Investigating Australian students' engagement and participation in science classrooms
Student engagement has been identified as an important area of educational research for many decades as it has shown to have a strong effect on student academic achievement. Day-to-day classroom participation practices increase students’ overall level of participation and engagement, therefore there has been a large emphasis placed on promoting these practices among students. A students’ verbal participation is often favoured over their non-verbal participation practices, especially in the subject of science with the rise of constructivist teaching methods. This may have implications for silent, non-verbal learners who enact more non-verbal practices. Research has also shown that students’ perceptions and beliefs about themselves, their teachers, and their peers have an impact on their classroom behaviours. This research project utilises William Sewell’s (1992) sociological theory of structure and agency as a lens for the study. The project also uses Chien, Chun, Martin, Chu, and Chang's (2018) and Kang, Chu, & Martin's (2018) framework of factors that influence verbal and non-verbal participation and the Engagement and Participation In Classroom-Science (EPIC-S) questionnaire (Ahn, Chu, Martin, Chien, Chun & Chang, 2016; Chien, Chun, Martin, Chu Ahn & Change, 2016; Martin, Chu, Ahn, & Park, 2015). Using the EPIC-S survey instrument, data was collected from 85 males and 25 females (110 in total), Stage 6 science students from across 3 schools in Sydney. The study analysed these students’ responses and reports on the correlations between the scales of the EPIC-S questionnaire and the group variables of the participants.
The findings from the research indicate that the surveyed students enact both verbal and non-verbal practices in the classroom and have generally positive perceptions of expectations, attitudes and relationships in the classroom. Findings also showed that students’ verbal participation correlated with students’ perceived expectations of verbal participation, interest in science, peer support, teacher openness, fear of embarrassment and self-effacement. The results indicated that non-verbal participation correlated with students’ perceived expectations of non-verbal participation, interest in science and peer support. The only group variable that affected the students’ reported verbal and non-verbal practices were the number of hours the students spent studying science outside of school. The study fills a gap in the literature by providing vital information about both students’ verbal and non-verbal practices in the context of Australian science classrooms. It also qualitatively validates the EPIC-S questionnaire, which has only been used in Asian countries, at the design stage through literature studies and expert discussions and after data analysis by classroom observations and student interviews. Thus, allowing for it to be used for further studies in the context of Australia. Future research could use the EPICS questionnaire with a larger number of participants from more diverse backgrounds and conduct more statistical analysis on student responses to confidently identify factors that potentially influence participation and increase the generalisability of the findings.