Academic journal article International Journal of Whole Schooling

Students' Engaging School Experiences: A Precondition for Functional Inclusive Practice

Academic journal article International Journal of Whole Schooling

Students' Engaging School Experiences: A Precondition for Functional Inclusive Practice

Article excerpt

Introduction

School provides a central developmental context for children (Eccles, 2004; Reschly, Huebner, Appleton, & Antaramian, 2008). School experiences have a significant impact on student well-being (Pyhalto, Soini, & Pietarinen, 2010) and on students' health, behavior, and interpersonal relationships (Ma, 2007). The quality of school experiences also contributes to learning outcomes (Martin, Anderson, Bobis, & Way, 2011; Upadyaya & Salmela-Aro, 2011). However, we are lacking sufficient understanding of the school-related experiences contributing to students' school engagement, in particular among students with special needs. This study explores lower secondary Swedish-speaking school students' engaging and disengaging school experiences, by analyzing significant positive and negative school experiences among seventh graders. The study also focuses on the sense of belonging as a crucial ingredient of the engaging school experience. Moreover, a comparison is made between the school experiences of students with special needs and general education students in Finland.

In Finland, remedial instruction is provided primarily through inclusion in mainstream education. This means that students with special needs are studying in the same classroom as general education students (The Finnish National Board of Education, 2016). To be able to create learning environments in which all students can flourish, a better understanding of the anatomy of engaging school experiences among a variety of student groups is needed (Sabel, Saxenian, Miettinen, Kristensen, & Hautamaki, 2011). Especially, more in-depth analysis of an engaging school experience and its antecedents, from the viewpoint of students with special needs is needed.

School Engagement

School engagement refers to active student involvement in various activities provided by the school (Appleton, Christenson, Kim, & Reschly, 2006; Faircloth, 2009; Kirkpatrick Johnson, Crosnoe, & Thaden, 2006; Lewis, Huebner, Malone, & Valois, 2011; Marks, 2000; Nickerson, Hopson, & Steinke, 2012; Oelsner, Lippold, & Greenberg, 2011; Perry, Liu, & Pabian, 2010). Lopez (2011) proposed that engaged students are highly motivated and enthusiastic about school, and are also likely to promote learning readiness in those around them. In turn, those students who were actively disengaged were more likely to undermine the teaching and learning process not only for themselves, but for others too.

In the literature, school engagement is typically perceived as a meta-construct comprising three dimensions: behavioral, cognitive, and emotional engagement (Appleton et al., 2006; Fredricks, Blumenfield, & Paris, 2004; Furlong & Christenson, 2008 & Lam et al., 2012). Behavioral engagement entails student attendance, active participation in classes, and involvement in extracurricular activities (Finn & Rock, 1997; Furlong & Christenson 2008). Cognitive engagement refers to the extent to which students put effort into their studies, manifested in their interest in learning, goal setting, and approaches to studying and learning, for example in the number of credits the student has accrued and the amount of homework completed (Finn & Rock, 1997; Furlong & Christenson, 2008). It has been suggested that cognitive engagement is key to improving student learning outcomes, especially for those students at high risk of educational failure (Appleton et al. 2006). Emotional engagement refers to affective factors such as a sense of belonging and the perceived connectedness and support from parents, teachers, and peers. Student engagement has been shown to peak during elementary school, decrease through middle school, and then increase through the rest of high school (Faircloth, 2009; Nickerson et al., 2011; Lam et al., 2012; Lohre, Lydersen, & Vatten, 2010; Oelsner et al., 2011).

Research on school engagement has traditionally focused on student behavioral engagement in the academic tasks provided by the school (Appleton et al. …

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