At-Risk Adolescents Perceptions of Learning Temperaments: Implications for Educational Intervention

Article excerpt

The current study examined learning temperaments and needs differences between at-risk students receiving psychosocial and academic interventions with an average performing comparison group. In all, 293 males and 408 females, consisting of 472 at-risk, and 229 comparison students were surveyed. Dependent measures were obtained through administration of the Nunn Assessment of Learning Temperament (NALT). Results indicated significant main and interaction effects. Implications for educational intervention are discussed.

Temperamental and self-perception differences continue to receive intense interest in the psychoeducational literature (Brophy, 1996; Carey, 1998; Nunn & Parish, 1992; Rothbart & Jones, 1998). Studies of learning have long emphasized the role that temperamental characteristics, perception of needs, and accommodating for these differences can play in facilitating successful response to the learning environment (Ackerman, Kyllonen, & Roberts, 1999; Nunn, 1995). As Carey (1998) has noted, "Certain temperament traits ... are particularly likely to create a `poor fit' with the caregiving environment and generate the dissonance and excessive stress that lead to behavioral or other functional problems in the child" (pg. 527). Currently, American education is challenged to fulfill the needs of students termed "at-risk," in order to capture talents and human resources. Discerning temperaments of at-risk youth relative to learning and instructional practices is a productive avenue in which actions can be taken to facilitate each students' unique approach to the learning environment (Barr & Barrett, 1995; Mills, Dunham, & Alpert, 1988; Sartain, 1989; Slavin, Karweit, & Madden, 1989).

In this respect, middle to late adolescence presents some of the greatest challenges to educators as they attempt to accommodate for temperamental considerations (Brophy, 1996; Nunn, 1995). As such, adolescence is an opportunity in which support of learning temperaments is helpful to both educators and students alike. Such individualization is proactive in nature and emphasizes the importance of working with student affinities (Levine, 1994). The present study attempts to further define at-risk adolescents' perceptions of temperaments in an effort to clarify how best to support their success.



Students attending a large mid-west high school in grades 10 through 12 (N = 701) voluntarily participated in this study. In all, 293 males and 408 females, consisting of 472 at-risk, and 229 comparison students were surveyed. Students in this study were primarily caucasian, and from middle to lower-middle income backgrounds.


The Nunn Assessment of Learning Temperament-NALT (Nunn, 1995) was administered as a measure of dependent variables. The NALT is a likert-type scale consisting of 110 items representing seven oblique factors that have demonstrated satisfactory statistical validity (Nunn, 1995), and reliability (Nunn, 1992).


Students meeting criteria for "at-risk" were those who had demonstrated the following: a) average academic performance in the last three semesters one standard deviation or more below their peers; and b) receiving one or more academic and/or behavioral support service through the schools' at-risk program. All students completed the NALT individually or in small groups during the school day. All responses were confidential with parental permission obtained prior to completion of the instruments.


Two-way analysis of variance was employed to examine the effects of gender and at-risk status upon NALT factors. Regarding Achievement Orientation (AO), a main effect for at-risk was obtained, F (1,518) = 42.81, p [is less than] .0001, with at-risk students being significantly less achievement oriented (M = 27.55) than were the comparison group (M = 30.79). Main effects for gender and interaction were nonsignificant. …