Abstract: What Builds a Community of Engaged Learners? Preliminary Evidence from a Multilevel Analysis of Classroom Practices (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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604P What Builds a Community of Engaged Learners? Preliminary Evidence from a Multilevel Analysis of Classroom Practices

Tuesday, January 19, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Tasha Seneca Keyes, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Utah, UT
Ryan D. Heath, Assistant Professor, Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY
Background/Purpose: The transition to high school is critical for long-term success, and innovative strategies are required to support and engage ninth grade students. Past research shows that a both a sense of belonging and level of engagement are necessary for adolescents to feel a sense of a community in class, but less known about how adults can foster these sentiments. Teachers’ practices may either cultivate or diminish the sense of a learning community, but little research that examined the role of such practices in promoting a community of engaged learners.

To address this gap, this study investigates the association between teacher practices (lesson organization and structure, academic support) to a measure of community of engaged learners.

Methods: Hierarchical linear modeling (HLM) was used to analyze data from the 2014-15 Chicago Public School’s My Voice My School (MVMS) survey of ninth grade student (n=16,072). Rasch Analysis was conducted on all survey items, which produces both student scores and estimates of measurement error. Three-level HLM was used to account for measurement error, student-level scores and covariates, as well as school-level covariates.

On the MVMS, students reported on teachers’ lesson organization and academic support, and their sense of a community of engaged learners. The latter measure captures students’ combined sense of belonging and engagement in their ninth grade classrooms, and included five items drawn from previous qualitative research by the first author.

HLM models controlled for multiple factors; student-level covariates were race/ethnicity, sex, living in a high poverty neighborhood, special education status, and GPA; school-level covariates included SES and Teacher-Student Trust.

Results: Several important trends emerged by both teacher practices as well as student demographics. Teachers’ lesson organization (β = 0.035, p < 0.05) and academic support (β = 0.055, p < 0.001) had a small but significant effect on students’ perception of being in a community of engaged learners. However, regardless of classroom and school factors, Latinx students were less likely to feel they were in a classroom community of engaged learners, while males had a higher perception of being in a classroom community of engaged learners than females. Interestingly, both students receiving special education and students with high GPAs also reported a higher perception of being in a community of engaged learners.

Implications: Our findings confirm the importance of classroom practices for promoting a sense of community and engagement for ninth grade students, but also raise questions about differences by student identity and the role of school social workers. For teachers, findings suggest the need to organize their classroom lessons and differentiate academic support for students to foster a community of engaged learners. While one interpretation might be that teachers are not doing enough, it likely reflects the additional support teachers need to face growing demographic shifts and demands facing public schools. School social workers are well positioned to assist teachers to create classroom communities of engaged learners. The important findings regarding special education highlight an essential role school social workers might play in helping create communities of engaged learners.