Linking classroom environment with at-risk engagement in science: a mixed method approach
This explanatory sequential mixed-method study analyzed how the teacher created learning environment links to student engagement for students at-risk across five science classroom settings. The learning environment includes instructional strategies, differentiated instruction, positive learning environment, and an academically challenging environment. Quantitative and qualitative data were gathered in the form of self-reporting surveys and a follow-up interview. The researcher aimed to use the qualitative results to explain the quantitative data. The general research question was “What are the factors of the teacher-created learning environment that were best suited to maximize engagement of students at-risk?” Specifically explaining, (1) How do the measured level of teacher created learning environment link to the engagement level of students at-risk in science class? and (2) What relationship exists between the student perception of the science classroom environment and the level of behavioral, cognitive, emotional, and social engagement for students at-risk in science class? This study took place within a large school system with more than 20 high schools, most having 2000-3000 students. Participating students were sent to a panel hearing that determined them unfit for the regular educational setting, and were given the option of attending one of the two alternative schools within the county. Students in this alternative school were considered at-risk due to the fact that 98% received free and reduced lunch, 97% were minority population, and all have been suspended from the regular educational setting. Pairwise comparisons of the SPS questions between teachers using t-test from 107 students at-risk and 40 interviews suggest that each category of the learning environment affects the level of behavioral, cognitive, emotional, and social engagement in science class for students at-risk in an alternative school setting. Teachers with higher student perceptions of learning environment showed increased levels of all types of engagement over the teachers with a lower perception of learning environment. Qualitative data suggested that teachers who created a more positive learning environment had increased student engagement in their class. Follow-up questions also revealed that teachers who incorporated a wider variety of classroom instructional strategies increased behavioral engagement of students at-risk in science class.