How students' motivation and self-concept change across transition to secondary school

Year: 2012

Author: Arens, Katrin, Yeung, Alexander, Hasselhorn, Marcus, Watermann, Rainer, Craven, Rhonda

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


Studies on the transition to secondary school often document a decline in students' self-perceptions of academic competence, motivational and affective reactions to schooling, self-esteem, and peer-related self-concept (e.g., Eccles, Wigfield, Flanagan, Miller, Reuman, & Yee, 1989). Most of these studies have been conducted in English-speaking countries where the transition commonly takes place after Year 6. Hence, it has remained unclear whether the decline in self-concept and motivation after transition is caused by the transition itself or is due to the heightened level of stress when the transition coincides with the onset of puberty. As in Germany the transition takes place after grade 4, a German sample can be used in order to examine the effect of transition on students' self-perceptions of competence and academic affect when the transition is detached from puberty.
Using the MIMIC approach to structural equation modeling, students' self-perceptions of competence and academic affect for German language, math, and general school were compared between 4th grade (before transition; n = 318) and 5th grade students (after transition; n = 307).
Students of grade 5 were found to display lower levels of self-esteem and had lower levels of perceived competence and academic affect than 4th graders in all academic domains tested in this study (i.e., German language, math, and general school). Although some other studies on the transition after grade 6 have found a decline in students' peer self-concept, no significant difference between 4th (before transition) and 5th graders (after transition) was found in this study. As no interaction effects between grade level and gender was found, boys and girls do not seem to differ in their reactions to transition.
These results imply that students' lower self-perceptions of competence and academic affect after transition may be predominantly attributed to the transition itself rather than to the coincidence of transition and the onset of puberty. Creating a secondary school environment that is facilitative to students' self-perceived competence and academic motivation might contribute to easing transition.