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This report describes a collaborative two-year action research project, Questions of Engagement, which aimed to identify influences on engagement and disengagement with learning of students in Years 5 to 8. This collaboration between Maribyrnong and Moonee Valley Local Learning and Employment Network, Victoria University (VU) and five schools in the inner west of Melbourne commenced in 2014.

A participatory action research approach was used, with the phases of the research encompassing:

1.    Reconnaisance

This phase developed strategies and measures on the level of engagement and disengagement amongst students:

  • School-level data such as school demographics, attendance rates, parent satisfaction surveys, student satisfaction surveys, NAPLAN scores, and teacher and AusVELS assessments.
  • Student focussed data - a Motivation and Engagement Survey (MES) (Martin 2013) and small group interviews of students.

2.    Plan

This phase involved each school considering the reconnaissance findings and developing improvement strategies.

The school level data shed little light on the level of student engagement. The student-focussed data was rich, and catalysed reflective discussions with teachers and the identification of school-specific projects to improve results.

The MES data showed that students have high self-belief and are generally focussed on schooling. However, a number of students are struggling with Planning, Task Management, Anxiety and Uncertainty Control, and many are undermining their own learning through self-sabotage and disengagement. The student interview data identified what students experience as ‘boosters’ and guzzlers’, and led to two additional themes of significance - Learning and School.

3.    Enact

Four schools carried out a plan of action during 2015. Two schools implemented specific programs --Student Voice and the GANAG lesson planning approach. The other two schools undertook continuous improvement processes, one at a whole-of-school level and the other at the level of the individual classroom.

Student-focussed data were collected in May and October of 2015 to examine student responses.

4.    Reflect

This phase involved the research teams critically evaluating the intended and unintended consequences of the action taken.

The changes in the MES data were found generally small and, due to the small numbers of students surveyed, could provide only indications of change. The interview data provided greater insight into students’ responses to changes in practices.

5.    Re-plan

Reflection took three of the participating schools into this next loop of participatory action research. The VU researcher linked the first-loop findings to current literature and tailored suggestions to each school’s context and needs. Self-regulated learning underpinned the recommended pedagogical approach -  Assessment for Learning, Student as Researcher and Funds of Knowledge.

6.    Enact (2)

A revised plan of action was developed by the schools in response to the recommendations.

Two attributes of participatory action research were critical to the project’s success: the collaborative approach; and its focus on the teaching practices and student learning occurring in each school.

The Case Study demonstrates the power of the student voice in bringing about system-wide change.

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