‘At risk’ to ‘at promise’




This blog post focuses on Lessard, Yergeau, Fortin & Poirer’s article School Bonding: Helping At Risk Youth Become Students At-Promise (2007).

The study set out to find out what the differences are between ‘at risk’ and ‘not at risk’ student perceptions of school bonding. Risk factors are identified as family – related, school – related, personal factors that contribute to the probability a student would leave school prematurely. Although the authors acknowledge that children and young people respond in different ways to adversity, they suggest that if a student has multiple ‘risk’ factors (3 or more), they meet the definition of ‘at-risk’.

It is suggested in the study that school bonding is an effective protective factor for at risk students. School bonding comprises of teacher support, academic engagement, peer support, school ethos and discipline / fairness. Thus school bonding can be seen to represent ‘a comprehensive concept involving affective (attachment), cognitive (commitment) and behavioural (involvement) components’.

Overall, the study found that on affective, cognitive and behavioural levels, ‘at-risk’ students perceived school bonding very differently to those deemed not ‘at-risk’.

The study also refers to Fortin, Marcotte, Potvin, Royer and Joly (2006) who identified four subtypes of ‘at risk’ students:

1) the Antisocial Covert Behavior type additional risk behaviours such as stealing, cheating etc, low levels of family cohesion and parental control

2) the Uninterested in School type perform well at school, well liked by teachers but lack motivation 

3) the School and Social Adjustment Difficulties type high levels of behavioural issues and lowest academic achievement 

4) the Depressive type of at-risk students lowest family function scores, highest depression scores (42% reporting suicidal thoughts) 

In addition, all four types of students had significantly raised levels of depression, lower parental emotional support and perceived less order in the classroom than other students.

In the study, Lessard, Yergeau, Fortin & Poirer state that all 4 types of at-risk students show less favourable scores on attachment, commitment and involvement in school than non-risk but there were no differences in school bonding perceptions between at-risk sub groups.

In terms of gender, girls reported stronger bonding to school than boys, both in at-risk and not at-risk students.

In conclusion, at-risk students foster more negative attitudes towards both their teachers and school, they are less affiliated to their peers and show lower levels of engagement in school than do non at-risk students. In addition, boys may be more sensitive to the affective aspect of bonds with peers and teachers. It is suggested that if these students perceive a lack of support in school in addition to adverse personal and family circumstances, they will modify their behaviour negatively in response.

Practical implications:

So, what does this mean for teachers? Knowing that students identified by this study may find it harder to become and remain engaged in school means two things, firstly, implementing effective assessment tools to identify these students and then secondly, to develop systems within school to increase these students bond to school. In some ways, this results in both a deficit and a strengths based model – firstly identifying risks and secondly, focussing on the young person’s strengths and develop relationships in school that might negate these risks by becoming protective factors. Identifying the links between cognitive, affective and behavioural aspects of school bonding will also be crucial. For example, identifying that developing a strong relationship with a student will also affect their cognitive development and behaviour means that all three aspects share equal significance in terms of resources, time, planning and assessment. Efforts to develop students self esteem as students is also at the core of developing school bonding – historically, student self development programs have been geared towards motivation, self esteem and so on but not necessarily in the context of their identities as students in the context of school.

Future research:

This study based its findings on student self report, and to an extent, the findings confirm what we would expect students experiencing greater adversity to report. By taking a systems perspective, it would be necessary to gather data on teacher experience of working with ‘at-risk’ students , support staff, leaders within the school and parent perspectives.It would be interesting to see whether congruence between multiple perspectives varies between ‘at-risk’ and not at risk groups. Finally, two unanswered questions surround students identified as not at risk – would increased efforts to increase school bonding still be helpful to students even those not considered at risk? What can be done to identify and support students facing single or lower levels of risk that could still have a significant impact on school outcomes?



ADHD in schools:Strengths based perspective



ADHD is one of the most commonly diagnosed childhood ‘disorders’, and numbers of diagnoses are increasing both in the UK and internationally.  In essence, the neurocognitive deficits associated with this disorder are executive functions associated with cognitive control such as ability to control movement, planning, organisation, and inhibitory control.

There is much controversy regarding the veracity of diagnoses (highlighting the potentially subjective nature of self report survey and observation) and the treatment of ADHD using medication. Many commentators have highlighted the nature/nurture debate and suggested that in some cases, taking a closer look at family, school and peer contexts could enable better functioning than just medication, and that in some cases, there may be no need for the medication.

It is widely understood that children with a diagnosis of attention deficit / hyperactivity disorder may present challenges in terms of behaviour, and academic engagement. Sometimes, behaviour can mask what is going on cognitively, and as such, teachers have to work hard to ensure work is at sufficient level of challenge and that support is structured in a way that enables the child to thrive.

In a recent article published this year by the Canadian Psychological Association, it is claimed by the authors (Climie and Mastoras) that ADHD is most commonly viewed by schools and other support agencies through a ‘deficit’ lens. That is to say that children with a diagnosis of ADHD are more commonly identified by what they struggle with or cannot do, rather  rather than the strengths and abilities the children already have and what can be done to build capacity for the future.

It is argued (from a positive psychology perspective – the foundations of a strengths based perspective) that by starting with an individual’s abilities both in terms of assessment and intervention, can create more accurate picture of progress and capability. 

Mental health and emotional wellbeing perspectives have been through three major transitions. Pre WWII, alleviating mental illness was closely aligned with improving life satisfaction and promoting positive characteristics. Post war psychology turned towards a deficit model, in which an understanding of how and why people struggle and attempts to explain and control aspects of the ‘illness’ took precedence. In the final turn, at the start of the 21st Century, the concepts of capacity and talent  once again regained status in psychology research and practice.

In general ‘positive psychology’ (the emergent wave mentioned above), emphasises building and maintaining personal well-being by concentrating on key elements including positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning, and achievement.

Taking a strengths based approach also acknowledges the complex systems and influences on the individual – there may be some aspects of the individual’s life that is going really well or they are successful in, even if they experience difficulties in other areas.

Informed by resilience perspectives, the authors of this article propose “looking for and learning from success trajectories to identify critical protective factors within children and their environments most important for this population (Masten, 2014)”. The justification for this approach is that there is no ‘cure’ for ADHD and neither medical nor behavioural techniques alone eradicate the elevated risk for negative outcomes children with this diagnosis typically face.

Resilience research talks about protective Vs risk factors (protective factors helping to increase resilience whilst risk factors threaten resilience). Although research into risk and protective factors associated with ADHD are underdeveloped – the article does highlight some initial research in this area that suggests that “higher IQ, family marital and financial stability, lower early behavioural problems, and social skills were more predictive of better out- comes than the type of treatment received” (e.g., medication vs. behavioural training; Molina et al., 2009).

Maternal mental health, socioeconomic status, individual intelligence

and positive parenting practice (in research looking at parent training programmes) may also act as a ‘buffering’ factors , according to research cited in the article.

So what to do in schools?

The first suggestion the authors make is to introduce strengths based assessment. This means that “in addition to evaluating core ADHD symptomology and co-morbid risks, a strengths-based assessment would use interviews and/or strengths-based rating scales to probe positive areas”, for instance, if football is a skill and strength, how and why is this going well and how can these successes be applied in other contexts in the school environment? A strengths based assessment would also explore how a child is coping with challenges, what is helping to cope well with some challenges and how to transfer these coping skills to other contexts. Finally, a strengths based assessment will look at multiple outcomes rather than just academic progress – such as subjective well-being, life satisfaction, optimism, motivation, and self-esteem. This more valuable assessment technique is likely to be more time consuming but show a clearer and more complex picture of progress.

Within the classroom, the authors suggest that ‘using collaborative group activities, a child with ADHD might be valuable in contributing out-of-the-box ideas, whereas he or she may be less successful in a role of organizing group tasks, taking notes, or creating the timeline’. Planning will obviously need to be differentiated based on individual students, but a detailed data collection of past and current experiences both and out of school should inform this process.  Therefore it is suggested that teachers audit specific strengths and skills a student has and create ‘islands of competence’ from these points, so that the individual feels more confident, has higher self esteem and receives more positive feedback from peers, improving self perception. Encouraging active participation, wide range in variety of tasks, providing task-related choice, using computer-assisted instruction, and scheduling more expectations in morning periods are also all likely to build on strengths.

Children at risk of educational underachievement (not only those with ADHD) will benefit from improving and strengthening relationships with both staff and peers. This will also significantly support staff who are working with children with ADHD, since studies have suggested that developing a meaningful relationship in which staff feel they are an important influence in the child’s life go some way to ameliorating the stress and frustration sometimes experienced by challenging behaviour.

Here is the link to the article : https://www.questia.com/library/journal/1P3-3786190811/adhd-in-schools-adopting-a-strengths-based-perspective

We would welcome any ideas about good existing practice and suggestions for future practice. 

Please do leave your comments below!



Erik Erikson’s Developmental Stages


An oldie but a goodie, Erik Erikson’s psychosocial stages of development is a theory central to our pedagogical understanding that educators have been drawing on since its emergence in 1959. So why a blog post about it now? I find myself having renewed interest in the stages of development in the context of rapid educational reform that is undoubtedly influencing teachers and students experience of work and school. I wonder what links there are between this developmental theory and current school climate and what significance this has for school policy and practice.

Erik Erikson was a student of Anna Freud, daughter of Sigmund Freud, Freud’s famous theories of psychoanalysis surely contributed to the basic outline of the eight stages Erikson later developed, at least those concerned with childhood. The key difference between the two is that whilst Freud believed that development was complete by adolescence, Erikson held the view that we continue to develop all the way through our adult lives. Eight stages were identified between infancy and late adulthood which, to be considered developmentally healthy, we pass through. Ecological and cultural factors combine with biological or genetic factors to draw out these innate challenges. Each individual experiences a psycho-social conflict of these two conflicting forces. If the individual confronts and masters the life challenge presented, he or she will gain a virtue that they carry with them throughout each further life stage. For example, in early adulthood, if a person has more intimacy than isolation, they enter adulthood with the virtue of love.

These stages are presented in more detail below:

Approximate Age Virtues Psychosocial crisis Significant relationship Existential question Examples
Infancy0-2 years Hope Basic trust vs. mistrust Mother Can I trust the world? Feeding, abandonment
Early childhood2–4 years Will Autonomy vs. shame and doubt Parents Is it okay to be me? Toilet training, clothing themselves
Preschool age4–5 years Purpose Initiative vs. guilt Family Is it okay for me to do, move, and act? Exploring, using tools or making art
School age5–12 years Competence Industry vs. inferiority Neighbors, school Can I make it in the world of people and things? School, sports
Adolescence13–19 years Fidelity Identity vs. role confusion Peers, role model Who am I? Who can I be? Social relationships
Early adulthood20–39 years Love Intimacy vs. isolation Friends, partners Can I love? Romantic relationships
Adulthood40–64 years Care Generativity vs. stagnation Household, workmates Can I make my life count? Work, parenthood
Maturity65-death Wisdom Ego integrity vs. despair Mankind, my kind Is it okay to have been me? Reflection on life

As can be seen in the table, the significant relationships that impact psycho social development broaden at each stage. School age children and adolescents have the capacity to be strongly impacted positively by their relationship with peers and trusted adults in the school community. The capacity of students to thrive in school and to progress through the developmental threshold will also be impacted by their experiences in previous stages, for example, whether they have experienced strong healthy attachment relationships, developed a sense of purpose and competence and had opportunities to experiment creatively and enjoy play.

Two stages  are especially of interest to educators and they are school age and adolescence.

During school age, children are developing a moral complex and experimenting with disobedience, rebelliousness and responsibility. This is also a critical stage for developing self confidence – “If children are encouraged to make and do things and are then praised for their accomplishments, they begin to demonstrate industry by being diligent, persevering at tasks until completed, and putting work before pleasure” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erikson%27s_stages_of_psychosocial_development). If children perceive their efforts to be inadequate or do not feel that they gain meaningful recognition or praise from their teacher, and develop inferiority. Industry leads to an internal motivation to follow desires, ambitions and foster talents whilst inferiority is likely to lead to hostility, apathy, low self esteem. If teachers, as is being reported in the current press (https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-views/i-can-be-happy-–-or-i-can-be-a-teacher) are under increasing pressures of workload, higher levels of accountability and less emotionally and physically resourced, then it is likely that the important function of the teacher to enable children to manage this stage will be compromised. It is of fundamental importance that schools do not lose sight of the importance of the small moments of meaningful interaction, the investments of time and resources that over the child’s whole journey through education will powerfully influence their ability to engage academically, contribute to their socio-moral development and also raise teacher satisfaction and efficacy in the process. 

During adolescence, a particularly challenging threshold is presented, identity versus role confusion. Childhood to adulthood transition comprises significant biological development with rapidly increasing understanding of own identity and intentions as well as the needs and intentions of others. In this stage, adolescents “are confronted by the need to re-establish [boundaries] for themselves and to do this in the face of an often potentially hostile world.” (Stevens, 1983) This is particularly challenging since boundaries are enforced, expectations are raised and commitments are being asked for before particular identity roles have formed. In school, students are also summatively assessed, (significantly affecting future life chances), arguably right in the middle of a stage of experimentation, exploration and self discovery which might not be conducive to methodical application of knowledge to standardised testing. Better methods of tracking progress in multiple ways (not just summative test data), allowing more agency, participation, making content relevant and challenging, and allowing time for creative exploration and collaboration are both vital to school success in supporting adolescents.

Current educational climate has the ability to affect professionals in their own personal development too. The most significant stage, generativity versus stagnation, is concerned with making a difference, caring for others and having virtue. Although these desires are primarily what attracts teachers to the profession, it has increasingly been reported that disparity between these ideals and the reality of teaching is the primary cause of the current teacher retention crisis. In order to get the best from their teachers, schools will need to prioritise teacher support (non judgemental and non pay related) and develop a strong sense of school community that draws from shared values of holistic wellbeing and equal participation of staff and students, in addition to reducing administrative tasks and fostering and celebrating staff strengths and achievements.

It is my view that in the current educational climate of increased testing, target setting and accountability; using theories such as Erikson’s psycho-social stages to develop assessment tools (looking at which developmental stages have been problematic), monitor progress and create school policy, will ensure that schools maximise their special position to be able to impact staff and student development and to tell the story of progress more holistically than purely academic data.

As always, we welcome your views on the blog post, questions and personal anecdotes or tips based on own practice. Please comment below and remember, you don’t need to sign in or sign up to do so.

Strengths Based Perspective in Schools


In this week’s blog, the ‘strengths based perspective’ is discussed and it is considered how this theory might relate to the world of education, in particular how it is situated against other traditional perspectives such as a target driven or problem focussed perspective.

This blog draws information from a document published by The Institute for Research and Innovation in Social Services (IRISS), which can be found here: http://www.iriss.org.uk/resources/strengths-based-approaches-working-individuals.

So what is a ‘strengths based perspective’? Well, put simply, a strengths perspective argues against dominant problem focused perspectives and suggests that there is more to gain from starting with the identification of a person or a group’s strengths, contribution or assets. A strengths based perspective is also relational in construct because it concerns itself principally with the quality of the relationship that develops between those providing and being supported, as well as the elements that the person seeking support brings to the process (Duncan and Hubble, 2000).

Applied to schools: A strengths based perspective is potentially transformative when applied to communities, groups or institutions as it does not subscribe to a traditional expert-deficit model in which those seeking support (in the case of education, the students) are of lower status than those providing support (the staff in the school). Instead, traditional hierarchies are broken down in favour of collaborative worked towards shared values or goals. By focusing on pride or achievements, increased confidence is generated. Increased agency and autonomy over the content of curriculum is also a central aspect so that students feel empowered as ‘producers, not recipients’ of development.

Through having high expectations for young people, whatever their skills, needs, understanding and background, strengths-based practitioners “create a climate of optimism, hope, and possibility, which has been shown to have successful outcomes, particularly in work with families (Hopps, Pinderhughes, and Shankar, 1995)”.

Especially in special school environments or children with statements in mainstream schools, it is helpful to start developing strategies for working with individuals from their capabilities rather than what they cannot do. Scanning through the literature I found this article about strengths based perspectives and children with ADHD interesting: https://www.questia.com/library/journal/1P3-3786190811/adhd-in-schools-adopting-a-strengths-based-perspective

In a strengths based approach, the teacher becomes less the ‘holder of knowledge’ or ‘fixer of problems’ but a ‘co-facilitator of solutions’, developing relationships with students, other staff in the school, parents and the wider community, so that marginalised voices can be developed into practice within the school. Within lessons, the teacher draws from students existing knowledge and skills to engage them in learning new information or skills in a way that allows the students an element of autonomy. There will be a strong focus on reinforcing strengths and successes through praise, and gradually building capacity for growth and change.

When teachers invest in building meaningful and collaborative relationships with other staff and students, they are more effective as teachers, their students report feeling more motivated and therefore work harder. In seeing the students engaged and working hard, teacher self efficacy and job satisfaction increases. In this way, the flow of resilience building through strengths based practice can be seen to be synergistic and self reinforcing.

Criticisms of strengths based perspective: are currently that empirical research in the field is limited, and that a focus on personal and community strengths and current resources, rather than what additional support or resources might be needed is a potentially politically manipulated concept in order to justify funding cuts. It is important, when employing this type of positively focused paradigm, that it is balanced with the prevention and identification of preventing risk or problems. As Graybeal (2001) explains, ‘the identification of strengths is not the antithesis of the identification of problems. Instead, it is a large part of the solution’ (p234).

What does your school already do that could be said to draw from ‘strengths based perspective’?

What can schools and teachers develop from these principles and what will the impact on student outcomes and staff well-being be?

We welcome your ideas and questions based on this blog, especially if you would like to share examples from your own practice 

Teacher Resilience and Teacher Type


It is known by a great many teachers that the pressures, workload and culture of performativity and accountability in schools are detrimental to both staff wellbeing and student outcomes. This frustrating dynamic, which fuels further stress and dissatisfaction is clearly leading to some teachers leaving the profession and arguably reducing the quality of teaching in those who stay, in spite of the best efforts of committed teachers, not to mention the impact on personal health and life.

Teachers’ occupational well-being (level of emotional exhaustion and job satisfaction) and falling retention rates in the profession have been well documented in the press in the last few weeks:


In this week’s blog post, I introduce a piece of research by Klusmann et al http://www.researchgate.net/profile/Mareike_Kunter/publication/232501298_Teachers’_occupational_well-being_and_quality_of_instruction_The_important_role_of_self-regulatory_patterns/links/5537882f0cf268fd0018a346.pdf in which the authors suggest that how effective the teacher is likely to be under stress, pedagogical quality and ability to motivate students.

Informed by a transactional perspective from health psychology, the authors propose that features of the working environment within schools interacting with teachers’ personal characteristics “are conceived to be antecedents of teachers’ occupational well-being, teachers’ instructional performance in the classroom, and student outcomes”.

The authors are heavily influenced by Schaarschmidt et al. (1999) who identified four ‘types’ of teacher.

  • Type H -named the ‘healthy – ambitious’ demonstrated high scores on both occupational engagement and resilience
    and was the most successful ‘type’ due to less reports of physical and psychological strain, lower absence rates, and lower means on the three burnout symptoms than other types. Type H also had the highest self reported security of pedagogical knowledge.
  • Type U – is characterised by low occupational engagement but high resilience, meaning the teacher is likely to stay in the profession and is not at risk for either burnout or stress but arguably may not be as effective in terms of motivating students or collaborating with other colleagues
  • Type A – is the excessively ambitious type, which is at high risk for burnout due to excessive demands on personal time, lack of resources or mis match between expectations and ideals, and practical reality.
  • Type R – Has low occupational engagement and low stress resistance, resulting in, as you might expect, the highest risk of absence, burnout and poor efficacy.

Klusmann et al found that there was a slight trend in their sample to suggest gender influence – with more men than women as type U or H and more women than men as type A or R. Amount of teaching experience and age seemed to have little or no impact on teacher type. Klusmann et al found that (as suggested by previous research above)

“teachers belonging to the H type reported statistically significantly less emotional exhaustion than teachers of the other types”


“the A type and the R type scored highest on emotional exhaustion”

H type teachers also scored more highly for job satisfaction, followed by U types with R and A types down at the bottom with minimal job satisfaction in comparison. 

Interestingly, this study went one step further than asking teachers about their perspective and sought out student perceptions of teacher efficacy by examining scores on :

  • classroom management
  • tempo
  • cognitive activation
  • perceived social support

By producing a survey rated from strongly agree to strongly disagree, students gave staff a rating and individual student ratings were aggregated to produce a class mean. In spite of the subjective skewing of results here (did the survey follow a good or bad lesson, was the teacher effective at teaching or did the student enjoy the lesson more etc), the measure is vita in extending our view of the ‘teacher types’ and the impact on student motivation.

Th results showed that there was no ‘type specific’ classroom management score, however, interaction tempo (speed of interaction between teacher and student) was seen as slightly better suited to students needs when relating to type H teachers than type R.

H and A type were both reported by students to set challenging cognitive lessons and fuel learning, compared to poor type R results. Social support results mirrored this pattern, with type H and A teachers being perceived to offer high levels of support in comparison to low levels of type U and R.

Finally, Type H teachers also scored very highly on student reports of motivation in lessons through increased opportunities for autonomy and competence. The authors then found that motivation was actually a result of the other two factors – i.e. if cognitive challenge is high and emotional support is also presumed to be high, motivation to engage will follow. This strongly corroborates my masters research in the previous blog post I shared. 

So what is the importance of this research for teachers (and students)?

We need to learn from the successes of H type teachers to support and retain good teachers and prevent burnout. Without intervention measures, it is likely that type R and U teacher wellbeing will decrease further over time. The authors suggest that “self-regulatory skills and coping behavior” training and awareness might enhance not only teachers’ occupational well-being but also their impact for students in the classroom.

Having read the article, I wonder how likely it is that these teacher types are fixed and inherent to our personalities, or whether, as I suspect is more likely, they are dynamic and fluid constructs that merge and are malleable. The ‘type’ of teacher you are is highly likely to be pre-empted by personal traits, however, the context (school climate, leadership etc) and culture (policy, politics, curricula etc) one is teaching in will surely increase or decrease occupational engagement and job satisfaction.

What this could mean is that if workload and pressure on teachers continued to rise, a whole lot of potential H type teachers, with the capacity to motivate our students, could be lost to U or R type (as they become disillusioned / less professionally motivated) depending on personal levels of resilience, both less preferable. A type teachers will undoubtedly burnout more quickly as workload is increased. 

In conclusion, systemic change must bring about better awareness of the links between teacher type and student outcomes as well as increase support for teachers to increase job satisfaction, wellbeing and professional engagement, resulting also in students experiencing the best teaching from the best teachers because, as the authors state: “engaged and resilient teachers were perceived to be more attentive to their students’ individual needs”. 

What type of teacher are you? Can you see traits of your own personality in this list? Do the results surprise you?

What steps do you think schools and government could take to better support teachers to find the balance of H type teachers?

We welcome your comments and ideas!

Engaging disengaged learners

Peter pan

This week’s blog post examines a paper I wrote called Lost Boys: Re-engaging male students in education using a creative arts intervention. In this post, I provide the main points of the essay as well as introducing the concept of engagement and my own adaptation of the concept, which may be of good use to your own planning and pedagogy. 

The title The Lost Boys is derived from the classic book, Peter Pan, in which a tribe of ever youthful boys has been sent to Neverland as a result of ‘falling out’ of their pram when their nurse was not looking. In British education, there is increasingly reported concern, that in the context of disruptive behaviour and a perceived decline in academic standards, a growing number of young people, and in particular, boys, are being ‘lost’ by an education system that struggles to engage these students.

In 1997, Keele University’s research indicated that 40% of year 10 and 11 students belonged to three groups – the ‘disappointed’, the ‘disaffected’ and the ‘disappeared’ (Barber, 1997) and that by the age of 16 up to 40 per cent of boys are ‘lost’ to education (Evans, 1996). In the 1980’s film of the same name, the ‘lost boys’, who are vampires, render anyone who lets them into their homes powerless. Similarly, teachers have reported feelings of helplessness and hopelessness in their attempts to tackle the problem of the ‘lost’ boys of education, resorting to excluding these students from the classroom or school.

Let’s take a closer look at the slippery term ‘engagement’. Although an educational buzzword for some time now, in academia and education research especially, it has some quite specific components that not only detail what is meant by engagement but also what can be done to increase engagement.

In a review of forty four studies on student engagement, Fredricks et al (2004) employed a three dimensional model to classify understandings of engagement as emotional, behavioural and cognitive. The authors argue that engagement can be thought of as a ‘meta’ construct in which multiple components are present. Emotion, behaviour and cognition are presented as three core components and Fredericks et al argue that these factors are dynamically interrelated within each individual child.

Breaking the definition down further, Fredericks et al describe emotional engagement as students’ personal attitudes to learning and relationships with peers, teachers and other staff. Behavioural engagement is seen as the extent to which a student willingly participates in academic, social and extracurricular activities (such as attendance in lessons and after school clubs). The notion of behaviour is therefore extended beyond student behaviour in lessons to their overall level of participation in school life. Reschly and Christenson’s (2006b) model of engagement also identifies a behavioural dimension and suggests that attendance, voluntary participation and suspension could be seen as indicators of behavioural engagement.

Lastly, cognitive engagement is defined by Fredericks et al as the extent to which students personally invest in self regulated, focused learning (such as time taken over homework).

In my masters dissertation also entitled Lost Boys, a twelve week intervention programme in a mainstream context was trialled with boys at risk of exclusion. The project utilised creative arts as a way to increase the students ability to express and challenge their perceptions and experiences of school, with the aim of re-engaging in learning. I was also interested in redefining the construct of engagement so that dynamic flow between aspects of engagement were clear.

Through digital photography (where the boys ‘remastered’ their own portrait, adapting the image to express something of their own personality / experiences), graffiti art, lyric writing, film making and theatre, the students gradually formed a strong working group with good attendance and positive contributions during sessions. The projected attracted positive media attention in the form of a promotion from Sir Ken Robinson, an article from the Guardian and a feature on BBC South today. Students celebrated their work via an exhibition in which they dressed in suits and ties and proudly displayed their art work to the very teachers and parents they had complained misunderstood them or did not expect them to achieve anything. The most obvious successes were not possible to collect as hard data, anecdotally, the glow on the students faces and the pride in being successful in school (in many cases or the first time) in the presence of those adults was priceless.

The project was highly successful both in terms of student self report, teacher perception and actual attendance rates, academic results and behavioural data.

After the intervention, student surveys indicated a change in attitudes and self perception. In comparison to the survey carried out prior to the intervention, it can be seen in the chart below that, in each of the five aspects, students’ average self rating score (out of ten) was higher at the end of the project and, in particular, participants thought they had most improved their behaviour and ability to focus in lessons.

The central tension to the project was how to embed this positive impact in normal timetabled lessons, in spite of bigger class sizes, restricted time and resources.

The students’ needs of competence and relatedness were more adequately fulfilled within the intervention project, whereas (due in part to the restrictions of class sizes, time and resources. Students had identified feeling much more successful and interested in the work during the project and these needs were less likely to be met in normal lessons resulting in a decrease in intrinsic motivation and effort. A mentoring programme was set up where older students who had participate din the project mentored younger students. I also regularly met with students as they gradually integrated back into a normal timetable.

As a current check up, seven of 8 boys are known to have completed college level education and are now either in full-time education or employment. One boy moved house and it is not possible to track his progress. This suggests that the project did have a lasting impact in terms of reframing students own self expectation and commitment to school.

With regards to whether the study can be replicated or repeated I would say that it has greater value when considering the long term benefit of forming secure and healthy attachment relationships with teachers who can inspire a positive perception of school and foster experiences of success, mastery and competence.

Working with adolescents, who are in the process of forming their own personal identity and their first meaningful relationships outside of their immediate family, the emotional / psychological dimension of engagement is fundamental in order for students to engage on a behavioural and cognitive / academic level. Whilst it was also crucial that the content of the intervention was engaging as well as allowing students to explore issues of self identity and expression (this will be explored in further depth in the discussion of data linked specifically to cognitive / academic engagement), the impact that my positive expectations and willingness to engage with students in a relationship had on their performance in school is undeniably important. As Ryan et al noted in 1994:

In virtually every domain of human endeavour there is mounting evidence that a network of supportive relationships facilitates an individual’s motivation, self-reliance and relative achievement (p.226).

As a result of personalising rather than standardising education, engagement can be seen as the result of healthy teacher student relationships and appropriately challenging and relevant content of lessons.

As Robinson (2009, p.248) concludes, ‘learning happens in the minds and souls, not in the

databases of multiple-choice tests.’

To read the study in full, visit: https://www.dropbox.com/


Please comment on this blog post to share your own experiences of drivers of student engagement and tips for others in how to use the concept of engagement in your planning and practice. 

Literacy rich schools


Last week marked International Literacy Day, celebrating the many organisations and individuals across the world who play a role in helping children and young people to engage in the modern world and explore our rich histories, through literacy.

Last week’s post drew heavily from a book to look at existing ideas about questions in the classroom. This week, I want to set the scene of literacy accords the curriculum, and this link will take you to a good book that goes into far greater depth than I can in this short post: https://books.google.co.uk/books?hl=en&lr=&id=Q3jsAgAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PP1&dq=literacy+in.schools+cross+curricular&ots=1eQEa4Mvdq&sig=ofiSZOVpymvPu5LmFzccfCnxYKo#v=onepage&q=literacy%20in.schools%20cross%20curricular&f=false.

In particular the book gives a good introductory overview of how policy and practice has developed in relation to literacy in the classroom, including teacher training, national curriculum content and core literacy standards. 

This week’s post has deliberately less of an academic thrust so examine that resource to your teaching needs in addition to this blog.

For some, the love of reading and the desire to write comes easily. For others the task is harder. Learning to read and write begins a long time before formal schooling. Vocabulary development, having access to a range of texts and understanding the goals of reading are all early building blocks of literacy later in life. In terms of building resilience in children who might experience all kinds of disadvantage (learning disabilities, family instability and poverty amongst other potential factors) that impact their ability to engage in education, literacy is a golden shining key of potential life change towards fostering aspiration and positive outcomes.

It is widely accepted that children have a range of different strengths and learning styles, being able to excel in Science or Music for example, whilst struggling to write legibly. In addition, those who are keen language enthusiasts (as I was at school) enjoy listening to and forming language, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that they will write or read to the same level (my own handwriting was compared in one report to a spider having fallen into the ink pot and then drunkenly crawling to safety across the page).

Perhaps for some children, experiences of literacy so far in life, whether at school or at home, or both, have been more difficult, perhaps they have not installed a feeling of mastery or success, and it is this feeling of accomplishment and progress, alongside the ability to see the purpose and benefit of literacy that fuels a desire to improve one’s skills. 

I have two stand out memories of literacy in my schooling. One teacher made me read out my homework to the class because she felt it had ‘some sound merit’ in spite of the appalling handwriting. I found this embarrassing and uncomfortable. For a while, I avoided handwriting at all, and when I did I wrote in capitals so as to be clearer, until my RE teacher commented in red pen that I had ‘shouted my way through the essay’. Conversely, my English teacher at A-Level fuelled my love of both writing and reading, taking time to discuss my reflections on the novels we studied and engaging in a dialogue over the written work that went beyond handwriting to consider positioning the reader, forming an argument and poetic description. It was the first time I really considered literacy to be anything other than handwriting.

UNESCO recently released new data that shows that 115 million young people between the ages of 15 and 24, still cannot even read or write a simple sentence (http://www.uis.unesco.org/literacy/Documents/fs32-2015-literacy.pdf). This data indicates an urgent need for international communities to step up to the challenge of ensuring all children have access to education that places literacy at the heart of the curriculum. Whilst South and West Asia and Sub Saharan Africa are the geographical regions with the poorest literacy rates, in the UK, we are faced with a striking and unacceptable gap in attainment for vulnerable children (looked after children (http://www.literacytrust.org.uk/assets/0001/4326/Looked_after_children_and_literacy_LP_review_2012.pdf), children from low income families (http://www.savethechildren.org.uk/sites/default/files/docs/closing-the-achievement-gap.pdf), children with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties and children with physical disabilities).

In response to national concern about literacy levels, the term ‘literacy across the curriculum’ is now a well worn phrase used in most schools to describe the joint effort of all teachers within the school to transfer and apply the generic skills of reading, writing, speaking and listening to any/all areas of the curriculum in an effort to show the importance of literacy as a life skill and not just to pass English.

It is excellent practice for schools to have shared literacy marking strategies and to decide specific targets or literacy focus for students across the curriculum. In a small school, individual literacy targets can be shared with every teacher to inform lesson planning and marking. Moderating to ensure shared values and consistent marking across the curriculum via teacher inset sessions is a useful discussion point, not only to avoid disparity of student experiences of feedback but also to ensure teachers are identifying lessons where students excel in their writing and share effective techniques to support across the curriculum. Finally, involving students in the design and review of the literacy curriculum is a a good way to ensure relevance and autonomy.

Regardless of subject, these three aspects are essential to engaging young people in reading and writing opportunities:

  • Purpose (Why is this important to read? Who am I writing it for? Do I care? Does anyone care about what I write?) 
  • Relevance (Does what I read matter to me? Why bother writing this? Will it make a difference? Is it related to my own interests / life? What can I express about myself through my words?)
  • Community (How can I impact or help others by what I write? Can I support others to read or be mentored to read by someone in my community? Can my writing be part of creative enterprise, charity or fundraising?)

The moment a student feels motivated to read and write because they believe there is a purpose beyond getting better at reading and writing itself, literacy skills will begin to develop naturally and quickly. Writing doesn’t have to be essay format of course, lyrics, business plans, CVs, poems, stories, news reports, scientific analysis and film scripts, the list is endless and a vast range of writing opportunities should be woven into all subjects that encourage expression as much as focus on technical accuracy.

Vygotsky’s belief that learning should be a social act is key. Less teacher talk and more student discussion and discovery of their own answers will aid the type of informal language exploration that leads to building confidence in literacy.

Allowing thinking time, pair discussion time and so on leads to more fruitful responses and better articulated responses to questions in oral discussion. The family and community literacy of parents, carers, teachers and other school staff is of course also crucial, creating a nurturing culture of adults who also embrace and share their literacy experiences with the children they support.

More to come on the subject of literacy in future weeks as the federation of schools work with a range of international teachers to design literacy interventions that cross borders!

If you have time, please do share some of the ways in which you or your school supports literacy development. Is there a particular scheme of work that works well? How do you collaborate as a staff team to raise literacy levels? How do you collaborate with families, young people and the wider community in terms of literacy?