First Advisor

Ellen A. Skinner

Date of Publication

Spring 5-1-2015

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Applied Psychology






Resilience (Personality trait) in children, Determination (Personality trait) in children, Engagement (Philosophy) -- Children, Achievement motivation in children -- Psychological aspects



Physical Description

1 online resource (xi, 215 pages)


In recent years students' academic engagement has gained increasing favor as a necessary component of authentic learning experiences. However, less research has focused on what students do when they run into everyday problems in school that allows them to return (or not) to a state of ongoing engagement. Expanding on these ideas, this project explores students' motivational resilience in school, that is, the dynamic interactions among their ongoing engagement, emotional reactivity, academic coping, and re-engagement after encounters with difficulties and setbacks in school. Grounded in an established motivational model based on Deci & Ryan's (1985) self-determination theory, and building on earlier studies suggesting that these components of motivational resilience form self-reinforcing internal dynamics (Skinner, Pitzer, & Steele, 2015), this project comprises two free-standing manuscripts that examined key components of this process.

Study 1 explored the external dynamics of motivational resilience within a single school year to identify the extent to which outside forces (e.g., students' experiences of teacher support and self-system processes) can shape students' motivational systems which tend to be self-sustaining. The study used data from 1020 3rd through 6th grade students to examine feedforward and feedback effects between students' composite motivational resilience and a set of hypothesized antecedents and consequences, and also investigated whether teacher support can shift established motivational patterns.

Study 2 looked more closely at motivational resilience and its antecedents and consequences as students made the transition from elementary to middle school. Data following 281 students as they moved from fifth to sixth grade were used to test a structural model examining the extent to which students' ongoing engagement and teacher support act as resources that encourage adaptive coping and re-engagement, which then lead to continued engagement and subsequent achievement. Students' coping was explored as a particularly important mediator between students' resources at the beginning of fifth grade and their subsequent motivational actions and achievement. The study also examined differences in patterns of motivation across the transition for students who had high levels of teacher support and adaptive coping profiles as compared with students who had fewer of such resources.

This project provides a deeper understanding of students' experiences in dealing with everyday challenges and struggles in school, especially during the transition to middle school. Discussion focuses on the utility and potential drawbacks of examining the individual components of students' motivational resilience through this conceptual lens, with suggestions for next steps for future research. Implications of this model for improving students' academic development highlight the important role teachers can play in supporting or undermining students' ability to bounce back after encounters with setbacks.


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