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Description: Student engagement involves a critical set of thoughts, attitudes, and behaviours that translate motivation into progress. Motivational theories seek to explain how behaviours that teachers exhibit influence student engagement. In this paper, we focus less on explanation and more on prediction. Specifically, from behaviours outlined in four prominent motivational theories, we aimed to identify those most critical in predicting changes in students’ engagement with physical education lessons during the transition from primary to secondary school. Students (N = 1,324 all from Year 7, 52% girls) from 17 schools rated their teacher’s demonstration of 71 behaviours in the middle of the school year. We also assessed students’ engagement at the beginning and end of the year. We trained lasso regression models on 70% of the data and then assessed their predictive validity on the held-out data (30%). A full model showed that teacher behaviours predicted 4.84% of the variance in students’ change in engagement. The behaviours that were most consistently associated with a positive change in engagement were: teachers discussing their values with the class, taking an interest in students’ lives outside of class, being a good role model, and differentiating the level of challenge to match student ability levels. Four behaviours were consistently detrimental to engagement: conditional regard, unfair rewards, frequent punishments, and unclear instructions. These influential behaviours do not neatly fit within any single motivational theory. These findings support arguments for integrating different theoretical approaches, and suggest practitioners may want to consider multiple theories when designing interventions.


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