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School Engagement Among Aboriginal Students in Northern Canada: Perspectives From Activity Settings Theory


  • The authors would like to recognize and acknowledge the staff and students who took part in this study and the Tlicho Community Services Agency in Behchoko, NWT. The study would not have been possible without your partnership and without your strong commitment and dedication to the youth of your communities.

Colleen M. Davison, Adjunct Assistant Professor, (, Department of Community Health and Epidemiology, Queens University, Carruthers Hall, Office 203, 62 Fifth Field Company Lane, Kingston, ON K7L 3N6, Canada.


BACKGROUND: Educational disengagement is a public health concern among Aboriginal populations in many countries. It has been investigated previously in a variety of ways, with the conventional focus being on the children themselves. Activity settings are events and places, theorized in terms of their symbols, roles, time frame, funds, people, and physical location. According to the theory, particular behaviors and experiences are shaped by different configurations among these elements. This study explored how activity settings theory might provide new insight on school engagement.

METHODS: Ethnographic study was undertaken at a grades primary to 12 school in a remote First Nations community in Canada's Northwest Territories. We collected data through interviews, focus groups, archival material, and field notes from 7 months of participant observation. An activity settings model acted as template for data collection and interpretation.

RESULTS: Different aspects of the school's physical layout, routines, procedures, transport systems, mix of people, and rules were able to be systemically assessed and classified as either creating or eroding engagement.

CONCLUSION: This study applies an activity setting analysis to school engagement, thereby allowing researchers to investigate the dynamic and nested nature of context or environmental influences on engagement. It provides grounded observations that invite direct opportunities for action on dimensions that teachers and practitioners might not otherwise “see.”