Graduation Date


Document Type

Master's Thesis


Master of Science



Program Director

Jennifer Lucko, PhD

First Reader

Matthew E. Davis, PhD

Second Reader

Elizabeth Truesdell, EdD


The purpose of this research seeks to understand the conditions for motivation among disengaged high school students in special education who qualify under emotional disturbance (ED) and support them in rediscovering their desire for learning while also determining how educators can be supportive in cultivating academic engagement and agency. The theoretical framework looks toward co-created curriculum through an understanding of intrinsic motivation (Ryan et al., 2021), self-Determination theory (Niemiec & Ryan, 2009), and critical pedagogy (Shih, 2018). Currently, there is a lack of empirical research on the effectiveness of pedagogical approaches in determining what works in engaging special education students who qualify under emotional disturbance (ED) with learning in an academic setting (Sullivan & Sadeh, 2016).

To research the change of academic motivation in special education high school students who qualify under ED, the researcher conducted an exploratory mixed methods study with pragmatic and constructivist worldviews. The researcher worked with five high school students, through an adapted Participatory Action approach. The findings revealed that community and peer learning is particularly important for students with ED. Students reported a high degree of value when understanding the why of learning.

The research found that student interests, both inside and outside of the classroom, were important to co-creating curriculum. It was by this process that engagement through community emerged, impactful learning was co-developed, and the learning itself discovered a newly sense of purpose.

IRB Number