This study explored the construct of student engagement in secondary schools from students’ perspectives. While Canadian high school students perform exceptionally well on international achievement measures, there is a growing concern that some students, even though they may complete high school requirements and graduate, are not challenged, and are not fully engaged in their learning, possible resulting in undeveloped skills and talent, unrealized potential and lost opportunities. The study was designed to determine factors that contribute to student engagement within the culture of schools. This was accomplished through a study of practice in two high schools in an urban school district. The study was positioned to hear from students using a Canadian survey: What Did You Do in School Today? and group interviews. The concept of Flow as described by Csíkszentmihályi (1990) was examined as a potentially useful way to compare and describe students’ varying levels of engagement and sense of being instructionally challenged. The survey results showed that the responses of less than 50% of the students who participated indicated intellectual engagement with school. Many attend school for social reasons or simply participate in school to satisfy formal requirements. The interview results suggested that there is a need to listen to students, include a more personalized, broad range of authentic, multi-disciplinary learning experiences, and provide appropriate teacher training and resources to enhance approaches to instruction and assessment. These measures could foster a culture in which more adolescents engaged with and felt a sense of belonging in school.
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