Date of Award

Winter 2010

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching and Learning


Curriculum and Instruction

Committee Director

Linda Bol

Committee Member

Shana Pribesh

Committee Member

John Nunnery


The extent to which Academic Press and strong social relationships impact Academic Engagement in smaller learning communities (SLCs) situated in large comprehensive urban high schools was investigated. Data were collected through classroom observations, student questionnaires and focus groups with teachers and analyzed using descriptive statistics, multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA), and content analysis of focus interview transcripts. Findings from the survey data confirm those found in much of the existing literature, namely that students experiencing high levels of Academic Press were more often the most academically engaged. This finding was also confirmed for African American students in high Academic Press math classes. Social Support for Learning was not confirmed as a key factor in Academic Engagement. Descriptive statistics indicated moderate to low levels of Academic Press, Social Support for Learning and Academic Engagement in student self report data and in classroom observations. Results from focus groups of teachers participating in smaller learning communities identified themes suggesting that much of the Academic Press and Social Support for Learning evident in the SLCs examined was attributable to the individual efforts of teachers, sometimes in spite of the SLC structure. Additionally, factors impacting engagement emerged, chief among them being teacher and student rapport and the relevance and complexity of the curriculum. Implications for future practice and directions for further research are also discussed.