Monash University
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A study of the effects of student generated representations on student engagement and learning.

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posted on 2017-02-28, 23:19 authored by Sellings, Peter Geoffrey
This thesis describes a two year study carried out in two rural secondary schools to examine the effects that the introduction of a curriculum rich in student generated representations has on student engagement and learning. This study was conducted in five junior secondary classrooms in the subject areas of mathematics and science with each class participating in the study for approximately ten weeks. The initial four weeks were spent observing usual practices in the class and the final six weeks were spent observing the class after the introduction of an adapted curriculum. Three teachers were involved in the teaching of these five junior classes, with each teacher undertaking to adapt their current teaching practice to include activities that required students to show their knowledge by creating representations. To assist the teachers in the adaptation of current teaching practices, the researcher worked with the teachers to initially identify key concepts that were to be included in curriculum. Learning sequences and activities were then developed using the second generation of activity-theory espoused by Engestrom (2001) as a guide, to ensure that learning activities and targeted teaching moved students forward in their concept development. These learning activities also considered the trialogue pedagogical model developed by Roberts (1996) to ensure that students had access to the actual subject matter rather than just relying on the teacher as the knowledge provider. The activities developed were rich in student generated representations, guided by the work of Waldrip, Prain, and Carolan (2010) to assist the learners to develop conceptual understandings in science. This study, which used a mixed method approach, examined student views on student engagement through the use of a survey tool that was developed and validated as part of the study. This study considers engagement as a multidimensional construct as suggested by Fredricks, Blumenfeld, Friedel and Paris (2003), with changes to the three dimensions of engagement; behavioural, cognitive and emotional measured as part of the study. The quantitative data collected from students was then compared to interview data obtained from both teachers and students to examine the consistency of views held about student engagement of both of these groups. The quantitative data was recollected from students, approximately eight weeks later, after the introduction of the representational curriculum to determine changes to student reported engagement. Observational data was collected to document the 'new' curriculum that included student generated representations as a teaching tool while a small group of students (n=12) were also tested to examine changes to their learning as a result of the introduction of this adjusted curriculum. The findings this study suggest that there is strong evidence that student engagement increases with the introduction of student generated representations into science and mathematics classrooms. The findings further suggest that teachers and students place different emphasis on student engagement with teachers more concerned with cognitive engagement, while students are more concerned with emotional engagement. While teachers suggested that the introduction of the representational curriculum had improved learning, more quantitative data would need to be collected to further investigate this view. This study offers important information and insights to teachers regarding the introduction of student generated representations to mathematics and science classrooms. The results of this study highlight the important role that teachers play in the development of a pedagogy that both engages students and moves them forward in their learning. This type of pedagogy is one that can be considered to be student centred and can be used to improve student engagement. This thesis suggests a range of possible future research agenda that could be explored to enhance understanding of student engagement and the links to student learning. This study represents a significant addition to the current understanding of classroom engagement and the important roles that teachers have as part of the learning process. These important roles include the development of high quality curriculum that not only covers content outcomes, but more importantly uses pedagogies that engage students. Such pedagogies allow students to explore the key concepts and then make sense of them in a way, consistent with the accepted view, but linking to their everyday world.


Campus location


Principal supervisor

Bruce Waldrip

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

Monash University (Gippsland)


Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type



Faculty of Education

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