Status, respect, and adolescents’ responsiveness to educational interventions




Medrano, Fortunato N.

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As adolescents progress through school, they exhibit declining interest and motivation, which can have lifelong negative consequences. The adolescent status-respect sensitivity hypothesis posits that adolescents do not only consider how beneficial education is to their long-term success, but they also pay disproportionate attention to whether their environment is affording them respect before deciding whether they will align their behavior with their long-term educational interests. Here, respect is defined as a gestalt judgment of whether one's rights, beliefs, and abilities are being afforded. In this dissertation, we test for the first time, a key prediction of the status-respect sensitivity hypothesis: adolescents’ feelings of being respected in their environment should moderate the extent to which they profit from an attempt to influence their academic motivation and achievement (Study 1). We do this by examining the moderating effect of feeling respected on a growth mindset of intelligence intervention delivered in a nationally representative sample. Then we show this effect operates on an individual level, that is, how different students in the same class report different levels of respect from the same teacher and these within classroom differences explain variation in intervention effects. Next, we address the most significant barrier standing in the way of teachers being able to act on these findings: a lack of clarity about which teacher practices communicate respect to adolescents most effectively (Study 2). Using an inductive qualitative process, involving adolescents’ own descriptions of teacher’s respectful practices, we show that there is very little consensus about specific behaviors that were respectful or disrespectful. However, there were higher-order organizations of practices that led to a simple and practical framework of respect. Respect emerged from the combination of high standards conveying that a student could be competent and valuable and therefore has worth to the group (i.e., academic press), and providing the necessary support to help the student meet these high expectations. These inductive conclusions were confirmed using applications of natural language processing and machine learning with the language data. While promising, Study 2’s results were based on a small number of adolescents. To assess whether the framework generalized, we applied it to student reports of teacher behavior in a nationally representative dataset (Study 3). Using a machine learning analytical technique, we found comparable results, whereby students reported feeling more respected by teachers if those teachers had high academic press and offered supports to meet high standards. Overall, these studies highlight respect as a potential mechanism through which adults’ behaviors influence adolescent behavior. This is important because it suggests that during this developmental stage of adolescence, individual experiences of respect from the environment could be having powerful effects on adolescent trajectories. Furthermore, by providing educators with a “recipe” for respectful interactions in the classroom, this dissertation simplifies for teachers the challenge of motivating and engaging their students. This theory could be extended beyond academic motivation to other key areas of adolescent behavior, e.g., drug use, school discipline, reckless driving, healthy eating, and more.



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