Ellen Skinner

Date of Award

Winter 4-2-2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (M.S.) in Psychology



Physical Description

1 online resource (xi, 147 pages)


Middle school teachers -- Attitudes -- Case studies, Achievement motivation in children -- Case studies, Alienation (Social psychology), Engagement (Philosophy)




Building upon previous research on the importance of students' motivation for their learning and academic success, this study sought to examine how students' motivation in the classroom may impact the way their teachers' treat them. Specifically, data from 423 middle school students and their 21 teachers were used to examine the extent to which student engagement and disaffection (individually and in combination) in the fall predicted changes in teachers' provision of motivational support from fall to spring of the same school year. The study also examined whether these relationships might differ by student grade or gender, and whether the effects of each component of motivation can be buffered or boosted by the level of the other component.

Overall, results provided partial support for study hypotheses. As expected, engagement and disaffection (as reported both by students and by teachers) individually predicted changes in teacher motivational support over the school year, such that engaged students were more likely to gain teacher support across the school year whereas disaffected students were more likely to lose teacher support. Assessing the unique effects of engagement and disaffection suggested partial support for their combined predictive utility, although less support was found for teacher-reports than student-reports. Across time, student-reported disaffection demonstrated unique effects on changes in teacher support but student-reported engagement did not. For teacher-reports of engagement and disaffection, neither component of motivation predicted changes in teacher support above and beyond the other component.

Across reporters, mean-level gender differences in the constructs of interest were consistent with expectations based on previous research suggesting that girls tend to be more motivated than boys in school; however, despite these significant differences in mean-levels, there were few gender differences in the strength of the reciprocal effects of student motivation on teacher support. Of the 12 tests for gender differences in the links between student motivation and teacher support, only two were found, and both cases demonstrated significant gender effects of the same form, such that engagement and disaffection demonstrated significant reciprocal effects for both genders; however, the effects were significantly stronger for boys. As expected, examination of mean-level differences in engagement and disaffection as a function of grade suggested that student motivation and teacher support decline as students progress through middle school. In general, significant reciprocal effects of student motivation on teacher support across time were found for students of all grades for both student- and teacher reports; however there were some grade-level differences in the strength of those associations. Results indicated that engagement and disaffection were more important predictors of changes in teacher support over the school year for older students (8th graders) than for younger students (6th or 7th graders).

Finally, the expected interaction between engagement and disaffection was only partially supported and only for teacher-reports. Specifically, as predicted, the relationship between teacher-reported engagement and teacher support was stronger for students who were low in disaffection, suggesting low disaffection boosted the positive effects of engagement. At the same time, and contrary to expectations, instead of the relationship between disaffection and teacher support being weaker for students perceived as highly engaged, these relations were actually stronger such that disaffection was a stronger predictor of losses in teacher support for highly engaged students than for their equally disaffected but less engaged peers. Implications for educational interventions and daily classroom practices are discussed. This study, by utilizing a two time-point design, a diverse at-risk student population, and measures from both student and teacher perspectives, attempted to make a contribution to the sparse but potentially important research literature on how student's motivation can shape their experiences with teachers in the classroom.

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