Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Skill-Builders: Improving Middle School Students' Self-Beliefs for Learning Mathematics

Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Skill-Builders: Improving Middle School Students' Self-Beliefs for Learning Mathematics

Article excerpt

This article presents findings from a pilot study that examined the effect of a school counselor-led intervention, using the "Skill-Builders" curriculum, on middle-school students' attitudes toward mathematics learning. Results from the current study demonstrated that students who received the Skill-Builders curriculum had significantly higher posttest scores on a measure of attitudes toward mathematics learning, including self-confidence, value, enjoyment, and motivation. Females in the Skill-Builders group improved significantly more than their male classmates. Implications and directions for future research are discussed.

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Education in the United States is undergoing a transformation in response to the heightened focus on accountability and outcomes (No Child Left Behind, 2001). This transformation affects the work of school counselors, as they are increasingly expected to document the manner in which they contribute to the academic success of their students (American School Counselor Association, 2005). Accompanying this transition are calls for data-based evidence of the effects that school counselors have on student outcomes due to relatively limited outcome research on school counseling practices (Bauman et al., 2002; McGannon, Carey, & Dimmitt, 2005; Sexton, 1996; Whiston, 2001). Despite such calls, comprehensive reviews of school counseling research reveal that empirical investigation has not been a priority in the profession in recent decades (Bauman et al.; Schmidt, Lanier, & Cope, 1999). One specific area in need of further research is the effectiveness of school counseling guidance curricular interventions in the area of mathematics.

Within the context of education, students' level of interest in mathematics as related to gender is one area of growing concern. In spite of an increased emphasis on the importance of math-related fields to the U.S. economy, the number of students choosing to pursue math-related college degrees and occupations is on the decline (Panteli, Stack, & Ramsay, 2001). This is particularly true for females in spite of the narrowing gender gap in math aptitude and achievement (Linver & Davis-Kean, 2005). Females continue to be underrepresented in the math-, physical science-, and engineering-related fields. Furthermore, women who earn degrees in science and engineering are less likely than men with similar degrees to actually be employed in these fields, constituting 23% of the science and engineering labor force and only 10% of employed physicists (National Science Foundation, 2000). The continuing gender gap in math-related educational and career choices, in light of shrinking ability differences, suggests that students' academic choices are based on more than just achievement.

Recent research suggests that girls often express less interest in math than boys beginning in early adolescence (Wigfield & Eccles, 2002) and have lower self-competence beliefs in math than do boys (Jacobs, Lanza, Osgood, Eccles, & Wigfield, 2002; Wigfield, 1997). These differences appear to emerge as early as first grade, remain steady over time (Marsh, Craven, & Debus, 1998), and are strong predictors of academic performance and choices (Bandura, 1994; Eccles et al., 1983; Meece, Wigfield, & Eccles, 1990). Gender differences in competence beliefs and level of interest in math provide a plausible explanation as to why so few females are choosing to pursue math-related academic and career choices. The fact that fewer students overall, and girls in particular, are pursuing math-related educational and occupational choices highlights the need for programs and interventions that cultivate and maintain students' interest and self-efficacy in math.

There is a need to develop a strong research base that supports the efficacy of school counseling interventions and to develop interventions that target middle school students' self-efficacy and motivation for learning mathematics. …

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