Boys at risk : an exploration of academic engagement in elementary school

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Date

2010-05

Authors

Arnold, Jamie Lee

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Abstract

For the last twenty years, there has been growing concern among educators, scholars, and parents about the underachievement and disengagement of boys in school. Self-Determination theory postulates that individuals will be more motivated when their needs for relatedness, competence, and autonomy are satisfied. Boys' relationships with teachers are sometimes conflictual, although relatedness to teachers has been shown to be a salient predictor for academic engagement. Teachers can also serve as a buffer for those students who are at risk of failure or dropping out. Other issues involve masculinity sitting uncomfortably with academic success, the need for self-discipline, and the nature of academic tasks being too sedentary and less hands-on. This study explores the academic engagement of at-risk boys with special attention to the role of teacher-student relationships using self-determination as a theoretical framework. A qualitative method was utilized to illuminate the complex interactions between antecedents and consequences for developing an explanatory scheme for why some boys do well academically and others do not. Ten third through fifth grade boys were interviewed, along with ten of their parents and six teachers. Topics ranged from their likes and dislikes, feelings about their teachers and school in general, and ways in which teachers and parents support and encourage them academically. The boys were observed in multiple settings throughout the school year. The goal was to shed light on the "boy crisis" and to take a nuanced approach when it comes to studying boys. The study was also designed to enhance our understanding of academic engagement as a multidimensional construct encompassing behavior, emotion, and cognition. Academic task characteristics and self-discipline, as well as relatedness to teachers, parents, and peers, emerged as important themes in engaging boys, while the construct of masculinity was not as salient. A proposed model was developed as a psychoeducational tool for providing information about the academic engagement of boys. This model could assist educators and parents in helping boys attain more joy and success in school.

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