Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science

Moving into Middle School: Individual Differences in the Transition Experience

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science

Moving into Middle School: Individual Differences in the Transition Experience

Article excerpt

Abstract

The present investigation examined individual differences in the transition to middle school by considering the "voice of the consumer". To this end, students (N = 160) were asked to evaluate their experiences during the first months of grade 7, and variations in these self evaluations were examined as a function of a broad range of potential student characteristics. Specifically, using a short-term longitudinal design, composite indices of self-concept, social adjustment, school attitudes/behaviour, as well as academic achievement, assessed both prior to and during the transition period, were used to predict individual differences in student reports of the quality of their transition experience. Results indicated that, for both boys and girls, individual differences in the transition experience were predicted from grade 6 indices of social adjustment and school attitudes/behaviours. Further, a more positive transition experience in early grade 7 was uniquely related to indices of social adjustment and self-concept in grade 7. Results are discussed in terms of the impact of social functioning on school adjustment.

As children progress across grade levels in North American schools, it is estimated that approximately three-quarters of all students are required to move from elementary school to the larger and more complex world of junior high or middle school(f.1) (Mac Iver & Epstein, 1991). Given the large numbers of students involved, it is not surprising that the middle school transition has been the focus of extensive research (see Eccles & Midgley, 1989 for a review), based on the concern that such a transition may be difficult for at least some students. Is the transition to middle school a stressful or difficult life change?

To date, the effects of middle school transition have varied markedly across studies. Some research shows negative effects of transition on later adjustment (e.g., Berndt, 1987; Simmons & Blyth, 1987; Wigfield, Eccles, Mac Iver, Reuman, Midgley, 1991; Wigfield & Eccles, 1994), while other studies show no differences in adjustment as a function of transition (e.g., Crockett, Petersen, Graber, Schulenberg & Ebata, 1989; Fenzel & Blyth, 1986; Hirsch & Rapkin, 1987), and still others show slight increases in adjustment following transition (e.g., Nottlemann, 1987). Given these mixed findings, researchers have suggested that the effects of middle school transition are likely not universal (Lord, Eccles, & McCarthy, 1994; Simmons & Blyth, 1987) and are "neither inherently good nor bad for students at this age" (Eccles, Lord, & Midgley, 1991, p. 537). Accordingly, researchers have called for an examination of transition effects at the level of individual differences (e.g., Berndt, 1987, 1988, Lord et al., 1994; Simmons, Carlton-Ford, & Blyth, 1987) by identifying "resources and attributes" (Simmons et al., 1987) or "protective and risk factors" (Lord, et al., 1994) which might mitigate the transition experience across students. Thus, the question of interest shifts from "How does the whole group adjust?", to "What differentiates those who cope well in transition from those who do not?" (e.g., Crockett et al., 1989; Simmons et al., 1987). In keeping with this shift, the present investigation explores individual variations in the transition to middle school by examining student's own perceptions of the difficulty and/or stress associated with moving into middle school. In particular, we sought to evaluate the degree to which students have trouble in the early months of middle school, and then examine whether various academic and social adjustment factors might predict individual differences in student's subjective transition experience.

To date, research has addressed a variety of factors which may influence the positive versus negative impact of school transition (e.g., academic performance, family characteristics, social adjustment, peer relationships, self-concept, etc. …

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