Academic engagement from the perspective of flow theory : a comparative analysis of student experience in nontraditional and traditional schools
Johnson, Lisa S. (Student of leadership, educational psychology and foundations)
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This study examined students in a nontraditional public high school that implemented a unique school structure guided by a mission that employs a student-led democracy, one-on-one relationships between teachers and students, student-centered instruction, and evaluations based on contracts rather than grades. It was hypothesized that students in this nontraditional school would report higher levels of academic engagement than students attending a comparable traditional school due to their use of these innovative methods. This mixed-methods study compared student experience using data that were collected through questionnaires, interviews, and the experience sampling method (ESM). Data from both samples (n = 80) of tenth- and twelfth-grade students were analyzed to compare time use, levels of student engagement, autonomy, relevance, the conditions for flow and feelings of belongingness. Analyses employed hierarchical linear modeling (HLM) to examine the impact of instructional method, quality of experience, and school type on students' momentary levels of engagement inside and outside of classrooms. Quantitative and qualitative results revealed that students in the nontraditional school spend a greater amount of time in student-centered activities and reported higher levels of engagement both in school overall and specifically during lecture and independent study. Associations between autonomy, belongingness, and student engagement were positive and strong. These findings reveal the differences in the two schools in terms of time use, autonomy, relevance, belongingness, and engagement and suggest that the methods used in the nontraditional school are associated with higher levels of academic engagement. Implications for the field of education are included in the discussion.