Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Wilkins, Elizabeth A.

Degree Name

Ed.D. (Doctor of Education)

Legacy Department

Department of Curriculum and Instruction (CI)


This dissertation examines emotional engagement as a vital component of creating optimal learning environments for mid-adolescent students. Through a qualitative research design, seventh and eighth grade student volunteers from Cornfield Middle School shared perspectives on their emotional engagement experiences in middle school learning environments. Thirty-four students participated in three rounds of data collection—an open-ended survey about flow experiences, a homogeneous focus group discussion, and a follow-up survey. The results from each data collection procedure were coded and arranged into themes of positive and negative emotions experienced in certain academic contexts.

The results show that the CFMS students experienced a range of both positive and negative emotions in the context of various classes, learning activities, and other academic settings. Specific descriptions of these emotions and contexts varied by individual student and by focus group discussion. Positive emotions and context themes included positive interactions with peers and teachers, increased student autonomy, active, authentic, and creative schoolwork, and real world connections. Negative emotions and context themes included boredom in academic settings, stress and anxiety from schoolwork, negative peer and teacher interaction, negativity towards rules and requirements, and general negativity or apathy towards school. Overall, the study reveals not only the particularly vital role emotional engagement has in creating optimal learning environments for this age group, but also how precarious this endeavor can be because of mid-adolescents’ developmental characteristics. There are implications for administrators, teacher preparation programs, future researchers, and even current students, but the strongest implications are for teachers of mid-adolescents, who should make students’ emotional engagement a key factor of their instructional design decision making.


248 pages




Northern Illinois University

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