Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Commentary: The Centrality of the Learning Context for Students' Academic Enabler Skills

Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Commentary: The Centrality of the Learning Context for Students' Academic Enabler Skills

Article excerpt

Abstract. According to DiPerna and Elliott (2002), academic competence comprises both academic skills and academic enablers. Academic enablers, which are within student variables, are essential for understanding student achievement; however, missing from this picture is the influence of context on the development and application of students' academic enabler skills. In this article, a theoretical framework for considering the direct and indirect effects of important contexts (e.g., child, school, family, and peers) on student performance and how these contexts change over time is described. Also, the literature regarding social and emotional influences on student performance is reviewed. Finally, the implications for assessment and intervention practices and directions for future research are discussed.


The effect of standards-based reform has placed academic achievement front and center in our schools. Teachers are under considerable pressure to ensure that students meet standards. Achieving academically is paramount; and yet, teachers recognize the centrality of specific student attitudes and behaviors that promote academic success in classrooms and throughout students' lives. The relevance of the concept, academic enablers, for school and life success is noncontroversial. However, to understand and facilitate student success in meeting academic standards, as well as the behavioral and social standards of schools, one must look beyond the student to the broader contextual support for learning that the student experiences.

It is well accepted that student characteristics, including cognitive- and affective-oriented behaviors, affect learning outcomes (Ysseldyke & Christenson, 1987). Or, in terms of DiPerna and Elliott's model (2002), academic competence comprises both academic skills and academic enablers. Although DiPerna and Elliott conceptualize academic enablers as within student variables, they are highly dependent on the social context in which students develop and learn. Consequently, an incomplete picture of students' academic enablers occurs unless there is an answer to the question: How does the social context support or thwart the development of academic enablers for students across settings and time? As noted by David Seeley in his book, Education Through Partnership, "the product of education-learning--is not produced by schools, but by students with the help and support of schools, parents, peers, and other community resources" (1985, p. 65).

A Chinese proverb states: "Teachers open the door, but you must enter by yourself." Similarly, academic skills and enablers are dependent on what students do, yet their performance is influenced either positively or negatively by their learning contexts. The learning context is defined as being composed of critical systems (child, home, school, peer, and community or neighborhood) that affect academic, social, and emotional learning for students in Grades K-12. The learning context is an interwoven structure of circumstances and people that surround the child across systems at a given point in time and overtime. Of particular interest is the "affordance value" of this context--or how the learning context facilitates or impedes child adaptation to challenges and demands of schooling. Students' innate psychological needs to be self-determined, relate to others, and to be competent certainly are represented in the four academic enablers: interpersonal skills, motivation, engagement, and study skills. Similarly, students are, without a doubt, metacognitively, motivationally, and behaviorally active in their own learning (Zimmerman, 1990). And yet, students' adaptation to schooling depends in part on the degree of support, opportunity to learn, and resources available to the child (Pianta & Walsh, 1996).

The primary assertion of this article is that the concept of academic enablers must be expanded to encompass key student and contextual factors that promote the development and application of academic skills. …

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