09 SES 08 B, Classroom Context and Learning-to Learn, Motivation, Self-beliefs
The aim of this study is to explore whether studying in a selective class with a special emphasis (e.g. language, arts, science, and sports) has an effect on pupils’ action-control beliefs. Choosing a class with a special emphasis have become popular in urban Finland and since their introduction in 1990s, an increasing number of pupils study in these classes, which have more lessons on some selected subjects (e.g., music or languages). The effects of emphasised classes have been speculated on both societal and individual level. On the other hand, these selective classes have been seen as a threat to the equality of opportunities in the Finnish non-tracking basic education system. However, it has been claimed that selection based on own interests would enhance pupils’ motivation in school (e.g., Berisha & Seppänen, 2016). Regardless of many speculations, studies exploring those are scarce.
In their study of the development of pupils’ self-beliefs in classes with a special emphasis in Finland, Koivuhovi, Vainikainen, Kalalahti & Niemivirta (2017) found no class type effect in the change of pupils’ self-beliefs from grade 4 to 6 when achievement level and mother’s education were taken into account. Yet, prior studies on peer effects show that composition of classroom can influence pupils’ achievement and motivation (e.g., Hattie, 2002; Belfi et al., 2012). Therefore, for this study, we chose a more detailed approach and analyze how pupils’ action-control beliefs change from grade 7 to 9 in classes without a special emphasis (general classes) and classes with special emphases on different subjects (language, arts, science, and sports). We expect that class composition effects would be different depending on which subject is emphasized. We also hypothesize that peer group would play a stronger role in lower secondary school (grades 7 to 9) compared to the last two primary school years (4 to 6).
Our detailed research questions are: 1) Are there differences in the strength of action-control beliefs at the beginning of 7th grade between children who study in different type of classes? 2) Are there differences in the development of pupils’ action control beliefs between pupils’ who study on general classes and those who study in classes with different special emphasis? 3) How does pupil’s gender, prior achievement and mother’s education level explain differences between class types?
This research is part of a longitudinal study from grade 1 to 9 in a large Finnish municipality. In this presentation we will focus only on the lower secondary school years (grades 7 to 9). The participants (N=1839; 51% girls; mean age at grade seven = 12.97, standard deviation [SD] = 1.215) came from 30 schools and 150 classes. 58 % of pupils studied in general classes and the rest on classes with a special emphasis (14% languages, 11% arts, 9% sciences and 9% sports). The data was collected during years 2013 and 2016. Pupils’ action-control beliefs were measured by self-report scales based on Skinner’s action-control theory (e.g., Skinner, Chapman & Balter 1988). All the items were answered on a 1-7 Likert scale. In the theory, action is conceptualised as a threefold construct which entails the agent, aims and means of the action. Individual has different kind of beliefs concerning each part of the action and together these beliefs contribute to the motivational base for individuals’ behavior. Agency beliefs refer to beliefs between agent and means. In other words, they refer to beliefs that pupils have about themselves as learners. Means-ends-beliefs refer to individuals’ perceptions regarding the effective ways (i.e. abilities, hard work) of achieving desired goals. Control-beliefs comprise of expectations of how likely it is to reach the goals that are set. The results were analysed with statistical analysis in Mplus and SPSS. First measurement invariance over time was tested in Mplus and after that factor scores were transferred to SPSS and series of repeated ANOVAs were conducted. First models included only class type as a classifying variable (between-subjects-factor) and depending variable (withing-subjects-variables) in two different measurement times (grade 7 and 9). After that, also other independent variables (gender and mother’s education level as between-subjects factors and pupil’s prior achievement as a covariate) were included to the model.
Overall, the tendency in the change of pupils’ action-control beliefs was declining, as we expected based on a prior research (e.g., Harter 1999). For example, pupil’s agency beliefs of effort declined in all classes from grade 7 to 9. In most of the cases, the differences between class types diminished when other background variables were included to analysis. In other words, pupil’s prior achievement, gender and/or mother’s education level explained most of the differences both in the level and in the change of action-control beliefs between class types. The results indicate that all together studying in a class with a special emphasis does not have a strong influence on the development of pupils’ action-control beliefs. However, some effects were found. Interestingly they were mainly contradictory to what we expected. For example, means-ends-belief of luck, which are detrimental for learning as they usually reduce the amount of effort invested, increased in language and sports classes from grade 7 to 9, but remained on a same level on all the other classes. Similarly, pupils’ control-expectancies of success i.e. beliefs of how much a pupil beliefs in his/her own chances to succeed at school, deteriorated in language and sports classes but remained on a same level on all other classes. While these results are somewhat surprising in the light of the commonly held hypothesis about the positive effects of emphasised teaching, they were not totally unexpected. Based on the research on Big-Fish-In-A-Little-Pond-Effect (e.g., Marsh et al., 2008), we know that studying in a well-achieving peer group can be demanding and have detrimental effects on individual’s beliefs of oneself as a learner. These results offer an important standpoint for educational political discussion not only from Finnish but also from the international perspective, as ability grouping and tracking is a common practice in many countries.
Belfi, B., Goos, M., De Fraine, B., & Van Damme, J. (2012). The effect of class composition by gender and ability on secondary school students’ school well-being and academic self-concept: A literature review. Educational Research Review, 7(1), 62-74. Berisha, A. K., & Seppänen, P. (2016). Pupil selection segments urban comprehensive schooling in Finland: composition of school classes in pupils’ school performance, gender, and ethnicity. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 1-15. Hattie, J. A. (2002). Classroom composition and peer effects. International Journal of Educational Research, 37(5), 449-481. Harter, S. 1999. The construction of self. A developmental perspective. New York: The Guilford Press. Koivuhovi, S., Vainikainen, M.-P., Kalalahti, M. & Niemivirta, M. (2017) Changes in Children's Agency Beliefs and Control Expectancy in General and Emphasised Teaching Classes in Finland from Grade Four to Grade Six. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, DOI: 10.1080/00313831.2017.1402364 Marsh, H. W., Seaton, M., Trautwein, U., Ludtke, O., Hau, K. T., O’Mara, A. J., & Craven, R. G. (2008). The big-fish–little-pond-effect stands up to critical scrutiny: Implications for theory, methodology, and future research. Educational Psychology Review, 20(3), 319-350. Skinner, E. A., Chapman, M., & Baltes, P. B. (1988). Control, means-ends, and agency beliefs: A new conceptualization and its measurement during childhood. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54(1), 117-133.
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