Teaching to improve student engagement in Ag Ed.



WHY STUDY STUDENT ENGAGEMENT? Nine years after the passing of No Child Left Behind of 2001, many students are still disengaged in learning, and the national dropout rate continues to increase. Why is this? One answer may be student boredom. Findings from the 2009 High School Survey of Student Engagement (HSSSE) determined that two out of three students were either bored every day, or every class (Yazzie-Mintz, 2010). When students were asked why they were bored, 81 percent responded that the content was not interesting, 42 percent stated that the content wasn't relevant, and 35 percent indicated that they had no interaction with the teachers (Yazzie-Mintz). How can this be improved?

To address this issue, current educational policy has been fixated on the topic of student performance on standardized tests, which does provide a measure of student achievement. However, standardized tests have done little to determine which components of the teaching and learning process lead to student achievement (Yazzie-Mintz, 2009). If teachers are to be held accountable for student learning, they should not only be informed on what concepts need to be taught more effectively, but also informed about how to teach these concepts for improved learning. Student engagement is a multifaceted construct that has high correlations with academic achievement, but instead of measuring the learning outcome of concept attainment, student engagement gauges the student's investment in learning (Fredericks, Blumenfeld, and Paris, 2004).

Although many researchers have provided evidence that students enrolled in agricultural education programs have equal or higher scores on state standardized tests when compared to students not enrolled in agricultural education courses, little work has been done in the area of student engagement. What factors contribute to student engagement in agricultural education? To answer this question, one must realize that agricultural education is unique because of two intracurricular components: the supervised agricultural experience (SAE) program, which provides opportunity for students to practice work-based skills, and the student FFA organization, which fosters leadership skill development.

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Although both the FFA and SAE programs are components of the agricultural education program, it may be possible for students to be engaged in one and not the other. Also, because the HSSSE does not have any questions related to work-based learning or specific student organization activities, it was soon apparent that an instrument was needed to be developed to measure student engagement in FFA and SAE activities. Once an instrument can accurately identify levels of student engagement in the classroom, FFA and SAE activities, one can begin to identify practices to improve students' engagement in learning while participating in these activities.

The purpose of our study was to determine the level of student engagement in agricultural education programs and identify factors that contribute to student engagement in agricultural education classrooms, SAE programs and chapter FFA organizations. The study was completed with grant funding from The National FFA Organization, and with the cooperation of the Center for Evaluation and Educational Policy at Indiana University.

Methodology

Convenience sampling was used to select 11 states to participate in the study, which included: California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Louisiana, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas and Virginia. Within each state, 20 secondary agricultural education programs were randomly selected and asked to participate, and then one class was randomly assigned within each program to complete the surveys. For this initial study, a total of 152 programs participated, which included 2,106 students enrolled in the selected agricultural education courses (Friedel, Ricketts, Rhoades, Irani and Stedman, 2009).

The HSSSE was used to collect information regarding classroom student engagement in agricultural education programs and consists of three dimensions: behavioral engagement, cognitive engagement and emotional engagement (Yazzie-Mintz, 2009). Behavioral engagement was defined as a student's action in social, extracurricular and non-academic school activities, including interactions with other students within the school community. Cognitive engagement, as a dimension, was defined as a student's effort, investment and strategies for learning. Finally, the dimension of emotional engagement was defined as a student's feelings of connection to his or her teachers and school. HSSSE currently has the largest national database for high school student engagement allowing investigators to compare data with national norms.

Because agricultural education programs are unique, with intracurricular KEY and SAE components, the Agricultural Student Engagement Survey (ASES) was attached to the HSSSE for the purpose of measuring student engagement in FFA and SAE activities. The ASES was developed through a review of literature, edited by a panel of researchers, and pilot tested prior to this study. Dimensions of the ASES include behavioral engagement, cognitive engagement and emotional engagement; similar to the dimensions of the HSSSE.

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A third and final instrument, the Agricultural Instructor Survey of Teaching and Advising Practices (AISTAP) was completed by agricultural educators to determine the classroom, FFA and SAE practices used by agricultural teachers to encourage student engagement. Items were developed front a review of the literature, edited by a panel of researchers, and pilot tested prior to conducting this study.

How Engaged are Ag Ed Students?

The database associated with the HSSSE allowed the comparison of the 2,106 students participating in this study with 66,062 students completing the HSSSE during the same semester. Dimension mean scores for students enrolled in agricultural education programs included: behavioral engagement (M = 7.81), cognitive engagement (M = 34.79), emotional engagement (M = 25.32), and a summed total engagement score (M = 67.92). The average score for HSSSE dimensions during the Spring 2009 semester included: behavioral engagement. (M = 7.67), cognitive engagement (M = 34.75), emotional engagement (M = 24.74), and a summed total engagement score (M = 67.16).

Agricultural education students participating in this study, on average, were significantly higher in both behavioral engagement and emotional engagement, but with small effect size indicating little practical significance. Table 1 presents these comparisons.
Table 1: HSSSE Dimension Scores Comparing Ag Ed Students with
Student Norms

Dimension M Dimension Norm P Effect Size

Classroom total engagement 67.92 67.16 - -

Classroom behavioral 7.81 7.67 .02 * .005
engagement

Classroom cognitive 34.79 34.75 .85 .00
engagement

Classroom emotional 25.32 24.74 .00 * .10
engagement

Note. * indicates statistical significant difference.
Analysis conducted by the Center for Evaluation and Educational
Policy at Indiana University. Scale ranges for classroom
dimensions of student engagement: classroom total engagement
(0 to 121), classroom behavioral engagement (0 to 17),
classroom cognitive engagement (0 to 65), and classroom
emotional engagement (0 to 39).


The value of having FFA student engagement scores is that it allows researchers to identify benchmark levels of FFA engagement for future comparisons to individual agricultural education programs. Students in these 11 states, on average, had an FFA behavioral engagement score of 13.18 (SD = 5.35), FFA cognitive engagement score of 15.88 (SD = 6.40), and FFA emotional engagement of 24.58 (SD = 4.38). These construct scores of engagement were summed to determine a total measure of FFA engagement, which on average, was a score of 53.68 (SD = 13.64). It was noted that the mean score for FFA emotional engagement was closer to the higher end of the scale than the other two constructs of student engagement. Table 2 presents more detailed information regarding the mean scores of FFA student engagement.
Table 2: FFA Student Engagement Mean Scores

Construct M SD

FFA total engagement 53.68 13.64
FFA behavioral engagement 13.18 5.35
FFA cognitive engagement 15.88 6.40
FFA emotional engagement 24.58 4.38

Note. Scale ranges for student engagement in FFA activities: total FFA
student engagement (19 to 95), FFA behavioral engagement (7 to 35),
FFA cognitive engagement (6 to 30), and FFA emotional
engagement (6 to 30).


The value of having SAE student engagement scores is that it allows researchers to identify benchmark levels of SAE engagement for future comparisons to individual agricultural education programs. Students in these 11 states, on average, had an SAE behavioral engagement score of 6.64 (SD = 3.17), SAE cognitive engagement score of 11.86 (SD = 5.23), and SAE emotional engagement of 22.10 (SD = 5.24). These construct scores of engagement were summed to determine a total measure of SAE engagement, which on average, was a score of 40.62 (SD = 10.83). It was noted that the mean score for SAE behavioral engagement was particularly low considering the scale range and standard deviation. Table 3 presents more detailed Information regarding the mean scores of SAE student engagement.
Table 3: SAE Student Engagement Mean Scores

Construct M SD

SAE total engagement 40.62 10.83
SAE behavioral engagement 6.64 3.17
SAE cognitive engagement 11.86 5.23
SAE emotional engagement 22.10 5.24

Note. Scale ranges for student engagement in SAE activities: total
SAE student engagement (15 to 75), SAE behavioral engagement (4 to 20)
SAE cognitive engagement (5 to 25), and SAE
emotional engagement (6 to 30).


Practices Related to student Engagement

At the time of writing this report, findings from this study have been preliminary, and causal relationships have yet to be determined. However, there was empirical and literary evidence to support a list of teaching practices associated with higher levels of student engagement. The following list of classroom, FFA and SAE teaching and advising practices have been supported by correlations with student engagement dimensions and mean scores indicating that these practices could be employed more in the typical agricultural education classroom.

Classroom engagement suggested practices:

* Assign two to three hours of written assignments per week (preferably-related to SAE and FFA projects).

* Assign two to three hours of reading per week (preferably related to SAE and FFA projects).

* Encourage rough drafts of paper and presentation assignments before having students turn in the final draft.

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* Assign more one- to two-page written papers and continue the number of written papers having five or more pages.

* Require more papers or projects to have research completed using outside resources (i.e., Internet, magazines, interviews, etc.).

* Discuss more questions that are complex and have no obvious answers.

* Promote healthy peer relationships among students.

FFA engagement suggested practices:

* Encourage students to wear FFA official dress during FFA activities (at least twice a month).

* Encourage students to spend more time practicing for FFA Career Development Events after school hours.

* Require students to complete FFA applications for chapter office, scholarship, proficiency, etc.

* Provide students with opportunities to plan FFA activities.

SAE engagement suggested practices:

* Assign a research paper to explore career options related to SAE projects.

* Require all students to have an SAE project.

* Develop assignments for students to use the Internet to research special topics related to SAE projects.

* Incorporate SAE projects as a percentage of students' final course grade.

* Spend additional time teaching record book entry to students new to the agricultural education program.

It is important to note that simply performing one of the previously listed practices will not compel students to be engaged. Rather, it seems that incorporating an assortment of practices that promote student engagement may cultivate students' engagement in learning. Further, there may be many other practices contributing to student engagement that were: nor identified in this study; therefore, this list has been determined to be incomplete until more research can be conducted.

It is recommended that more research be conducted to identify agricultural education student engagement levels in other states. Additional research may also determine if specific programs and curriculum improve student engagement in agricultural education programs. The continued measurement of student engagement in agricultural education programs can lead to the development of student engagement benchmarks for classroom. FFA and SAE activities. This work can inform the agricultural education profession about good teaching and advising practices that increase student engagement in the classroom and intra-curricular components of agricultural education.

References

Fredericks, J. A., Blumenfeld, P. C, and Paris, A. H. (2004). "School Engagement: Potential of "he Concept, State of the Evidence. "Review of Educational Research 7A(1), 59-109.

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Friedel, C., Ricketts, J., Rhoades, E, Irani, T., Stedman. N. [2009]. "Student Engagement in Secondary Agricultural Education Programs." (Research Report No. 32921). Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University, School of Human Resource Education and Workforce Development.

Yazzie-Mintz, E. (2009). "Charting the Path from Engagement to Achievement: A Report of the 2009 High School Survey of Student Engagement." Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Center For Evaluation and Education Policy.

Yazzie-Mintz, E. (2010, March). "Leading for Engagement." Principal Leadership 10(7), 54-58.

Curtis R. Friedel, Ph.D., is an assistant professor at Louisiana State University, He can be contacted at cfriedel@|su.edu.

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