Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Beyond IQ Series # 11: Definition and learning implications of Academic Interests and Attitudes--MACM model

Background comment regarding this series

Interest in social-emotional learning and resiliency training (click here and here for just two examples) in education has shown a recent uptick on activity. Given this activity, IQs Corner is starting a series to explain the previously articulated Model of Academic Competence and Motivation (MACM), which was a model ahead of it's time (IMHO). The imporance of non-cognitive (conative) characteristics in learning have been articulated since the days of Spearman, the father of the construct of general intelligence. Richard Snow's work on the concept of "aptitude," which integrates cognitive and conative individual difference variables, is the foundation of the Beyond IQ MACM. Non-cognitive (cognitive) characteristics of learners are important for learning and are more manipulable (more likely to be modified via intervention) than intelligence. Thus, the MACM components make sense as potential levers for improving school learning and pursuing more well rounded life-long learners. This material comes a larger set of materials on the web (click here).

Current MACM Series Installment

This 11th installment in the Beyond IQ series summarizes the conceptual and definitional research academic interests and attitudes, plus the learning implications of these domains. [All installments in this series (and other related posts and research) can be found by clicking here].


Academic Interests and Attitudes: Definition and Conceptual Background

A person’s relatively stable or enduring predisposition, positive affective orientation, and tendency to persevere when working on certain specific academic content or task domains.

“In the minds of many, a person’s interest is linked to his or her achievement with a particular subject content such as ballet, mathematics, etc.” (Renninger & Hidi, 2002, p. 173). Theoretically, interests are often defined as the focused interaction between an individual and an object (or class of objects, ideas, etc.) that results in an enduring affective disposition or orientation towards the object(s) (Corno et al., 2002; Eccles & Wigfield, 2002). Individual interests are conceptualized as consisting of feeling- and value-related valences. “Feeling-related valences refer to the feelings that are associated with an object or an activity—feelings such as involvement, stimulation, or flow. Value-related valences refer to the attribution of personal significance or importance to an object or activity” (Eccles & Wigfiled, 2002, p. 114). In the context of school learning, the development, maintenance, and enhancement of positive student-academic content domain relationships (i.e., interests) can improve the quality of learning and promote intrinsic motivation. Thus, academic interests should not only be considered important facilitators of academic outcomes, but also as valued educational outcomes in their own right (Corno et al., 2002).

Recently, interest theory research has postulated a differentiation between individual and situational interest. Individual interest reflects a relatively stable or enduring predisposition, evaluative orientation, and tendency to persevere when working on certain specific content or task domains. In contrast, spur-of-the-moment interests, often triggered “in the moment,” are classified as situational interests (Eccles & Wigfield, 2002; Renninger & Hidi, 2002). Examples of situational interests would be a momentary interest in a topic after observing a television show, hearing a speaker, or catching a portion of a video clip while strolling through an electronics store. Situational interest is not necessarily positive (e.g., a child’s focused attention on graphic violence on the evening news) and typically requires little knowledge of the content domain or experience. Situational interests can evolve into more stable individual interests (Renninger & Hidi, 2002). In contrast, an individual interest in geology is inferred when a student has acquired a stored geology knowledge base and a positive affective feeling towards geology that “leads to informed reengagement and the ability and desire to work with difficulties that might arise” (Renninger & Hidi, 2002, p. 174). Individual academic content or procedural interests, characteristics that reflect the enduring and stable aspects of a student’s interests, are the focus in this paper.

The value-laden component of interests can also be conceptualized as attitudes which are overt or covert expressions of positive or negative internal states (Corno et al., 2002). Although the theoretical and research literature on the structure of attitudes and beliefs could argue for the separate treatment of academic attitudes, we blend interests and attitudes together since individual interests can be thought of as positive attitudes towards a topic. In this document, academic interests and attitudes are defined as a student’s relatively stable or enduring predisposition, positive affective orientation, and tendency to persevere when working on certain specific academic content or task domains (Corno et al., 2002; Eccles & Wigfiled, 2002; Renninger & Hidi, 2002).

Academic Interests and Attitudes: Implications

Reviews of contemporary academic interest and attitude research (Corno et al., 2002; Eccles & Wigfield, 2002; Renninger & Hidi, 2002) suggests that positive academic interests and attitudes contribute towards positive academic outcomes. The following implications and conclusions have been gleaned from this research literature:

The process of interest development is dependent on a students’ level of cognitive development and is also a product of the students’ culture that supports or constrains the development of specific interests (over others).

Academic interests are developmental in nature. Young children are more likely to first shift attention, recognize, and recall contents of well-developed individual interests versus. less developed interests. As students move through their academic careers, interest and attitude toward school, in general, begins to decline.

Positive academic interests and attitudes are associated with deep-level (vs surface-level) learning and understanding (e.g., recall of main ideas, coherently organized recall, better transfer, more elaborate information knowledge structures).

It is believed that higher positive academic interests and attitudes result in the greater use of metacognitive learning strategies, positive affect, heightened attention, and concentration. In general, students working with content for which they have well-developed interest process information more efficiently.

Positive academic interests and attitudes may be associated with the use of more imagery during learning and the development of more personalized information knowledge structures.

Individual students are not always self-aware of their individual interests and, thus, may not use this self-awareness information in academic goal setting. Positive peer or adult feedback and support is believed to help students crystallize and stabilize their academic interests and attitudes.

Weak academic interests and attitudes can be strengthened by engaging students in tasks and subject matter that: (a) encourages the student to commit some effort to connecting with the task or content; (b) results in success; and (c) has built-in supports (expert-others and peers). “Tasks that fit this description are typically complex, may focus on real problems, and lead learners to use and develop skills through work with multiple resources, including peers”(Renninger & Hidi, 2002, p. 180).

How a student perceives or “filters” the outcome of a negative learning experience influences the impact of the experience on academic interest and attitude. Negative feedback on the heels of failure or frustration can negatively impact academic interests and attitudes. Conversely, positive feedback and support for a learner’s positive feelings and willingness (effort) can mitigate against a decrement in academic interest and attitude. Interest for subject areas for which a student has less-developed interest can be facilitated via the provision of multiple instances of attention to and successfull achievement.

School culture contributes to students’ type of goals and may influence the development of academic interests. As per self- determination theory, less personal choice via constraints on school curricula, particularly during the middle and junior high school years, may produce less positive academic interest and attitudes. Although the degrees of freedom in school curricula are typically governed by external constraints, providing students a sense of some control and/or choice in their academic content (via sharing perceptions of interest and personal relevance) has been suggested as a means to maintain and increase academic interest and attitudes. Autonomy combined with opportunities to build knowledge and interaction with peers provide support for changed perceptions and can lay the groundwork for the development of a student's specific interests.

Students that have a well-developed interest typically need less externally imposed academic targets or academic goal setting.

A student with a maintained situational interest may have positive feelings about the specific content, but may not set challenges that lead to new understanding and more permanent interests.

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