The influence of social class on students’ academic beliefs and motivation

Year: 2019

Author: Archer, Jennifer, Berger, Nathan

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Many educational analyses, and subsequent calls for reform, focus on curriculum and pedagogy – what material is taught and how it is taught. Though curriculum and pedagogy undoubtedly are important, we should not forget that non-cognitive or motivational factors play significant roles in students’ behaviour and achievement. These factors include students’ beliefs about themselves as learners, valuing of school, aspirations, estimation of academic abilities, academic and social achievement goals, willingness to delay gratification so as to reach long-term goals, and willingness to persist when work gets hard. How are these beliefs about the self and attitudes towards schools developed? One’s cultural context obviously plays a part. For many years cross-cultural psychology has demonstrated how cultural context shapes attitudes and behaviours.

In this presentation we consider cultural context not across countries but within countries - by examining differences in motivational factors across social class. Examination of social class largely has been the preserve of sociologists but increasingly psychologists are considering how the contexts in which we grow shape our attitudes and motivations. This is an area of particular interest because of robust evidence that academic achievement varies significantly by socio-economic status (SES). In an age where schools in many western countries are increasingly differentiated by SES, low relative achievement in schools in low SES areas is troubling.

We use the term social class rather than the widely used term of SES. SES is fairly easily quantified using measures such as parents’ educational level or residential postcodes. However, what is missing from SES are social psychological aspects of class such as values, beliefs, and attitudes, the focus of the presentation. While we acknowledge that that the term social class can be provocative and unsettling to some, there is much to gain from a deeper understanding of the ways in which students from different social classes make sense of and negotiate their worlds.