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Being successful at school requires children to perform a range of social as well as academic competencies. In addition to mastering subject matter, developing effective learning strategies, and performing well on tests, children also must work to maintain and establish interpersonal relationships, strive to develop social identities and a sense of belongingness, observe and model standards for performance displayed by others, and behave in ways that are valued by teachers and peers. Quite often, children who succeed in these social endeavors are also the most academically successful students. Although these social activities might vary somewhat as a function of a child’s age or the subject being taught, they reflect the fact that positive forms of social behavior can create a classroom environment that is conducive to learning and cognitive development; similarly, positive interpersonal relationships with teachers and peers can motivate and support the development of intellectual competencies.
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In the present research paper, children’s adjustment to school is discussed with respect to those social competencies that facilitate achievement of school-related objectives. Specifically, the focus is on school adjustment as defined by social motivation, behavioral competence, and positive interpersonal relationships. Research on each aspect of school adjustment is reviewed, with a particular focus on how these aspects form a profile of competencies that are related to each other as well as to academic achievement. The implications of this literature for future work on school adjustment are discussed. In addition, research on socialization processes that promote healthy adjustment at school are reviewed.
Defining School Adjustment
School adjustment is often used as a fairly generic term that refers to any school-related outcome under investigation. Quite often, adjustment is defined with respect to the absence of negative or maladaptive student outcomes (e.g., aggressive, inattentive, or disruptive behavior) in addition to the presence of normative or positive competencies (e.g., cooperative, compliant, or self-regulated behavior). In most cases, however, formal models have not been proposed to guide our thinking about what healthy adjustment to school entails or how it develops and can be supported within the classroom environment (cf. Ladd, 1989).
To guide the present discussion, therefore, an ecological approach is proposed in which adjustment is defined as the achievement of goals that result in social integration, as well as those resulting in positive developmental outcomes for the self. Socially integrative goals are desired outcomes that promote the smooth functioning of the social group, social approval, and social acceptance, whereas self-related goals are those that promote the achievement of personal competence, feelings of self-determination, and feelings of social and emotional well-being (Bronfenbrenner, 1989; Ford, 1992). This goal-based definition implies that classroom competence is a highly context-specific outcome reflecting the degree to which students are able to meet the demands of the classroom environment as well as achieve their own personal goals.
Several perspectives on the nature of competence provide support for this approach. Bronfenbrenner (1989) argues that competence can only be understood in terms of contextspecific effectiveness, as reflected in mastery of culturally and socially defined tasks. Therefore, competence is a product not onlyofpersonalattributessuchasgoals,values,self-regulatory skills, and cognitive abilities, but also of ways in which these attributes contribute to meeting situational requirements and demands. Moreover, Bronfenbrenner argues that competence is achieved in part when contexts provide opportunities for the growth and development of personal attributes as well as scaffolding for learning what is expected by the social group.
A similar perspective developed specifically to understand adjustment at school is found in the work of Connell and his colleagues (Connell & Wellborn, 1991; Deci & Ryan, 1991). According to Connell and Wellborn, students will engage in positive intellectual and social activities as well as experience a positive sense of self and emotional well-being when teachers provide structure (e.g., articulation of clear and consistent expectations), autonomy support (e.g., opportunities for personal choice and decision making), and involvement (e.g., individual attention). These conditions are believed to contribute to adjustment by enhancing students’sense of competence, self-determination, and social relatedness—that is, feeling that one is an integral and valued part of the social group.
Ford (1992) also expands on Bronfenbrenner’s notion of person-environment fit by specifying four dimensions of competence: the achievement of personal goals, the achievement of goals that are situationally relevant, the use of appropriate means to achieve these goals, and accomplishing goals that result in positive developmental outcomes for the individual.Applying Bronfenbrenner’s and Ford’s perspectives to classroom functioning suggests that students are competent and well-adjusted if several criteria are met. First, students must be able to achieve goals that are valued by themselves as well as by teachers and peers. Second, they must do so in ways that are sanctioned by the group. Third, goals must be accomplished in ways that set the stage for other positive outcomes such as healthy self-concept or increased interest in academics. Finally, the classroom context must provide the structure and support for students to accomplish these goals.
Little direct evidence exists to support the notion that levels of person-environment fit can influence classroom functioning and school adjustment. However, Hall and Cairns (1984) demonstrated that children are aggressive depending in part on the degree to which aggression is condoned in their setting at the time. Phelan, Davidson, and Cao (1991) documented that adolescents can be categorized with respect to goodness of fit—that is, according to the degree to which they feel comfortable with and can easily adapt to the multiple demands of parents, peers, and school. In Phelan et al.’s research, students who reported the best fit also demonstrated successful adaptation to the academic and social demands of school, whereas those who reported the least amount of comfort and belongingness felt disenfranchised and alienated, often dropping out of school altogether.
This ability to coordinate and achieve a balance between personal and socially valued goals is especially relevant for understanding school adjustment when one considers the potentially negative motivational effects of competing, incongruent goals across family, peer, and classroom contexts often experienced by minority students (Phelan et al., 1991). Children from minority cultures often are expected to adapt to normative expectations for behavior that are inconsistent with those espoused by theirfamiliesandcommunities.Ogbu(1985;Fordham&Ogbu, 1986) describes how failing to achieve academically can be interpreted by some minority children as an accomplishment ratherthanafailure.Insuchcases,noncompliancewiththemajority culture’s institutional norms and standards for achievement can lead to acceptance within the minority community but to social rejection and academic failure at school.
In summary, a full appreciation of how and why students thrive or fail to thrive at school requires an understanding of a student’s personal interests and goals, as well as the degree to which these are valued by teachers and peers, and contribute to the stability and smooth functioning of the classroom. Implicit in this perspective is that personal attributes such as the ability to coordinate multiple goals, motivation to behave in prosocial and responsible ways, and concomitant social-cognitive skills make critical contributions to school adjustment. In addition, the developmentally instigating properties (Bronfenbrenner, 1989) of the classroom that support and promote the expression and development of these personal attributes as well as goal attainment must alsobe in place. In the following section, research on student adjustment as defined by social motivation, behavioral competence, and relationships with teachers and peers is reviewed. Next, ways in which positive interpersonal relationships at school might support healthy adjustment ar ediscussed.
Research on Socialaspects of School Adjustment
Social Motivation: Social Goal Pursuit
A basic tenet of motivational theories is that people do set goals for themselves and that these goals can be powerful motivators of behavior (Austin & Vancouver, 1996; Bandura, 1986; Dweck, 1991). Although definitions vary slightly as a function of theoretical perspective, goals are generally referred to as cognitive representations of desired future outcomes. As noted at the beginning of this research paper, work in the area of social competence and social development suggests that competence in social settings often requires the achievement of goals that result in approval and acceptance by the social group, as well as those resulting in the achievement of personal competence and feelings of selfdetermination (see Bronfenbrenner, 1989; Ford, 1992). Examples of school-related goals that reflect these outcomes are social relationship goals such as to gain approval from others, to establish personal relationships with teachers or peers, or to cooperate with classmates; task-related goals such as to master subject matter or to meet as a specific standard of achievement; or more cognitive goals such as to engage in creative thinking or to satisfy intellectual curiosity or challenge (see Ford, 1992, for a comprehensive list of goals).
Research on classroom motivation is typically focused on the latter set of task-related and cognitive goals. However, the pursuit of socially integrative goals such as to be cooperative and compliant or to establish interpersonal relationships is equally important for understanding school success. Researchers have studied social goals from three fairly distinct perspectives (see Wentzel, 2002b). First, researchers have investigated children’s knowledge about and choice of social goals as a social cognitive skill. Based on models of social information processing (e.g., Crick & Dodge, 1994; Dodge, 1986; Ford, 1984), this perspective highlights children’s interpretations of social situations and their knowledge of which goals are appropriate or inappropriate to pursue under which conditions. Second, social goals have been construed as motivational or personality orientations that guide children’s behavioral responses to social opportunities and challenges (Dweck & Legget, 1988; McClelland, 1987). For the most part, these more global social goals or needs are believed to function independently of context.
Finally, the pursuit of social goals has been studied as a motivational process that provides direction to behavior and is related to situation-specific competence. In this case, the extent to which children try to achieve certain prescribed goals is examined as a predictor of social competence and person-environment fit (Ford, 1992; Wentzel, 1991b, 1991c). Based on this perspective, I have explored the degree to which school-related success can be predicted by children’s pursuit of specific social goals to behave in prosocial and socially responsible ways. I define personal goals with respect to their content—that is, as a cognitive representation of what it is that an individual is trying to achieve in a given situation (see also Ford, 1992). This perspective is the focus of the present discussion.
Goals For Education
What are the goals for education that are pursued by teachers and their students? Goals for classroom life reflect a wide range of social as well as intellectual outcomes. At the policy level, educational objectives have included the development of social competencies as well as scholastic achievements— for producing model citizens as well as scholars. In general, character development and social responsibility have been stated as explicit objectives for public schools in almost every educational policy statement since 1848; they are promoted with the same frequency as the development of academic skills (see Wentzel, 1991c, for a review). Specifically, social behavior in the form of moral character, conformity to social rules and norms, cooperation, and positive styles of social interaction have been promoted consistently as goals for students to achieve.
Teachers’ and students’ goals for school reflect the concerns for social development articulated in federal mandates. For instance, Krumboltz, Ford, Nichols, and Wentzel (1987) evaluated goals for students to achieve by age 18 in a sample of several hundred parents, teachers, and students. Goal statements reflected five academic domains (verbal, math, science, social studies, and fine arts), and five nonacademic domains (motivation, interpersonal competence, moral development, health, and career development). These statements were chosen based on school district curriculum guides from around the country and in consultation with local teachers and other experts in each domain. The most notable aspect of this study is that for each set of respondents, the social domains were regarded as more important than were any of the academic domains. In particular, students rated positive motivational outcomes (e.g., valuing education, being intrinsically motivated) as most important, whereas teachers and parents rated the moral domain as most important with motivation being ranked second. Interpersonal competence was ranked either second or third by all three groups. In short, motivation and social competence in the form of cooperation, respect for others, and positive interpersonal relationships were nominated consistently as critical outcomes for students to achieve, over and above academic accomplishments.
Although other researchers rarely have asked teachers about their specific goals for students, teachers have expressed their ideas concerning what well-adjusted and successful students are like. When describing ideal students, middle school teachers mentioned three types of desirable outcomes: social outcomes reflecting socially integrative characteristics such as sharing, being helpful to others, and being responsive to rules; learning outcomes reflecting motivational qualities related to learning such as being persistent, hardworking, inquisitive, and intrinsically interested; and performance outcomes reflecting task-related outcomes such as getting good grades, being informed, and completing assignments (Wentzel, 2000). In other research, teachers identified elementary-aged students toward whom they felt attachment, concern, indifference, or rejection (Brophy & Good, 1974). Of interest is that students placed in these categories displayed distinct behavioral profiles in the classroom, with characteristics of well-liked students matching those described in Wentzel’s (2000) study. Attachment students were typically bright, hardworking, and model students; concern students made excessive but appropriate demands for teachers’ attention; indifference students had few contacts with teachers; and rejection students typically displayed problem behaviors and made illegitimate demands for attention. Similarly, elementary-school teachers have consistently reported pBibliography: for students who are cooperative, conforming, cautious, and responsible rather than independent and assertive or argumentative and disruptive (Brophy & Good, 1974; Feshbach, 1969; Helton & Oakland, 1977; Kedar-Voivodas, 1983). Teachers tend to report antisocial and aggressive behavior as most detrimental to classroom order (Safran & Safran, 1985).
Research on school-related goals that students value has not been frequent (cf. Wigfield & Eccles, 1992). However, students do report trying to achieve positive social as well as academic outcomes. In an ethnographic study, Allen (1986) interviewed ninth-grade students about their school-related goals and found that two major goals were mentioned by almost all students—goals to socialize with peers and to pass the course. Students believed these goals could be accomplished by trying to figure out the teacher, having fun, giving the teacher what he or she wants, minimizing work, reducing boredom, and staying out of trouble. When given a list of possible social and academic goals to pursue at school, high school students have indicated trying to achieve social goals to have fun and to be dependable and responsible, in addition to task-related goals to learn new things and to get good grades (Wentzel, 1989). Finally, middle school students also have reported trying to achieve social goals to behave appropriately more frequently than they have reported goals to learn or to socialize with peers (Wentzel, 1991b, 1992).
Specific student characteristics also have been related to personal goals. High school students identified as being at risk due to problem behavior tend to attach greater importance to goals concerning self-determination and rule breaking than do not-at-risk students, who tend to value achievement of positive academic outcomes and responsible, interpersonal behavior (Carrol, Durkin, Hattie, & Houghton, 1997). Although research on ethnic minorities is rare, Graham, Taylor, and Hudley (1998) reported that African-American students value high levels of achievement less than do Caucasian students.
Students’ Goals in Relation to Other Forms of Adjustment
The literature just reviewed clearly indicates that students as well as teachers value goals to be prosocial and socially responsible. In addition, findings provide support for the notion that social goal pursuit represents a basic psychological process underlying social behavior and interpersonal competence. For instance, pursuit of goals to be prosocial and socially responsible have been related consistently and positively to displays of prosocial and responsible behavior (Wentzel, 1991a, 1994). Similarly, pursuit of goals to be sociable has been related positively to acceptance by peers as well as by teachers (Wentzel, 1991a, 1991b, 1994). Moreover, there is ample evidence that students who pursue certain social goals at school also succeed academically; pursuit of goals to be prosocial and socially responsible is related to classroom grades as well as to IQ (Wentzel, 1989, 1991a, 1993a, 1996, 1997, 1998).
Social goals also have been examined as part of a coordinated effort to achieve multiple classroom goals. As predicted by an ecological perspective, high- and low-achieving high school students can be distinguished on the basis of the sets of social and academic goals they pursue or do not pursue at school (Wentzel, 1989). Specifically, 84% of the highest achieving students reported always trying to be a successful student, to be dependable and responsible, and to get things done on time; only 13% of the lowest achieving students reported always trying to achieve these three goals. Moreover, although the highest achieving students reported frequent pursuit of academic goals (i.e., to learn new things, to understand things), less frequent pursuit of these goals did not distinguish the lowest achieving from average achieving students. Rather, an unwillingness to try to conform to the social and normative standards of the classroom uniquely characterized the lowest achieving students. These low-achieving students also reported frequent pursuit of other types of social goals such as to have fun and to make and keep friendships. In a follow-up study of middle school students (Wentzel, 1993a), two academic goals (reflecting efforts to master new and challenging tasks and to earn positive evaluations) and two social goals (reflecting efforts to be prosocial and to be socially responsible) were investigated. Pursuits of these social and academic goals were significant, independent predictors of classroom effort over time, even when other motivational variables such as self-efficacy and values were taken into account (Wentzel, 1996).
Implications for Future Research
Several themes emerge from the literature on educational goals and objectives that are relevant for understanding school adjustment from an ecological perspective. First, an examination of which goals a student is trying to achieve and the degree to which these goals are compatible with the expectations and requirements of the classroom can explain in part students’ overall success and adjustment at school. Of concern, however, is that explanations of competence based on students’pursuit of socially valued goals assumes that students understand how they are supposed to behave and what it is they are supposed to accomplish while at school. For some students these expectations are not always immediately obvious. In particular, young children who are just beginning school and students who are raised in cultures with goals and values dissimilar to those espoused by educational institutions might also need explicit guidance with respect to the goals they are expected to achieve (Ogbu, 1985).
In addition, teachers do not always communicate clearly their own goals for their students. In two recent studies of young adolescents, almost half the students reported that their current teachers did not have clear classroom rules for them to follow, nor did they think their teachers had explained what would happen if rules were broken (Wentzel, 2000; Wentzel, Battle, & Cusick, 2000). Therefore, the more explicit and clearly defined teachers can make the social expectations for classroom conduct, the more likely it is that students will at least understand the goals they are expected to achieve. The identification of contextual factors as well as student attributes that make these expectations more or less salient to students is an important challenge for researchers of classroom goal pursuit.
It also is worth noting that only a limited number of social goals have been studied in relation to academic outcomes. However, a broad array of goals that reflect social concerns and influences are potentially relevant for understanding students’ academic motivation and general adjustment to school. Ford (1992) has identified three general categories of goals that require input from or interaction with the social environment: integrative social relationship goals, self-assertive social relationship goals, and task goals. The social relationship goals identified by Ford are perhaps most relevant to the social motivational issues raised thus far, with goals to benefit the welfare of others and the social group (integrative social relationship goals) having been studied most frequently (e.g., Ford, 1996; Wentzel, 1991a, 1993a, 1994). In addition, a focus on selfassertive social relationship goals (e.g., obtaining help or resources from others) reminds us of the potential benefits of social relationships to the individual.An inclusion of these goals instudiesofacademicmotivation(e.g.,Ryan&Pintrich,1997) would provide added insight into issues of how individuals derive personal benefits from working and learning with others.
In addition, development and testing of theoretical models that explain links between social motivation and academic achievement are needed. At the simplest level, positive relations between social and academic variables might reflect that students are rewarded for their social efforts with good grades. Goals to achieve social and academic outcomes might also be related in more complex fashion, functioning in an interdependent, hierarchical manner. For instance, goal hierarchies can develop over time as individuals are taught to prioritize goals and to associate goals with each other in causal fashion (Pervin, 1983).With respect to students’goals, children might come to school with a basic goal to establish positive relationships with others. Over time, this goal might become linked causally to more specific goals such as to establish a positive relationship with teachers. This relationship goal might be accomplished by pursuing even more specific goals such as to behave appropriately, to pay attention, or to complete assignments. Similarly, children might learn that in order to achieve a rather global goal of demonstrating competence, they first must achieve subordinate goals such as learning subject matter, outperforming others, or supporting group efforts (see Ames, 1992). Therefore, students learn which goals are most important to achieve and how the attainment of one set of goals can lead to the attainment of others.
The concept of goal hierarchies also is helpful for understanding ways in which beliefs about relations among social and task-related goals might have an impact on efforts to achieve academically. For instance, students might pursue goals to do well at academic tasks in order to achieve a social goal to please one’s parents or teachers; students might try to engage in academic tasks because they see this as a way to achieve goals to cooperate or to comply with classroom rules; or students might believe that pleasing a teacher by behaving in socially appropriate ways will ultimately result in accomplishing academic goals. For the most part, students who believe that achieving at learning tasks can be accomplished solely by social means (e.g., pleasing a teacher) are setting themselves up for failure. However, cooperative learning activities provide contexts wherein students who pursue this kind of goal hierarchy might experience positive academic gains (e.g., Damon & Phelps, 1989). Similarly, students who believe that adhering to socially derived rules and conventions will lead to task-related accomplishments also are more likely to be successful than are those who do not. Most academic activities are governed by procedures and behavioral conventions that facilitate successful completion of tasks.
Furthermore, students might have multiple reasons for trying to achieve academically, some of which are social. Therefore, in situations in which a learning activity is less than stimulating or interesting to students, reasons other than an intrinsic interest in the task might be needed to motivate performance. In such cases, multiple social as well as taskrelated reasons for engaging in the task, such as I’ll probably learn something, it’s what I’m supposed to do, it will get me a job someday, it will please mom and dad, or it will impress my friends can provide a powerful motivational foundation for promoting continued engagement.
Finally, an identification of specific self-regulatory strategies that enable students to accomplish multiple goals simultaneously seems essential for helping students coordinate demands to achieve multiple and often conflicting goals at school. For instance, some students who try to pursue multiple goals might be unable to coordinate the pursuit of their goals into an organized system of behavior, and as a consequence they become distracted or overwhelmed when facing particularly demanding aspects of tasks that require focused concentration and attention. Students who are unable to coordinate social goals and academically related goals might opt to pursue social relationship goals with peers (e.g., to have fun) in lieu of task-related goals such as to complete class assignments. Students with effective goal coordination skills would likely find a way to achieve both goals—for instance, by doing homework with friends.
Behavioral Competence: Prosocial and Socially Responsible Behavior
Behavioral competence at school has been studied most often with respect to adherence to social rules and expectations reflecting cooperation, respect for others, and positive forms of group participation that govern social interaction in the classroom. Most generally, positive aspects of behavioral outcomes are studied in terms of prosocial and responsible behavior, with behavioral incompetence taking the form of aggressive and antisocial behavior (Wentzel, 1991c). Interpersonal competence—especially establishing positive relationships with peers—also has been a focus of empirical investigations.
Of interest for the present discussion is the degree to which these social competencies contribute to academic accomplishments. Correlational studies indicate that tendencies to be prosocial and empathic (Feshbach & Feshbach, 1987), prosocial interactions with peers (Cobb, 1972; Green, Forehand, Beck, & Vosk, 1980), appropriate classroom conduct (Entwisle, Alexander, Pallas, & Cadigan, 1987; Lambert & Nicoll, 1977), and compliance have been related positively to intellectual outcomes in the elementary years. Positive social interactions of preschool children also predict engagement and positive motivational orientations in the classroom (Coolahan, Fantuzzo, Mendez, & McDermott, 2000). In a meta-analysis of factors related to early learning problems, social-emotional factors explained as much or more variance in achievement as intellectual abilities, sensory deficits, or neurological factors explained (Horn & Packard, 1985). Similarly, socially responsible decision making in adolescents has been related positively to academic outcomes (Ford, 1982; Wentzel, Wood, Seisfeld, Stevens, & Ford, 1987). Young adolescents’ prosocial behavior also has been related positively to classroom grades and standardized test scores (Wentzel, 1991a, 1993b).
Longitudinal studies also have linked behavioral competence to academic achievements. Safer (1986) found that elementary grade retention is related to conduct as well as to academic problems, whereas recurring nonpromotion at the junior high level is related primarily to classroom misconduct and other behavioral problems. Adaptive classroom behavior in elementary school predicts later grades and test scores in elementary school (Alexander, Entwisle, & Dauber, 1993) as well as in high school (Lambert, 1972), over and above early achievement and IQ. Similarly, Feldhusen, Thurston, and Benning (1970) found that aggressive and disruptive behavior in the third and sixth grades is a strong negative predictor of classroom grades in middle school and high school after taking into account IQ, sex, grade level, and other demographic factors. Based on a comprehensive review of both follow-up and follow-back studies, Parker and Asher (1987) concluded that antisocial and aggressive behavior in the early grades places children at risk for dropping out of high school. Interventions that teach children appropriate social responses to instruction—such as paying attention and volunteering answers—have led to significant and stable gains in academic achievement (Cobb & Hopps, 1973; Hopps & Cobb, 1974).
Finally, behaving in prosocial and responsible ways is related to positive relationships with teachers and peers. Indeed, teachers’ preferences for students are based in large part on students’ social behavior in the classroom (e.g., Brophy & Good, 1974; Wentzel, 2000). Likewise, acceptance by peers is related to prosocial and responsible behavior, whereas rejection is related to a lack of behavioral competence (Coie, Dodge, & Kupersmidt, 1990; Newcomb, Bukowski, & Pattee, 1993).
Implications for Future Research
Clear and consistent relations between students’ prosocial and responsible classroom behavior and their academic accomplishments have been documented. However, researchers have not focused consistently on why these relations exist despite ongoing and serious concerns about students’ classroom behavior and how to manage it (see Doyle, 1986). Nevertheless, there are several ways in which social behavior can contribute to achievement at school. First, prosocial and responsible behavior can contribute to academic achievement by creating a context conducive to learning. Quite simply, students’ adherence to classroom rules and displays of socially competent behavior allows teachers to focus their efforts on teaching rather than classroom management. Presumably, all students will learn more when this occurs. In addition, being socially responsible also means conforming to rules and conventions for completing learning activities; teachers provide students with procedures for accomplishing academic tasks and dictate specific criteria and standards for performance. Students who follow these rules are more likely to excel academically than those who do not. Finally, constructivist theories of development (Piaget, 1965; Youniss & Smollar, 1989) propose that positive social interactions (e.g., cooperative and collaborative problem solving) can create cognitive conflict that hastens the development of higher-order thinking skills and cognitive structures. Empirical research supports this notion in that cooperative learning results in greatest gains when interactive questioning and explanation are an explicit part of the learning task (e.g., Damon & Phelps, 1989; Slavin, 1987).
An important issue with respect to these models, however, concerns the direction of effects. Assuming that causal relations do exist, is it that behavioral competence influences learning and achievement or that academic success promotes behavioral competence? It is clear that bidirectional influences exist. For instance, negative academic feedback can lead to acting out, noncompliance, and other forms of irresponsible behavior. From a developmental perspective, however, antisocial behavior and a lack of prosocial skills appear to begin with poor family relationships (e.g., Patterson & Bank, 1989). Therefore, how children are taught to behave before they enter school should have at least an initial impact on how they behave and subsequently learn at school. In addition, interventions designed to increase academic skills do not necessarily lead to decreases in antisocial behavior (Patterson, Bank, & Stoolmiller, 1990), nor do they enhance social skills typically associated with academic achievement (Hopps & Cobb, 1974). Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that at least to some degree, behavioral competence precedes academic competence at school.
Relations between behavioral and academic competence, however, might not be as straightforward as this literature suggests. For instance, Hinshaw (1992) concludes that aggressive and delinquent behavior are stronger correlates of underachievement for adolescents than for elementary-aged children. Moreover, whereas aggressive, externalizing behavior in young children appears to be the result of academic difficulties, the reverse seems to be true for older children. At both stages of development, however, Hinshaw argues that associations are fairly weak, especially when other factors such as family influences or developmental delays are taken into account.
Interpersonal Relationships With Peers and Teachers
A final aspect of social competence that appears to be a valued educational objective is the formation of positive interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers. As with behavioral competence, positive interpersonal relationships are necessary for successful group functioning. In addition, it is likely that having positive and supportive relationships with teachers and peers contributes to feelings of relatedness and belongingness that in turn motivate the adoption of other socially valued goals (Connell & Wellborn, 1991). In the following sections, research on school adjustment as defined by peer relationships is discussed first, followed by research on teacher-student relationships.
Relationships With Peers
Although children are interested in and even emotionally attached to their peers at all ages, they exhibit increased interest in their peers and a growing psychological and emotional dependence on them for support and guidance as they make the transition into adolescence (Steinberg, 1990; Youniss & Smollar, 1989). One reason for this growing interest is that many young adolescents enter new middle school structures that necessitate interacting with larger numbers of peers on a daily basis. In contrast to the greater predictability of selfcontained classroom environments in elementary school, the relative uncertainty and ambiguity of multiple classroom environments, new instructional styles, and more complex class schedules often result in middle school students turning to each other for information, social support, and ways to cope. Therefore, the quality of peer relationships is of special interest as an indicator of school adjustment in middle school and highschool. At all ages, however, peer relationships have been studied in relation to a range of academic accomplishments.
Peer relationships have typically been defined in three ways: levels of peer acceptance or rejection, dyadic friendships, and peer groups. Peer acceptance and rejection are often assessed along a continuum of social preference (e.g., How much do you like this person?) or in terms of sociometric status groups (i.e., popular-, rejected-, neglected-, controversial-, and average-status children). Sociometrically rejected children are those who are infrequently nominated as someone’s best friend and are actively disliked by their peers, whereas neglected children are those who are infrequently nominated as a best friend but are not strongly disliked by their peers. Controversial children are frequently nominated as someone’s best friend and as being actively disliked, whereas popular children are frequently nominated as a best friend and rarely disliked by their peers. In general, when compared to average-status peers (i.e., students with scores that do not fall into these statistically defined groups), popular students tend to be more prosocial and sociable and less aggressive; rejected students tend to be less compliant, less self-assured, less sociable, and more aggressive and withdrawn; neglected students tend to be more motivated and compliant and less aggressive and sociable; and controversial students tend to be less compliant and more aggressive and sociable (Newcomb et al., 1993; Parkhurst & Asher, 1992; Wentzel, 1991a; Wentzel & Asher, 1995).
Most researchers interested in peer relationships and academic achievement have studied sociometric status or peer acceptance. Their work has yielded consistent findings relating popular status and acceptance to successful academic performance, and rejected status and low levels of acceptance to academic difficulties (e.g.,Austin & Draper, 1984; DeRosier, Kupersmidt, & Patterson, 1994; Wentzel, 1991a). Findings are most consistent with respect to classroom grades (Hatzichristou & Hopf, 1996; Wentzel, 1991a), although peer acceptance has been related positively to standardized test scores (Austin & Draper, 1984) as well as IQ (Wentzel, 1991a).Moreover,resultsarerobustforelementary-agedchildren as well as adolescents, and longitudinal studies document the stability of these relations over time (e.g., Wentzel & Caldwell, 1997).
In addition to measures of cognitive and academic ability, being accepted by peers also has been related positively to motivational outcomes, including satisfaction with school, pursuit of goals to learn and to behave in socially appropriate ways (Wentzel, 1994; Wentzel &Asher, 1995), and perceived academic competence (Hymel, Bowker, & Woody, 1993). In contrast, being rejected by peers has been related to low levels of interest in school (Wentzel & Asher, 1995) and disengaging altogether by dropping out (Hymel, Comfort, Schonert-Reichl, & McDougall, 1996; Parker & Asher, 1987). Peer status also has been related to prosocial and socially responsible goal pursuit during middle school (Wentzel, 1991b). When compared with average-status children, popular children reported more frequent pursuit of prosocial goals, neglected students reported more frequent pursuit of prosocial and social responsibility goals, and controversial students reported less frequent pursuit of responsibility goals.
Peers also exert influence at the level of dyadic relationships, or friendships, and within smaller cliques and groups (Brown, 1989). In general, when children are with friends, they engage in more positive interactions, resolve more conflicts, and accomplish tasks with greater proficiency than they do when they are with nonfriends (Newcomb & Bagwell, 1995). Research linking friendships to academic achievement is sparse. However, having friends has been related positively to grades and test scores in elementary school and middle school (Berndt & Keefe, 1995; Wentzel & Caldwell, 1997). During adolescence, stable, reciprocal friendships also appear to have a greater impact on educational outcomes than do unreciprocated and unstable friendships (Epstein, 1989; Kandel, 1978). Although almost all of these findings have been correlational, a recent longitudinal study suggests that the relation of having a friend to positive academic achievements is stable over 2 years of middle school (Wentzel & Caldwell, 1997).
Having friends also has been related to other aspects of school adjustment. For instance, children entering kindergarten with existing friends and those who are able to make new friends appear to make better social and academic adjustments to school than do those who do not (Ladd, 1990; Ladd & Price, 1987). Having friends at school also appears to support other motivational outcomes such as involvement and engagement in school-related activities (Berndt & Keefe, 1995; Berndt, Laychak, & Park, 1990; Ladd, 1990; Ladd & Price, 1987;Wentzel & Caldwell, 1997). In kindergarten, friendships characterized by nurturance predict positive motivational outcomes such as liking school and engaging in classroom activities, whereas those characterized by conflict predict less than optimal outcomes (Ladd, Kochenderfer, & Coleman, 1996). For the most part, dyadic friendships in adolescence appear to exert only minimal overt influence on student motivation (see Berndt & Keefe, 1996). However, Berndt and Keefe argue that when influence in adolescence does occur, it is likely to support positive behavior such as academic studying, making plans for college, and avoiding antisocial, self-destructive actions (e.g., Berndt et al., 1990; Epstein, 1983).
Afinal aspect of peer relationships that has been studied in relation to academic achievement is group membership. A distinction between friendship and peer group influence isimportant given that friendships reflect relatively private, egalitarian relationships, whereas peer groups, although they are often self-selected, are likely to have publicly acknow ledged hierarchical relationships based on personal characteristics valued by the group (Brown, 1989; McAuliffe & Dembo, 1994). In contrast to peer status, which is measured by unilateral assessments of a child’s relative standing or reputation within the peer group, group membership is typically assessed by asking students who actually hangs out in groups with each other or by identifying clusters of friends who form a group.
Adolescent peer groups seem to play several important roles in the social and emotional development of young people. Peer crowds are believed to serve two primary functions: to facilitate the formation of identity and self-concept and to structure ongoing social interactions with each other (Brown, Mory, & Kinney, 1994). With respect to identity formation, crowds are believed to provide adolescents with values, norms, and interaction styles that are sanctioned and commonly displayed. Behaviors and interaction styles that are characteristic of a crowd are modeled frequently so that they can be easily learned and adopted by individuals. In this manner, crowds provide prototypical examples of various identities for those who wish to try out different lifestyles, and crowds can easily affirm an adolescents’sense of self.As adolescents enter high school and the number of crowds increases (Brown et al., 1994), identities associated with crowds are more easily recognized and afford the opportunity to try on various social identities with relatively little risk.
The power of crowd influence is reflected in relations between crowd membership and adolescents’ attitudes toward academic achievement. Clasen and Brown (1985) found that adolescent peer groups differ in the degree to which they pressure members to become involved in academic activities; socalled jocks and popular groups provided significantly more pressure for academic involvement than did other groups. Although peer group membership has rarely been linked to objective indexes of achievement, group membership has been related to motivational orientations toward learning and achievement as well as academic effort (Brown, 1989; Kindermann, 1993; Wentzel & Caldwell, 1997). Kindermann (1993; Kindermann, McCollam, & Gibson, 1996) reports that elementary-aged students tend to self-select into groups of peers that have motivational orientations to school similar to their own. Over the course of the school year, these orientations appear to become stronger and more similar within groups (see also Berndt et al., 1990; Hall & Cairns, 1984).
Relationships With Teachers
Teacher-student relationships have not been studied extensively in relation to children’s achievement; however, children who are well-liked by teachers tend to get better grades than do those who are not as well liked (e.g., Hadley, 1954; Kelley, 1958; Wentzel & Asher, 1995). The reasons for these significant relations are not clear, although there is some indication that student characteristics can influence the nature of teacher-student interactions and therefore can influence the quality of instruction received. For instance, the teachers observed in Brophy’s research (Brophy & Good, 1974; Brophy & Evertson, 1978) reported that they were more appreciative and positive toward students who were cooperative and persistent (i.e., behaviorally competent) than they were toward students who were less cooperative but displayed high levels of creativity and achievement. Teachers responded to students about whom they were concerned with help and encouragement when these students sought them out for help. In contrast, students toward whom they felt rejection were treated most often with criticism and typically were refused help. In short, these latter students were most likely to receive less one-on-one instruction than were other students.
Teachers’preference for students also appears to be related to the goals that students pursue (Wentzel, 1991b). Teacher preference (i.e., how much they would like to have each of their students in their class again next year) was related significantly and positively to students’ reports of efforts to be socially responsible as well as to achieve positive evaluations of performance. Of particular interest is that teacher preference was not related to student pursuit of prosocial goals or goals to learn. Moreover, in a study of children without friends at school, Wentzel and Asher (1995) concluded that being liked by teachers might offset whatever the negative effects of peer rejection might be on children’s adjustment to school. In particular, being liked by teachers was more important for the adoption of school-related goals than was a high level of acceptance among peers. Indeed, the most highly motivated group of students was comprised of young adolescents who had very few friends. However, these students were also those most preferred by teachers.
Implications for Future Research
Although establishing positive interpersonal relationships at school is an important aspect of school adjustment in and of itself, children’s relationships with teachers and peers take on added significance when considered in relation to other aspects of school adjustment. On the one hand, it is likely that interpersonal relationships and other aspects of adjustment are interrelated. For instance, behavioral competence appears to mediate positive relationships between multiple aspects of peer relationships and academic achievement (Wentzel, 1991a, 1997). In addition, however, the extant literature indicates that these relations are likely reciprocal and complex. For instance, social rejection by peers can result in antisocial as well as other maladaptive forms of behavior. However, aggressive and antisocial formsof behavior also appear to be part of a maladaptive cycle of peer rejection, inappropriate behavior, and peer rejection, with behavioral incompetence often instigating initial peer rejection (Dodge, 1986). In some cases this is true of academic achievement as well, with peer rejection appearing after academic difficulties are experienced (Dishion, 1990). Although similar work has not been conducted on teachers, children’s relationships with parents can result in similar cycles of inappropriate behavior followed by harsh parenting, escalated child aggression, and finally maladaptive outcomes at school (Patterson & Bank, 1989). It is reasonable to expect that similar patterns of interaction might also develop with teachers.
Of central importance to a discussion of school adjustment, however, is how these behavioral competencies develop in the first place and how educators might intervene to facilitate positive adjustment when it has not occurred. One common explanation for how social influence takes place focuses on the motivational significance of children’s social relationships. In general, it is hypothesized that children are more likely to adopt and internalize goals that are valued by others when their relationships are nurturing and supportive than they are when their relationships are harsh and critical (see Grusec & Goodnow, 1994). In turn, if goals for socially desirable outcomes have been internalized, efforts to achieve these goals and corresponding displays of appropriate behavior are likely to follow (Wentzel, 1991a, 1994). Given the centrality of goal pursuit for understanding multiple aspects of school adjustment, the role of interpersonal relationships with teachers and peers in explanations of why students pursue social goals is the focus of the following section.
Social Influences on School Adjustment
There are two general mechanisms whereby the aspects of school adjustment discussed in this research paper might be influencedbyinterpersonalinteractionsandrelationships.First,interactions with adults and peers can provide children directly with resources that promote the development of specific competencies. These resources can take the form of information and advice, modeled behavior, or specific experiences that facilitate learning. In the classroom, students provide each other with valuable resources necessary to accomplish academic tasks (Sieber, 1979). Students frequently clarify and interpret their teacher’s instructions concerning what they should be doing and how they should do it, provide mutual assistance in the form of volunteering substantive information and answering questions (Cooper, Ayers-Lopez, & Marquis, 1982), and share various supplies such as pencils and paper. Classmates provide each other with information by modeling both academic and social competencies (Schunk, 1987) and with normative standards for performance by comparing work and grades (Butler, 1995; Guay, Boivin, & Hodges, 1999).
Second, social interactions can facilitate the development of intrapersonal outcomes related to the development of social and academic skills. Theoretical models of these latter indirect influences describe the socialization process as one of communicating goals and expectations for specific behavioral outcomes and then providing a context wherein these goals are learned and subsequently internalized (see Darling & Steinberg, 1993; Grusec & Goodnow, 1994). Therefore, the challenge is to identify the socialization processes that lead children to pursue certain goals and not others, and to develop generalized social orientations that direct behavior across multiple settings.
The present discussion focuses on children’s motivation to achieve valued social goals as a central target of socialization influences from adults and peers. A thorough review of work on parental influence and children’s school adjustment is beyond the scope of this research paper. However, models of parental socialization are relevant for understanding ways in which teachers might influence their students’ adjustment. Therefore, I discuss work on parents as socializers of children’s motivation first, followed by a description of ways in which effective teachers are similar to effective parents. Next, literature on peers as socializers of student motivation is discussed.
Adult Socialization of Children’s Goal Pursuit
Although children pursue goals for many reasons, the question of what leads them to pursue goals for their own sake without the need for external prompts or rewards lies at the heart of research on socialization (e.g., Grusec & Goodnow, 1994; Maccoby, 1992). One way to understand this phenomenon with respect to schooling is to consider goals to be internalized when a student pursues them consistently across many learning situations. These goals could represent outcomes in which a student is intrinsically interested or those for which he or she has acquired personal value (e.g., Ryan, 1993). If specific socialization experiences promote the development of these internalized goals, how then does this influence occur? For the most part, mechanisms that link parenting styles to children’s internalization of specific goals have not been the target of empirical investigations. However, many researchers have identified general types of parental behavior that relate to their children’s motivational and behavioral adjustment to school. Their work is reviewed in the following section.
Parents as Socializers
Much research on parental influence on children’s school functioning has focused on links between particular types of parenting styles and child outcomes (Ryan, Adams, Gullotta, Weissberg, & Hampton, 1995). Based on extensive observations of parents and children, Diana Baumrind concluded that specific dimensions of parent-child interactions could predict reliably children’s social, emotional, and cognitive competence (Baumrind, 1971, 1991). In general, these dimensions reflect consistent enforcement of rules, expectations for self-reliance and self-control, solicitation of children’s opinions and feelings, and expressions of warmth and approval. Of interest for the present discussion is that parenting behavior reflecting these dimensions has been associated with children’s academic motivation, including intrinsic interest (Ginsberg & Bronstein, 1993; Rathunde, 1996) and goal orientations toward learning (Hokoda & Fincham, 1995). Although studies provide little evidence that specific parenting practices promote the consistent pursuit of specific social goals, they do indicate that motivational processes might be a critical outcome of socialization experiences that can partly explain school adjustment outcomes.
A more specific model of influence proposed by Ryan (1993) recognizes the importance of parenting styles similar to those identified by Baumrind and speaks directly to the issue of why children adopt and internalize socially valued goals (for similar arguments, see Deci & Ryan, 1991; Connell & Wellborn, 1991; Grolnick, Kurowski, & Gurland, 1999; Lepper, 1983). Ryan argues that within the context of a secure parent-child relationship in which caregivers provide contingent feedback, nurturing, and developmentally appropriate structure and guidance, young children develop a generalized positive sense of social relatedness, personal competence, and autonomy when presented with new experiences and challenges. These positive aspects of self-development then support the internalization of socially prescribed goals and values—that is, “the transformation of external controls and regulations into internal ones” (Ryan, 1993, p. 29). In contrast, children who do not experience secure relationships tend to enter situations with detachment or high levels of emotional distress.
This perspective on parent socialization implies that students’ orientations toward achieving socially valued outcomes in the classroom, including academic success, might be part of an overarching or more global motivational system derived from early socialization experiences. Although it is limited, research supports this notion. For instance, young children’s initial orientations toward achievement of academic tasks appears to be grounded in children’s fundamental view of themselves as morally and socially acceptable human beings (Burhans & Dweck, 1995; Dweck, 1991; Heyman, Dweck, & Cain, 1992). Further, Heyman et al. (1992) report that these beliefs are related to children’s reports of how they think their parents will react to their successes and failures; children who express relatively maladaptive orientations toward failure also report high levels of parental criticism, and those who express positive orientations report caring and supportive parental responses. At a more general level, researchers have related aspects of parenting to young children’s sense of relatedness, personal competence, and autonomy (Grolnick & Slowiaczek, 1994).
Although Ryan’s (1993) model of internalization poses the intriguing hypothesis that the foundations for internalization can only be laid within the context of early socialization experiences, it is likely that teachers can influence which classroom-specific goals children choose to pursue. First, teachers define appropriate types of classroom behavior and standards for social as well as academic competence. In doing so, they provide students with information concerning which goals they should and should not pursue. Second, teachers appear to establish contexts that reflect those provided by effective parents (e.g., Grolnick & Ryan, 1989; Skinner & Belmont, 1993; Wentzel, 2002a). In doing so, they likely promote directly the adoption and pursuit (if not internalization) of classroom-specific goals.
Teachers as Socializers of Classroom Rules and Norms
Like parents, teachers communicate socially valued goals and expectations to their students. Teachers are sensitive to individual differences in classroom conduct, value socially competent behavior, and spend an enormous amount of time teaching their students how to behave and act responsibly (see Doyle, 1986). In fact, teachers tend to have a core set of behavioral expectations for their students reflecting appropriate responses to academic requests and tasks, impulse control, mature problem solving, cooperative and courteous interaction with peers, involvement in class activities, and recognition of appropriate contexts for different types of behavior (LeCompte, 1978a, 1978b; Trenholm & Rose, 1981). Moreover, teachers actively communicate these expectations to their students—regardless of their instructional goals, teaching styles, and ethnicity (Hargreaves, Hester, & Mellor, 1975). Teachers also communicate expectations for students’ interactions with each other. High school teachers promote adherence to interpersonal rules concerning aggression, manners, stealing, and loyalty (Hargreaves et al., 1975), and elementary school teachers tend to focus on peer norms for sharing resources, being nice to each other, working well with others, and harmonious problem solving (Sieber, 1979). Teachers also communicate directly to students when students need to pay attention as a function of which contexts they are in (Shultz & Florio, 1979) and when and where it is appropriate to interact with peers (Sieber, 1979).
Teachers tend to promote prosocial and socially responsible behavior in several ways. For instance, various classroom management practices can be used to establish group order and control (see Doyle, 1986). Blumenfeld and her colleagues (Blumenfeld, Hamilton, Bossert, Wessels, & Meece, 1983; Blumenfeld, Hamilton, Wessels, & Faulkner, 1979) have documented specific ways in which social responsibility is taught at school. In particular, they have studied teacher communications to students that relay why students ought to behave in certain ways—that ascribe causal attributions for students’ behavior and suggest sanctions for classroom conduct. These researchers found that teachers’communications reflect specific issues concerning academic performance, academic procedures (i.e., proper ways to do work), social procedures (e.g., talking, adhering to social conventions), and social-moral norms (e.g., cheating, fighting). Within the procedural and social-moral domain, 46% of the academic procedure statements concerned staying on task, 51% of the social procedure statements concerned talking, and 57% of the social-moral statements concerned respect for others. The power of these communications was reflected in that they were related to students’ ratings of how important classroom procedures and norms were to them personally.
Developmental issues also are important with respect to the influence of teachers’ communications on students’ beliefs about behavior at school. For example, Smetana and Bitz (1996) reported that almost all adolescents believe that teachers have authority over issues such as stealing and fighting, somewhat less authority over issues such as misbehaving in class, breaking school rules, and smoking or substance abuse, and least authority over issues involving peer interactions, friendships, and personal appearance. Moreover, when compared to beliefs about the authority of their parents and friends to dictate their school behavior, adolescents reported that teachers have more authority with respect to moral issues such as stealing and fighting and conventional rules involving school and classroom conduct. Adolescent students also believed that teachers have as much authority as do parents with respect to smoking or substance abuse. These beliefs, however, tended to change as children got older; younger adolescents in middle school reported that teachers have legitimate authority in all areas of school conduct, and older adolescents in high school believed that teachers have little authority over most aspects of students’lives at school.
Teachers as Providers of Appropriate Contexts
In addition to communicating to students what they should be trying to achieve, teachers also can provide students with contexts that have the potential to either support or discourage the adoption of these goals. For instance, in studies of elementary school-aged students, teacher provisions of structure, guidance, and autonomy have been related to a range of positive, motivational outcomes (e.g., Grolnick & Ryan, 1989; Skinner & Belmont, 1993). Birch and Ladd (1996) report that young children’s healthy adjustment to school is related to teacher-student relationships characterized by warmth and the absence of conflict as well as open communication. In contrast, kindergartners’ relationships with teachers marked by conflict and dependency predict less than adaptive academic and behavioral outcomes through eighth grade—especially for boys (Hamre & Pianta, 2001). When teachers are taught to provide students with warmth and support, clear expectations for behavior, and developmentally appropriate autonomy, their students develop a stronger sense of community, increase displays of socially competent behavior, and show academic gains (Schaps, Battistich, & Solomon, 1997; Watson, Solomon, Battistich, Schaps, & Solomon, 1989).
Teachers also structure learning environments in ways that make certain goals more salient than other goals to students. For example, cooperative learning structures can be designed to promote the pursuit of social goals to be responsible to the group and to achieve common objectives (Ames & Ames, 1984; Cohen, 1986; Solomon, Schaps, Watson, & Battistich, 1992). Teachers also provide students with evaluation criteria and design tasks in ways that can focus attention on goals to learn and develop skills (task-related and intellectual goals) or to demonstrate ability to others (performance goals; see Ames, 1992; Blumenfeld, 1992). Teachers who provide students with a diverse set of tasks that are challenging, have personal relevance, and promote skill development are likely to foster pursuit of mastery goals; teachers who use normative and comparative evaluation criteria and who provide students with controlling, noncontingent extrinsic rewards are likely to promote pursuit of performance goals (see Ames, 1992; Lepper & Hodell, 1989).
It is interesting that theoretical models developed to explain how teachers promote positive student outcomes are quite similar to family socialization models (Baumrind, 1971; Ryan, 1993). For instance, Noddings (1992) suggested that four aspects of teacher behavior are critical for understanding the establishment of an ethic of caring in classrooms: modeling caring relationships with others, establishing dialogues characterized by a search for common understanding, providing confirmation to students that their behavior is perceived and interpreted in a positive light, and providing practice and opportunities for students to care for others. Noddings’ notions of dialogue and confirmation correspond closely with Baumrind’s parenting dimensions of democratic communication styles and maturity demands. Moreover, empirical findings provide some support for these models. When asked to characterize teachers who care (Wentzel, 1997), middle school students described teachers who demonstrate democratic and egalitarian communication styles designed to elicit student participation and input, who develop expectations for student behavior and performance in light of individual differences and abilities, who model a caring attitude and interest in their instruction and interpersonal dealings with students, and who provide constructive rather than harsh and critical feedback. Moreover, students who perceive their teachers to display high levels of these characteristics also tend to pursue appropriate social and academic classroom goals more frequently than do students who do not (Wentzel, 2002a).
Little is known about how teachers define their roles as socialization agents. In a recent interview study, however, middle school teachers offered a variety of important things that they did in the classroom—ranging from instruction to promoting students’social and emotional development (Wentzel, 2000). For instance, half of the 20 teachers mentioned promoting social-emotional development as an important part of their job, 40% mentioned instruction and establishing positive teacher-student relationships, and 33% mentioned classroom management and the teaching of learning skills. In addition, a good day for teachers was typically described as one in which students are motivated and on task, whereas bad days were those in which classroom management issues and problems with instruction were prevalent.
Peers as Socializers of School Adjustment
Models of socialization by adults have not been used to understand ways in which children influence each other’s development. In fact, interactions with peers have been viewed most often as having a potentially negative impact on the pursuit and achievement of educational goals (Berndt, 1999). Group work is often seen as antithetical to individual achievement, and peer norms are generally believed to be antagonistic to those of the school. However, peer acceptance among school-aged children is based in large part on cooperative, prosocial, and nonaggressive types of behavior (Coie et al., 1990), and positive peer interactions tend to promote the development of perspective-taking and empathic skills that serve as bases for prosocial interactions (e.g., Youniss, 1994; Youniss & Smollar, 1985). Moreover, as noted earlier, positive relationships with peers have been consistently related to positive academic outcomes.
Can parenting or teacher models of socialization be used to understand peer influence? Although empirical evidence is generally lacking, children—like adults—articulate sets of goals that they would like and expect each other to achieve. Specific aspects of peer contexts and interactions that lead children to pursue these goals are not well understood. However, peer group membership has been associated with the development of classroom goals in several ways. For example, the larger peer group can be the source for behavioral standards, as well as the mechanism whereby classroom rules are monitored and enforced; this is especially the case when students as a group are held accountable for the behavior of the group’s members or when teachers use peer group leaders to monitor the class when they must leave their classrooms (Sieber, 1979). Students also have been observed to monitor each other by ignoring noninstructional behavior and responses during group instruction and by private sanctioning of inappropriate conduct (Eder & Felmlee, 1984; Sieber, 1979).
Cooperative learning activities can also provide contexts in which peers hold each other accountable to certain standards of conduct. Indeed, socially responsible behavior in the form of helping and sharing knowledge and expertise is an integral part of the cooperative learning process (Ames & Ames, 1984; Slavin, 1987). With respect to goal pursuit, the group enforces individual efforts to achieve common goals that represent both social and task-related outcomes (see also Sherif, Harvey, White, Hood, & Sherif, 1988). It should be noted, however, that peer monitoring of behavior is a useful motivational tool only insofar as the peer group has adopted adult standards for achievement and norms for conduct. As children enter middle school and establishing independence from adult influence becomes a developmental task, it is less likely that students will automatically enforce their teachers’ classroom rules (Eccles & Midgley, 1989).
Students’ Beliefs as Mediating Processes
Of final interest for a discussion of socialization influences is that differences in the degree to which a student believes that teachers and peers accept and care about him or her might account in large part for significant links between the nature of interpersonal relationships at school and aspects of school adjustment. Indeed, individuals construct beliefs about themselves and their social worlds as they experience and interact with others. Subjective beliefs concerning acceptance and support from classmates and teachers represent an important aspect of social cognitive functioning that might influence behavior to a greater degree than actual levels of acceptance and support (see Harter, 1996; Harter, Stocker, & Robinson, 1996; Parker & Asher, 1987). The role of these beliefs in explaining ways in which teachers and peers exert influence is explored next.
Research on perceived social support underscores the important role that students’ perceptions and interpretations of their peers’and teachers’behavior plays in their active pursuit of appropriate classroom goals. Few studies have examined sociometric status in relation to students’ own perceptions of their peer relationships (cf. Zakriski & Coie, 1996). However, students who believe that their peers support and care about them tend to be more engaged in positive aspects of classroom life than do students who do not perceive such support. In particular, perceived social and emotional support from peers has been associated positively with prosocial outcomes such as helping, sharing, and cooperating, and it has been related negatively to antisocial forms of behavior (Wentzel, 1994). Young adolescents who do not perceive their relationships with peers as positive and supportive also tend to be at risk for academic problems (e.g., Goodenow, 1993; Midgley, Feldlaufer, & Eccles, 1989; Phelan et al., 1991). In addition, perceived social and emotional support from peers has been associated with pursuit of academic and prosocial goals (DuBois, Felner, Brand, Adan, & Evans, 1992; Felner, Aber, Primavera, & Cauce, 1985; Harter, 1996; Wentzel, 1994, 1997, 1998). It is interesting that perceived support from peers appears to be more strongly related to pursuit of goals to be prosocial than is perceived support from parents and teachers (Wentzel, 1998).
Perceived support from teachers also has been related to positive motivational outcomes, including the pursuit of goals to learn and to behave prosocially and responsibly, educational aspirations and values, and self-concept (Felner et al., 1985; Goodenow, 1993; Harter, 1996; Marjoribanks, 1985; Midgley et al., 1989; Wentzel, 1994). In middle school, students’perceptions that teachers care about them have been related to positive aspects of student motivation such as pursuit of social and academic goals, mastery orientations toward learning, and academic interest (Wentzel, 1997). In a recent study of perceived support from teachers, parents, and peers (Wentzel, 1998), perceived support from teachers was unique in its relation to students’ interest in class and pursuit of goals to adhere to classroom rules and norms. Finally, Eccles and her colleagues (Feldlaufer, Midgley, & Eccles, 1988; Midgley et al., 1989) found that young adolescents report declines in the nurturing qualities of teacher-student relationships after the transition to middle school; these declines correspond to declines in academic motivation and achievement. As students proceed through middle school, they also report that teachers become more focused on students’ earning high grades, competition between students, and maintaining adult control, with a decrease in personal interest in students (Harter, 1990, 1996). Students who report these changes also tend to report less intrinsic motivation to achieve than do students who do not report such changes (Harter, 1996).
Implications for Future Research
A growing body of evidence suggests that models of socialization might be well suited for understanding which goals children pursue at school and thedegree to whichthese goals have been internalized and represent personal values. Socialization models are especially important to consider with respect to the content of students’goals, given that successful students must achieve social and academic objectives that are imposed externally by adults. In this regard, it is important to note that some students reject these goals outright. It is likely that other students merely comply with these expectations and present the impression that they are interested in achieving what is required when in fact they are not (see Juvonen, 1996; Sivan, 1986). Some students, however, are likely to have internalized adult-valued goals and are committed to achieving them regardless of competing expectations. Therefore, identifying the precise socialization experiences that lead to these fundamentally different orientations toward learning remains a significant challenge to the field.
Several issues remain unresolved with respect to teacher influences on student goal setting. First, teachers tend to focus on different issues depending on the age of their students. For instance, teachers of early elementary and junior high school students tend to spend more of their time on issues related to social conduct than do teachers at other grade levels (Brophy & Evertson, 1978). In addition, the contribution of various socialization agents to the development and internalization of goals and values might also change with age. Whereas parents and teachers might facilitate the learning and adoption of goals in young children, peers might play an increasingly important role as children reach adolescence.
The reward structures that teachers establish in their classrooms also might have differential impact depending on students’ age and family environment. Ames (1984, 1992) has identified several classroom reward structures that communicate the value of goals to compete with others, to improve one’s own personal performance, and to cooperate with group efforts. However, middle school and high school students might be more attuned than are elementary-aged children to evaluation practices that are competitive and normative (see Harter, 1996; Ruble, 1983). Students from families who stress mastery over performance might also be less susceptible to teacher practices that focus on performance and ability (Ames &Archer, 1987). In addition, teachers are likely to differ in their promotion of specific classroom goals as well as beliefs concerning what it means to be a successful student. For example, a student who pursues social needs for relatedness and therefore chooses to adopt classroom goals valued by her or his teacher might learn that being better than others (pursuing competitive goals) defines success, whereas this same student might learn from another teacher that progressively mastering subject matter (achieving individualistic goals) or perhaps even behaving cooperatively (achieving prosocial goals) defines success (seeAmes, 1984, 1992).Therefore, it is difficult to predict which students will be most successful without knowing the content of goals and belief systems being communicated by individual teachers.
Perhaps one of the more interesting questions with respect to socialization within peer contexts is the strength of peer influence compared to that of parents and other adults. Studies of parents and peers provide evidence that parents can influence their children to a much greater extent than can peers (Youniss & Smollar, 1989). Moreover, it appears that the existence or quality of peer relationships is not destined to influence motivationnegativelyorpositivelyifsupportiverelationshipswith parents or teachers exist. With respect to practice, these findings imply that although peer influence might be strong, it can be superseded. In fact, interventions to offset the often negative influence of peer groups and gangs might be especially successful if children are exposed to interactions with adults who can instill a sense of autonomy, mutuality, warmth, and guidance into their relationships with these children (see Heath & McLaughlin, 1993). Moreover, peer group membership tends to change frequently, suggesting that influence by a particular group might also be fairly transient.Therefore, having access to adult relationships that are stable and predictable also should contribute positively to intervention efforts.
With respect to the issue of social support and student pursuit of socially valued goals, it is possible that students who perceive low levels of social support experience psychological distress that in turn will increase focus on the self and decrease the likelihood of positive orientations toward learning and social interactions. In support of this specific focus on emotion regulation are findings that perceived support from families is relatednegativelytodepressionanddepressiveaffectinyoung adolescents (Cumsille & Epstein, 1994; Feldman, Rubenstein &Rubin,1988;Kaplan,Robins,&Martin,1983;Wenz-Gross, Siperstein, Untch & Widaman, 1997). Other studies have linked psychological distress and depression to interest in school (Wentzel, Weinberger, Ford, & Feldman, 1990) as well as to academic performance (Harter, 1990; Wentzel et al., 1990). Negative emotional states have been related to negative attitudes, poor adjustment to school (Dubow & Tisak, 1989), and ineffective cognitive functioning (Jacobsen, Edelstein, & Hofmann, 1994). The relevance of this literature for understanding the impact of social relationships on student outcomes is demonstrated in recent work documenting that emotional distress can explain (in part) significant relations between perceived support from peers and young adolescents’ interest in school (Wentzel, 1998), as well as between peer acceptance and adolescents’ prosocial behavior (Wentzel & McNamara, 1999). Actual levels of peer rejection as well as peer harassment have also been linked to perceived academic competence and achievement by way of negative affect (Guay et al., 1999; Juvonen, Nishina, & Graham, 2000).
Future research also might focus on identifying additional student characteristics that predispose students to perceive relationships with adults and peers in either positive or negative ways. The literature on peer relationships suggests that children who are socially rejected tend to believe that others are out to harm them when in fact they are not, and such children choose to pursue inappropriate and often antisocial goals in social situations (see Dodge & Feldman, 1990; Erdley, 1996). Over time, these children develop peer relationships marked by mistrust and hostility. Similar research has not been conducted on student-teacher relationships. However, it is possible that students who believe that teachers do not like them might also be perceiving and interpreting these adult relationships in ways that are biased and unfounded. Therefore, efforts to promote perceptions that peers and teachers are caring and supportive are likely to be most successful if students themselves are targets of intervention.
It also is important to extend our understanding of the underlying belief systems that are reflected in a general perception of social support. In this regard, Ford (1992) has described a set of context beliefs about social relationships and settings that have the potential to link generalized perceptions of social support and belongingness to classroom functioning. Specifically, Ford argues that within specific situations, individuals formulate beliefs concerning the correspondence between their personal goals and those of others, the degree to which others will provide access to information and resources necessary to achieve one’s goals, and the extent to which social relationships will provide an emotionally supportive environment. This implies that students will engage in positive social and academic activities when they perceive the classroom as a place that provides opportunities to achieve social and academic goals; as a safe and responsive environment; as a place that facilitates the achievement of goals by providing help, advice, and instruction; and as a place that is emotionally supportive and nurturing. Recent research (Wentzel et al., 2000) demonstrates that students can define their classroom relationships along these dimensions, with respect to teachers as well as to peers. Moreover, these dimensions appear to predict students’ classroom behavior, their motivation to behave appropriately, and their interest in subject matter.
These context beliefs most likely reflect the outcome of students’ history of interacting with specific teachers and peers at school. For instance, students who come to school with strong motives to behave prosocially rather than competitively (e.g., Knight & Kagan, 1977) might develop a generalized belief that classroom goals are antagonistic to their personal goals if they have a history of interacting with teachers who have rewarded demonstrations of superiority rather than equality. Similarly, students might have experienced teachers who have not taken the time to give them extra help (Brophy & Evertson, 1978) or who have failed to provide opportunities for students to model skills for each other in interactive settings (Schunk, 1987). These students also are likely to perceive the classroom as an unsupportive if not hostile learning environment. Research that examines the degree to which negative context beliefs can be changed to reflect a more positive outlook might provide valuable insights into ways that the social context of the classroom can be engineered to have a maximum impact on students’ adoption and pursuit of appropriate classroom goals.
Conclusions and Provocations for the Field
Throughout this research paper, I have highlighted the importance of defining school adjustment within an ecological, systemic framework. In doing so, I have documented the importance of social motivational processes, behavioral competence, and interpersonal relationships not only as critical aspects of school adjustment, but also as a complex and interrelated set of outcomes that contribute to academic accomplishments. In addition, work that underscores the importance of students’ interpersonal relationships with teachers and peers in promoting healthy and adaptive functioning at school has been described. Although definitions of school adjustment and the relative importance of various outcomes are likely to vary depending on context-specific values and norms of a classroom, the literature provides strong support for the notion that general levels of adjustment require personal attributes such as the ability to coordinate multiple goals, motivation to behave in socially desirable ways, and the social skills necessary to behave in socially competent ways. In turn, it appears that the development of these personal attributes can be supported by developmentally appropriate expectations for behavior, as well as provisions of emotional and social support, autonomy, and consistency and structure on the part of teachers and peers.
Beyond these basic observations, however, many interesting and provocative questions remain. In conclusion, therefore, I would like to raise several general issues in need of additional consideration and empirical investigation if educational psychologists are to make progress in understanding children’s adjustment to school. These issues concern the expectations and goals we hold for our students, the role of developmental processes in choosing these goals (and therefore in how we view healthy adjustment), the development of more sophisticated models to guide research on school adjustment, and research methods and designs.
Defining School Adjustment
Perhaps our most important task as researchers and educators is to come to terms with the questions raised at the beginning of this research paper: What are our educational goals for our children? Do we want to teach simply to the test or nurture our children in ways that will help them become productive and healthy adults and citizens? By the same token, what are the goals that children bring with them to school? Do they strive to excel in relation to their peers, satisfy their curiosities, get along with others, or simply feel safe? In order to understand fully children’s adjustment to school, it is imperative that we continue to seek answers to these questions and identify ways to coordinate these often antagonistic goals to achieve a healthy balance of multiple objectives. Indeed, the process of achieving more adaptive levels of adjustment will always include negotiations and coordination of the multiple and often conflicting goals of teachers, peers, students themselves, and their parents.
Although we as educational psychology researchers are beginning to understand the basic goals that most teachers and students wish to achieve, we know little about how and why students come to learn about and to adopt these goals as their own. For instance, how do teachers communicate their expectations and goals to students, and which factors predispose students to accept or reject these communications? We know that parental messages are more likely to be perceived accurately by children if they are clear and consistent, are framed in ways that are relevant and meaningful to the child, require decoding and processing by the child, and are perceived by the child as being of clear importance to the parent and as being conveyed with positive intentions (Grusec & Goodnow, 1994). Do these same factors reflect effective forms of teacher-student communication—and if so, can we teach teachers to communicate goals and expectations to their students in similar ways?
Similarly, we need to focus on understanding student characteristics that facilitate their acceptance of teachers’communications. Motivational factors such as perceived autonomy, competence, and belongingness (e.g., Connell & Wellborn, 1991) and social-emotional competencies such as the ability to experience empathy and interpersonal trust (see Grusec & Goodnow, 1994) are well-documented correlates of compliance with—if not internalization of—socially valued goals. Other factors such as students’ beliefs regarding the fairness, relevance, and developmental appropriateness of teachers’goals and expectations also need to be investigated in this regard (e.g., Smetana & Bitz, 1996). Finally, social information processing skills that determine which social messages and cues are attended to, how they are interpreted, and how they are responded to are a critical component of socially competent behavior (Crick & Dodge, 1994). These skills have been widely researched in the area of peer relationships; extending our knowledge of their influence to the realm of teacherstudent relationships and adaptation to classroom contexts is a necessary next step in research on school adjustment.
If the achievement of socially valued goals is accepted as a critical component of school adjustment, investigations of appropriate goals and expectations also must be conducted within a developmental framework, taking into account the age-related capabilities of the child. Issues of developmentally appropriate practices have been addressed primarily at the level of preschool education. However, a consideration of developmental issues is critically important for students of all ages.To illustrate, Grolnick (Grolnick et al., 1999) argues that children face normative motivational challenges as they make their way through school; issues of social integration define the transition to school, the development self-regulatory skills and positive perceptions of autonomy and competence define the elementary years, and flexible coping and adaptation to new environments mark the transitions into middle and high school. The undertaking and mastery of these developmental tasks as they relate to school activities need to be incorporated into definitions and models of school adjustment and recognized as core competencies that children need to achieve as they progress through their school-aged years.
Adevelopmental focus also is necessary for understanding the demands on teachers of students of different ages. Researchers (e.g., Brophy & Good, 1974; Eccles & Midgley, 1989) have observed that teachers treat students differently and focus on different tasks and goals depending on the age of their students. At this point, we do not know if changing developmental needs of students or normative and societal expectations for children at different ages drive these differences. However, if we are to understand the nature and requirements of school adjustment, a critical look at the abilities of children at different ages as well as the normative requirements for competent classroom functioning is necessary. Systematic longitudinal and experimental research is needed to tease apart the relative contributions of children and teachers to patterns of classroom behavior and studentteacher interactions that appear to change across the elementary, middle school, and high school years.
As noted throughout this research paper, theoretically based models of school adjustment are not well developed. In particular, the role of context as it interacts with individual differences and psychological processes needs careful and systematic consideration. First, models need to address the possible ways in which children and the various social systems in which they develop—including home, peer groups, and schools— interact to create definitions of school-related competence (see Bronfenbrenner, 1989). In this regard, models that incorporate lay theories of what it means to be successful and beliefs concerning how success is achieved are essential (see Ogbu, 1985; Sternberg & Kolligian, 1990). How these beliefs change as children develop and ways in which they contribute to children’s developing school-related goal hierarchies should be a primary target of researchers’ efforts. Models of socialization also need to be developed with specific types of social relationship configurations in mind (e.g., dyads vs. groups, friendships vs. acquaintanceships) and perhaps modified depending on whether the relationships are with parents, peers, or teachers, and whether the target student is in elementary, middle, or high school. Similarly, the impact of other social context factors such as gender, race, and culture need to be incorporated into the model. Continued research on classroom reward structures (Ames, 1984), organizational culture and climate (Maehr & Midgley, 1991), and personenvironment fit (Eccles & Midgley, 1989) also can inform our understanding of how the social institutions and contexts within which learning takes place can motivate children to learn and behave in very specific ways.
Theoretical considerations of school adjustment also must continue to focus on underlying psychological processes and skills that promote the development and display of adjustment outcomes. For example, researchers have clearly established significant and powerful links between prosocial and socially responsible behaviors and academic accomplishments. What have not been identified, however, are the psychological underpinnings of these behaviors. Research on skills and strategies involved in emotion regulation (Eisenberg & Fabes, 1992), self-regulated learning, social information processing (Crick & Dodge, 1994), and goal coordination (Wentzel, 1991b, 2002b) might be particularly fruitful in determining the degree to which multiple aspects of school adjustment (e.g., prosocial behavior, academic performance) reflect a core set of psychological and emotional competencies as well as the degree to which social behaviors themselves contribute directly to learning outcomes.
Research Methods and Designs
Our current understanding of school adjustment is based primarily on correlational studiesof white middle-class children. Correlational strategies have resulted in a wealth of data that can serve as a strong foundation for further theory building and research. However, continued investigations in this area would profit from extending these simple correlational designs to incorporate ethnographic as well as experimental components. For instance, understanding what constitutes school adjustment in a classroom or broader school setting requiresin-depthconversationswithandextensiveobservations of students and teachers as they carry out their day-to-day lives at school. In addition, identifying ways to promote school adjustment requires careful, systematic long-term intervention studies.Although such projects are rare (cf. Schaps et al., 1997; Solomon et al., 1992), ongoing research involving experimentation and evaluation of progress is essential if we are to identify strategies and experiences that will improve the lives of students in significant ways.
In addition to design considerations, researchers also need to focus on more diverse samples. Although it is likely that the underlying psychological processes that contribute to school adjustment are similar for all students regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, or other contextual and demographic variables, the degree to which these latter factors interact with psychological processes to influence adjustment outcomes is not known. For instance, goal coordination skills might be more important for the adjustment of children from minority backgrounds than for children who come from families and communities whose goals and expectations are similar to those of the educational establishment (e.g., Fordham & Ogbu, 1986; Phelan et al., 1991). Peer relationship skills might be especially important for adjustment in schools where peer cultures are particularly strong or where collaborative and cooperative learning is emphasized. Achieving a better understanding of such interactions deserves our full attention. Similarly, definitions of competence and adjustment are likely to vary as a function of race, gender, neighborhood, or family background. Expanding our database to include the voices of underrepresented populations can only enrich our understanding of how and why children make successful adaptations to school.
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