First Advisor

Ellen Skinner

Date of Publication

Spring 6-7-2019

Document Type


Degree Name

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




Alienation (Social psychology), Middle school students -- Attitudes, Teacher-student relationships, Classroom environment



Physical Description

1 online resource (vii, 185 pages)


Student disaffection, a pervasive problem in middle school classrooms, is costly not only for disaffected students themselves (e.g., declines in GPA, high school drop out) but also for their teachers (e.g., stress-related health outcomes). Despite its importance, however, open questions remain regarding both the development of disaffection during early adolescence and the classroom dynamics that underlie changes in disaffection. This dissertation includes two free-standing manuscripts that explore these open questions regarding the development and classroom dynamics of disaffection. Each focuses on different developmental time scales and employs different methodological approaches to examine these important, but unanswered questions.

Drawing from a database of classroom observation videos, study one is a multiple case study focusing on four classrooms, which were selected based on school-level socioeconomic status and student-reported disaffection. This study was designed to explore 1) how disaffection is first initiated, 2) how it develops across single class periods, 3) how teachers generally respond to student disaffection, and 4) whether different kinds of teacher responses reduce or amplify disaffection. Student disaffection and teacher responses to disaffection were observationally coded and analyzed resulting in the following findings. First, students were initially most frequently socially off task during individual work time or relatively passive whole group time. Second, six patterns of how disaffection changed over the observed class periods were found with each pattern representing distinct student experiences and varying degrees in severity of disaffection. Third, while teachers' overall responses to disaffection could be classified as generally supportive (involvement and autonomy support) or defensive (withdrawal and controlling behavior), the teachers were not strictly adherent to one response style. Finally, five kinds of teacher responses to disaffection (supportive, quick fix, no response, mixed, and defensive) were found, each with varying degrees of effectiveness at resolving disaffection.

Drawing from a 5-year longitudinal cohort-sequential dataset, study two is designed to describe the normative trajectories of disaffection across the early adolescent years and then to also examine the classroom dynamics that underlie these developmental changes in disaffection. Surveys of students' experiences of disaffection and perceptions of their relationships with their science teachers and teachers' views of student disaffection were collected twice per school year and subsequently analyzed. Latent growth curve models examined the development of disaffection finding both behavioral and emotional forms to have gradually increasing linear trajectories across the early adolescent years. Additionally, both initial levels in fall of 6th grade and rates of change significantly differed between students. Regarding the classroom dynamics of disaffection, the supported model suggests that teacher views of disaffection directly and indirectly through student-teacher relationships predict concurrent student experiences of disaffection and that earlier student experiences of disaffection predict changes in teacher views of disaffection across the school year.

Taken together, the studies in this dissertation contribute to our growing understanding of how disaffection develops both across single middle school class periods (study 1) and across early adolescence (study 2). Additionally, these studies are among the first to investigate the classroom dynamics that may explain why disaffection develops over these multiple time frames. Implications of each study and the collective findings of this dissertation are considered in the respective discussion sections in Chapter 3, 4, and 5.

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