Academic journal article Merrill-Palmer Quarterly

How Do Teachers' Beliefs Predict Children's Interest in Math from Kindergarten to Sixth Grade?

Academic journal article Merrill-Palmer Quarterly

How Do Teachers' Beliefs Predict Children's Interest in Math from Kindergarten to Sixth Grade?

Article excerpt

The present study investigated to what extent teachers' beliefs about children's achievement contribute to the development of children's math interest. In addition, the extent to which other possible predictors, such as performance in math, gender, and race/ethnicity would contribute to the development of children's math interest was examined. Three cohorts of children (N = 849) and their teachers participated in the study starting from kindergarten through their sixth grade. The results showed that especially teachers' beliefs about children's effort and potential performance positively predicted children's interest in math across the primary school years, whereas teachers' beliefs about children's math ability predicted children's math interest only at the beginning of primary school. Further, all the models were similar for boys and girls and for children in different cohort groups.

In children's lives, several social actors are very important in shaping children's social experiences, and schools provide an opportunity to investigate these processes in their natural surroundings. In the school context, children's experiences with their teachers may contribute to the ontogeny of children's self-perceptions and interest in different domains.

Recent research on academic motivation has highlighted the importance of investigating the value aspect of students' motivation (Jacobs, Lanza, Osgood, Eccles, & Wigfield, 2002; Upadyaya, Viljaranta, Lerkkanen, Poikkeus, & Nurmi, 2012), which can be described, for example, in terms of children's interest in different domains (Wigfield & Eccles, 2000). At the beginning of primary school, children's interest in academic domains is typically high, slightly decreasing over the school years (Jacobs et al., 2002). These changes may reflect normative decreases in children's motivation (Wigfield et al., 1997) and children's better understanding of their academic skills, since children's interests are associated with their competence beliefs and academic performance (Aunóla, Leskinen, & Nurmi, 2006; Eccles, Wigfield, & Schiefele, 1997; Gottfried, 1990; Murphy & Alexander, 2000). Moreover, children's interpretations of teachers' achievement-related beliefs and teachers' emotional responses to children shape children's interests. Through their feedback, emotional responses (Georgiou, Christou, Stavrinides, & Panaoura, 2002; Reyna & Weiner, 2001), and classroom practices (Stipek, Givvin, Salmon, & MacGyvers, 2001), teachers provide information regarding their various beliefs about academic achievement to their students. Variation occurs in how teachers' different beliefs predict children's interests and motivation (Natale, Viljaranta, Lerkkanen, Poikkeus, & Nurmi, 2009; Upadyaya et al., 2012). Yet, to the authors' knowledge, no previous studies have examined these associations over the primary school years. Consequently, the present longitudinal study investigated the extent to which teachers' beliefs about their students' math-related effort, ability, and potential performance, and beliefs about the importance of math, predict the development of first- to sixth-grade children's interest in math.

Interest in Math

According to the expectancy-value model of motivation (Wigfield & Eccles, 2000), children's interest in academic domains reflects one element of the value aspect of motivation (Eccles & Wigfield, 1995). This interest can be described as the inherent, immediate enjoyment one gets from engaging in an activity (Wigfield & Eccles, 2000). The concept of interest is similar to concepts of intrinsic motivation (Deci, Vallerand, Pelletier, & Ryan, 1991; Harter, 1981) and interest (Schiefele, 1996), which involve completing a particular task for its own sake. Interest plays an important role in children's motivation: Even if children's beliefs in their abilities (e.g., the expectancy aspect of motivation) to perform a specific task are high, they may not involve themselves in that task if they perceive its value to be low (Ryan & Deci, 2000; Wigfield & Eccles, 1994). …

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