Academic journal article Middle Grades Research Journal

Effects of the Three-Block Model of Universal Design for Learning on Early and Late Middle School Students' Engagement

Academic journal article Middle Grades Research Journal

Effects of the Three-Block Model of Universal Design for Learning on Early and Late Middle School Students' Engagement

Article excerpt

Copious research has reported that student engagement is influenced not only by student characteristics but also by what happens at school (Community Health Systems Resource Group, 2005; National Research Council, 2003; Willms, 2003; Willms, Friesen, & Milton, 2009). Learning environments have powerful effects on students' responses, including their engagement, satisfaction, achievement, and their likelihood to graduate (Appleton, Christenson & Furlong, 2003; Bowlby & McMullen, 2002; National Research Council, 2003; Pope, 2001). Sadly, research has also shown that less than one half of Canadian students are engaged in meaningful ways in their learning at school (Willms, 2003; Willms, Friesen, & Milton, 2009). While students begin schooling with high engagement levels, these levels begin to drop in the middle years of schooling but appear to recover somewhat in 10th grade, suggesting that the middle years of schooling are an especially vulnerable time in terms of student engagement (Willms et al., 2009). Trends showing decreases in engagement as children move through schooling are not limited to Canadian children: patterns of disengagement are evident in the above-average number of children who "skip" school in Turkey, Poland, Italy, Spain, and Thailand, among other countries (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, 2013). Moreover, disengagement is most common in students who are traditionally underserved at school, including minority students, Indigenous students, poor students, and students with special educational needs (Caledon Institute for Social Policy, 2006; Community Health Systems Resource Group, 2005; Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, 2013; Richards & Vining, 2004). Given the strong relationship between learning environments and engagement, the current study sought to investigate the effects of a pedagogical model based on the principles of universal design for learning on the engagement of a group of diverse learners. Furthermore, we sought to investigate its effects on both early and middle years students, with the intension of determining whether the intervention would be effective in addressing the drop in engagement that has been observed over the course of these school years.

Student Characteristics That Affect Engagement

A broad research base has examined student characteristics that are associated with low student engagement. Of particular interest is the engagement of students who are male, have special learning needs, and are of minority ethnic status, specifically Aboriginal Canadians. Given that these students are less likely to be engaged in schooling and in turn less likely to graduate, addressing disengagement in these students can be framed as an equity issue (Dunleavy & Milton, 2009).

Males have traditionally shown lower engagement in their schooling than have females, which in turn leads to lower achievement (Bausch, 2007; Noble, Brown, & Murphy, 2001). Males are more likely to demonstrate actions that interfere with their engagement at school, such withdrawal or rebellious behaviors (James, 2007; Noble et al., 2001; Schlechty, 2002). Willms et al. (2009) showed that boys were less intellectually engaged in schooling than were girls at every grade studied, and as a result they were more likely to "skip" school as they moved into high school. Baker, Clark, Maier, and Viger (2008) posited that student engagement could be enhanced through group work and active learning pedagogies, a claim that Glass (2013) validated with under-achieving boys in her study.

Likewise, children with special learning needs are less likely to be engaged in their schooling (Dunleavy & Milton, 2009). These students are also more likely to drop out of school during stressful transition periods, specifically when they are attempting to transition from middle school to high school (Marder & D'Amico, 1992). Sinclair, Christenson, Evilo, and Hurley (1998) showed that an engagement- based intervention for children with disabilities implemented in the middle years and early years of high school could enhance engagement and ameliorate school leaving behaviors in these students. …

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