Author: Marsh, Herbert W., Craven, Rhonda, Debus, Raymond
Type of paper: Abstract refereed
The present investigation evaluates a new, adaptive procedure for assessing multiple dimensions of self-concept for children younger than 8 and examines related theoretical issues. The multidimensional, hierarchical structure of self-concept is now well established for older children but there is a paucity of research and appropriate instruments for very young children. A limited amount of research suggests that self-concept is poorly differentiated and that a general self-concept may not even exist. 501 students in kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd grades completed a variation of the SDQI using a new individual interview technique. At each grade level confirmatory factor analyses identified all 8 SDQI scales -- including the General self-concept scale. With increasing age the fit of the 8-factor model improved and the size of correlations among the 8 SDQI scales decreased, implying that self- concept becomes more differentiated with age. The results demonstrate that appropriately measured self-concepts are better differentiated by very young children than previously assumed. A positive self-concept is valued as a desirable outcome and as a potential mediating influence leading to other desired outcomes such as academic achievement. Despite the thousands of self-concept studies conducted with older students, there has been little research conducted with children below the age of 10. This is unfortunate as this developmental period may be critical in the formation of a positive self- concept -- particularly in educational settings. This lack of research stems apparently from the dearth of instruments appropriate for measuring self-concepts for children of this young age. Prior to the 1980s reviews of self-concept research based on responses by older children and young adults noted a lack of theoretical models and appropriate measurement instruments. Shavelson, Hubner & Stanton's (1976) model, which proposed self-concept to be a multifaceted, hierarchical construct that became increasingly distinct with age, was valuable in remedying some of these problems and stimulating research. Harter (1983, 1985, 1986) argued for a multidimensional perspective that recognizes specific domains such as the physical, social, and academic facets of self as well as a relatively unidimensional, global self-concept like that described by Rosenberg (1979). Particularly during the last decade, as researchers have developed apparently better self-concept instruments based on stronger theoretical models, support for the multidimensionality of self-concept for older children and young adults has become well established (e.g., Byrne, 1984; Dusek & Flaherty, 1981; Fleming & Courtney, 1984; Harter, 1982; Marsh, Byrne & Shavelson, 1988; Marsh, in press-a). Empirical support for these views is particularly strong in research using the set of three Self Description Questionnaire (SDQ) instruments (SDQI, SDQII, SDQIII; see Marsh, 1989, in press-a, for an overview) designed for children of differing ages. In research using the SDQI with young children, limitations in children's ability to respond to questionnaires is overcome in part by reading aloud the SDQI items. Large samples of students in grades 2-5 were tested using this approach (Marsh, Barnes, Cairns & Tidman, 1984; Marsh & Hocevar, 1985). Even for the second grade children, the SDQI factors were reasonably well defined and internally consistent, and confirmatory factor analyses (CFAs) found that the SDQI factor structure (factor loadings) were reasonably invariant across the different ages. Consistent with the Shavelson et al. (1976) hypothesis that self-concept becomes more differentiated with age, they found that with increasing age the correlations among the factors became smaller, the self-concept factors became more distinct, and the hierarchy became weaker. The present investigation evaluates a new, adaptive procedure for assessing multiple dimensions of self-concept for children younger than 8. It uses a variation of the SDQI and examines theoretical issues related to the factorial structure (or dimensionality) of self-concept for these young children based on Harter's research (1983, 1985, 1986; Harter & Pike, 1984; Silon & Harter, 1985), Shavelson, et al.'s (1976; Marsh & Shavelson, 1985; Marsh, Byrne & Shavelson, 1988) model, and previous SDQ research (e.g., Marsh, 1988; Marsh, in press-a). Theoretically, the study provides important evidence about the abilities of very young children to differentiate specific facets of self-concept and to form a generalized conception of self, and about age and gender differences in self-concepts for very young children. From a practical perspective, the ability to measure the self-concepts of very young children provides an important outcome measure for teachers to better understand their students and for a wide variety of interventions designed for young children.