• A Phenomenological Study of Middle School Students’ Experiences with Agentic Engagement at School

      Berglund, Kirstin N; Tift College of Education
      Many schools today are striving to provide their students with opportunities to take an active role in their education. This proactive role, referred to as student agency, involves students having and making choices, collaborating with their teachers, and having a voice in their education. In fact, agency has been added as a new aspect of engagement, called agentic engagement. The current body of literature on agentic engagement has shown it can help to increase student achievement, motivation, and engagement in class. Although the idea of fostering student agency and helping students to become agentically engaged in class has been growing in popularity, there are many interpretations of how to best implement the necessary instructional practices to provide students these opportunities, including in the middle school setting. This qualitative phenomenological study examined middle school students’ experiences exercising agentic engagement in class. I interviewed and conducted in-class observations of nine seventh-grade students who were the participants in this study. The data analysis process sought to determine the essence of students’ experiences with agentic engagement during their classes. I examined the data using social cognitive theory to investigate students’ actions in class and self-determination theory to better understand students’ experiences with agentic engagement. The data from this study revealed students’ personal and behavioral characteristics as well as the characteristics of the learning environment influenced their experiences with agency and agentic engagement. Within the context of the learning environment, the data revealed students were more likely to have the opportunity to experience agentic engagement when their teachers had an autonomy-supportive teaching style. I only witnessed one student experiencing agentic engagement. An individual textural description of her experience revealed three themes: Demonstrating Self-Knowledge, Communicating with Autonomy-Supportive Teachers, and Collaborating with Autonomy-Supportive Teachers. Recommendations for future research included collecting more qualitative data, interviewing teachers to gather their insights then comparing and contrasting students’ and teachers’ perspectives of agentic engagement, examining the different aspects of agentic engagement to see which ones may be most impactful to students, conducting a similar study in a setting in which most teachers adopt an autonomy-supportive teaching style, and interviewing students across multiple grade levels to compare and contrast their experiences with agentic engagement.