Exploring Children's Beliefs about Educational Risk and Resilience. (the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning)

By Downey, Jayne A. | Academic Exchange Quarterly, Spring 2002 | Go to article overview

Exploring Children's Beliefs about Educational Risk and Resilience. (the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning)


Downey, Jayne A., Academic Exchange Quarterly


Abstract

In the struggle to develop effective methods for promoting students' academic success, adults have neglected to listen to children's perspectives. Without a clear grasp of what is relevant, helpful, and motivating for children, attempts to foster success may flounder. The two purposes of this study were to explore children's beliefs about what they want and need to achieve academic success and to pilot a methodology for studying children's beliefs. Findings indicate children believe academic success is supported by: Home Environment, Classroom Teacher, Fun in the Classroom, Good Grades, Personal Effort, Having Friends, and Help with Homework. Results also indicate that the interview methodology is an effective tool for studying children's beliefs. Recommendations are made for future studies.

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In the discussion about how to promote children's academic success, one voice has gone unheard. While many studies have collected the opinions of teachers and other experts, few have explored elementary children's beliefs about what contributes to academic success (McCallum, Hargreaves, & Gipps, 2000). This is a serious oversight because children have unique viewpoints and values about many things, including their education (Howard, Dryden, & Johnson, 1999). As the number of students at risk for school failure grows, so does the potential for illiteracy, poverty, drug dependency, teenage pregnancy, welfare dependency, and criminal activity (Barr & Parrett, 1995). Given the negative implications of these outcomes, there is an urgent need for insight into factors that foster students' academic success. Listening to children's perspectives is a pivotal part of this task.

Childhood Risk and Resilience. Studies of risk have identified many factors posing a significant threat to children's well-being and positive adaptation (Luthar, Cicchetti, & Becker, 2000). These risk factors tend to "co-occur, and when they do, they appear to carry additive and possibly exponential risk" (Masten, Best, & Garmezy, 1990, p.426). The identification of risk factors has helped shape effective intervention and treatment programs for vulnerable children. Risk research has also encountered at-risk children who exhibit healthy adjustment despite their difficult circumstances (Werner & Smith, 1992). This process of positive adaptation in the face of severe risk or adversity is referred to as resilience (Luthar, Cicchetti, & Becker, 2000). Resilience is not a singular personality trait. Rather, it is a dynamic interaction between the characteristics of a vulnerable child (such as social skills, problem-solving ability, and sense of autonomy) and the resources in his or her environment (such as caring families, schools, and communities) (Howard, Dryden, & Johnson, 1999).

Educational Resilience. Experts have recognized that children who display resilient behavior in one area of functioning may not necessarily exhibit competence across other domains of adjustment (Luthar, Cicchetti, & Becker, 2000). For example, it is quite possible for a child to display social competence but struggle academically. Therefore, investigations have begun to explore the factors that contribute to educational resilience--"the heightened likelihood of educational success despite personal vulnerabilities and adversities brought about by environmental conditions and experiences" (Wang, Haertel, & Walberg, 1996, p. 1).

Previous research suggests academic success can be facilitated by environmental factors such as parental involvement (Russell & Elder, 1997) and personal characteristics such as self-efficacy (Pintrich & Schunk, 1996). However, the majority of extant research has focused on educational resilience in adolescence (e.g. Johnson, 1997). There are few studies examining children's educational resilience and little documentation of their ideas in this domain. …

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