Sept. 21, 2006
It works: Intervention improves students’ academic outcomes
ANN ARBOR, Mich.—An innovative program to help middle school students articulate their visions for the future and link these visions to current efforts helped them reach their academic goals, a University of Michigan study shows.
Two years after a school-based program started, students who participated earned better grades, skipped school less often, participated more in class, spent more time doing homework and had fewer symptoms of depression, said U-M expert Daphna Oyserman, the study’s lead author.
"Students say they want to succeed and teachers are invested in teaching, yet there is clearly a gap between students’ attainments and their hopes for the future," said Oyserman, professor of social work and psychology and researcher at the Institute for Social Research. "We asked what could be done to reduce the gap between students’ wishes for success in adulthood and their current effort in school."
According to Oyserman’s theory of identity-based motivation, youths will be more likely to engage in persistent efforts in school if they can envision doing well as a goal and if strategies to do well come to mind. But doing well in school is not just an academic goal, she said.
"Caring about school and using effective strategies for doing well in school have to feel like in-group things to do," she said. "Boys have to believe other boys want to do well in school and are willing to study in order to succeed; girls have to believe the same about other girls."
Oyserman said the same is true for African Americans, Latinos and other minorities; each group must believe that caring about doing well in school is a genuine part of being a member of the group. She developed a series of small group activities to activate these beliefs.
Trained group leaders worked with students on a series of activities, including: students picked from among an array of photographs to capture adult images; students drew timelines into the future to gain a sense of the sequencing of time, choices, and obstacles to overcome; and students worked in groups on everyday problems like getting bad grades on tests.
The program was first tested in Detroit as an after-school program in a middle school. When shown to be successful, it was implemented in three Detroit middle schools. A random half of students were assigned to attend the 11-session program, the other half of students attended class as usual. The program was completed prior to the end of the first marking period to allow students to improve their efforts before receiving their first quarter grades.
Data were collected from the 8th grade (264 students) including grades and attendance and teacher-report of students’ in-class participation and initiative taking, as well as their disruptive behavior. Youths were followed through the 8th grade and the transition to high school until the end of 9th grade.
By the end of 9th grade, intervention youths spent an average of 2.51 hours a week on homework, nearly an hour more per week than the control youth who averaged 1.57 hours per week. The intervention youth were less likely to disrupt class and were more likely to take initiative in class.
The researchers showed that these successful academic outcomes were the result of increased salience of doing well in school and of avoiding getting off-track with pregnancy, drug use or involvement in crime in students’ images of what they might be like in the future.
The collaborating scientists are Deborah Bybee, statistical methodologist of Michigan State University, and Kathy Terry, a former postdoctoral fellow at ISR. The study appeared in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
Contact: Jared Wadley