University of Tasmania
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Re-engagement of students after an alternative education program

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posted on 2023-05-27, 11:53 authored by Thomas, JK
Alternative educational programs for students at risk of not completing high school have been a feature of Australian education for many years, but a recurring concern with these programs is their effectiveness. One claim is that such programs indirectly do harm to students by not encouraging schools and teachers to make the necessary adaptations at the classroom level, and so have the effect of 'pushing' students out of mainstream schooling and onto short-term programs that do not advantage their longterm academic or social development. This study investigated this concern, using an alternative program linked to a mainstream high school. In all, 46 high school students (26 boys and 20 girls, aged 12 to 16) participated in the Reengagement for Disengaged Youth (ReDY) program for around 12 months, over the period 2010‚ÄövÑvÆ2014. This annex program was designed to support disengaged students to reengage and eventually reintegrate back into a mainstream educational setting. The philosophy of the ReDY program was based on the idea that students could successfully reengage in education if they identified goals, and voluntarily worked to improve, in the academic, social and personal areas that led to their disengagement in mainstream school. It involved three staff members who designed and implemented personalised programs around each student's reengagement goals. The students in the ReDY program were identified as at risk of not completing secondary school, and were selected if they could demonstrate a desire to work towards their reengagement goals. The two research questions under investigation in this study were: ‚Äö To what extent, and in what ways, was the ReDY program effective? ‚Äö For participating students, did this effectiveness extend across cognitive, behavioural and affective dimensions of engagement? These questions were investigated using data sourced from student and staff interviews along with student survey data and school report data from the mainstream 'host' school, gathered from the time before students entered the ReDY program and after they returned to the mainstream environment. The data were coded into each of the three dimensions of cognitive, affective and behavioural engagement, and analysed to determine the strength of engagement of the students before, during and after participation in the ReDY program. The results indicated that the three-dimensional construct of engagement was useful in describing the changing nature of students' engagement with school. When seen through a three-dimensional lens, disengagement is seen as a complex interaction between a student's cognitive, affective and behavioural relationship with education. Many of the common features of effective alternative education programs include relational teaching, a high ratio of staff to students, a 'wrap around' approach recognising the whole student, personalised learning, and strategies derived from a positive psychology and a focus on the wellbeing of the whole person and the need consider each student's academic, social‚Äö-emotion and behavioural development. These were affirmed as mechanisms that positively influence the process of students' engagement with schooling; that is, the evidence from this qualitative and quantitative study supports the worth of alternative education programs for students at risk of disconnecting from schooling and supports the use of cognitive, affective and behavioural dimensions to evaluate the effectiveness of such programs. The findings from this study have implications for practice in the area of engaging students in learning and behaviour management in mainstream schools. Teachers and administrators can use the indicators of engagement to identify the early stages of students' disengagement, and work towards preventing further disengagement and promoting reengagement. The study also presents implications for alternative education programs aiming to reengage students into mainstream environments. In particular it was noted that strategies to strengthen behavioural skills, such as conduct, attendance and participation, were also used as mechanisms for increasing students' cognitive and affective engagement. However, further research is called for, especially in the development of pedagogies for effective reengagement, and in the ways in which the environment that mainstream schools provide for disengaged students can strengthen students' cognitive, affective and behavioural engagement and development.


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