationship between Observed Task Characteristics and the Pattern of Seventh Grade Students' Situational Engagement during a Science Unit




Glassman, Sarah Jane

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Student engagement is an important aspect of teaching and learning. Traditionally, engagement has been measured as a static trait. This study measured engagement as a fluid trait in order to explore the relationship between seventh grade students’ situational engagement over a science unit and five specific task characteristics. Further, this study investigated how the changing pattern of instruction is related to a changing pattern of student engagement. Informed by Self-Determination Theory, the five specific task characteristics investigated were: the use of tasks that give students opportunities to act autonomously (choice), the use of tasks that challenge students (challenge), constructive feedback from the teacher or peers that guides students work on the current task (feedback), the inclusion of tasks that require student collaboration (collaboration), and tasks in which the importance or relevance is explained to students or the task includes a real-world problem or scenario (real-life significance). Student engagement was measured as a multidimensional trait consisting of behavioral, emotional, and cognitive dimensions. Participants included two teachers and 37 students. Two classrooms were observed and video-recorded for 10 consecutive 1.5 hour blocks during a unit investigating cells. At the end of each block students completed a three item survey for each task. For all tasks in both classrooms, the cumulative presence of task characteristics correlated with student engagement. However, students’ behavioral engagement negatively correlated with the use of choice. Students’ engagement increased from low to high during four related tasks exhibiting the highest cumulative presence of task characteristics. Nine out of 10 tasks with the highest student engagement involved hands-on learning. However, students’ engagement was lower during tasks elaborating on those hands-on tasks.



Science education, Middle school education, Instruction, Science education, Self-Determination Theory, Situational engagement, Student engagement, Task