Psychology in the classroom: Critically discuss a range of home/school factors that may impact on school success, and consider how the teacher/outside agencies may work to ensure that children reach their full potential
College for Humanistic Sciences – ICPS
University of Central Lancashire
M.Sc. in Psychology of Child Development
Psychology in the classroom
Assignment Title: Critically discuss a range of home/school factors that may impact on school success, and consider how the teacher/outside agencies may work to ensure that children reach their full potential
School success serves as a prediction of future achievements and overall wellbeing of a student (Bethell et. al, 2012). As the etymology of the word ‘success’ denotes (from Latin successus, from the word succedere which means come close after), anyone who comes close after her/his own aims, attains prosperity and enjoys self- and social recognition, which is necessary in order to step forward. There are several home- and school-based factors that may impact on school success and in the first part of the present paper I shall critically discuss some of them. In the second part, interventions that have taken place in order to ensure that children reach their full potential are referred, concluding on some remarks.
Factors that may impact on school success
- School related factors
Shulruf et al. (2008) analyzed the school related factors analyzed regarding New Zealand and concluded that the demographic characteristics of a school (gender, socioeconomic status of students, ethnicity) did not affect students’ achievement, but it was the organisational characteristics of a school (administrative/structural factors) that do affect students’ pathways and outcomes. However, the paper distinguishes between the demographic characteristics of a school and of a student, and points out that student’s socio-demographic characteristics affect the success and the achievement of this student. These findings could be explained possibly due to the own decidedness of students who attend ethnic diversity schools, in which students’ families present socioeconomic differences. On the contrary, in the case that the parents are obsessed with the success of their children, and as such enroll them in expensive private schools, students seem to be not so determined to succeed. Children who attend ethnic diversity schools are much more familiar with society in its realistic structure and thus present healthier social and emotional characteristics that help them to succeed; they perceive the world as it is and they are determined to succeed and change their lifes. On the other hand, Rusu and Bejenaru (2010), analyzing the disparity in students success in rural and urban Romania suggest that poor school infrastructure, lack of funding and qualified personnel, low socio-economic status, family expectations and community (in the sense of the neighborhood) largely affect a student’s success.
In an era of globalization, the ethnic diversity of a school is another factor that one should consider for student success. Research conclusions are mixed; Some studies find a positive outcome due to the multi-cultural experiences that students have, while other studies conclude on a negative outcome for academic achievement, due e.g. to physical conflicts that may exist, such as bullying or cicles of students created on ethnic criteria (Min and Goff, 2016). As Min and Goff (2016) stress the more ethnically diverse a school is, the better the performance of white students. Based on these findings, it seems that this outcome derives from the sense of power and superiority that these students feel. From my personal experience with a student of junior high in Greece who attends an ethnically diverse public school (49% foreign students), I can reiterate that the ones with an advantage (in the case of this student is that he is Greek and Greek is the mother language) perform better in school. Thus, it seems that ethnically diverse schools at least in Greece assist the Greek students to stand out, due their skill in the language.
Lutes et al. (2016) suggest that also the sense of membership that a student feels is correlated with academic achievement; school membership is related to higher grades, higher expectations and motivation for success and long-term academic aspirations. Moreover, students who present a high sense of school membership are more likely to be involved in extracurricular activities, which are also associated with higher grades. On the contrary, Espinoza (2010) suggests that students who are isolated or bullied are likely to present poor school performance. Based on these findings, it seems that a person who feels that belongs to a group is more likely to succeed in any aspect of the life in relation to a person who feels rejected or isolated. Besides, if you feel that you belong in the group you act into, you have a strong identity through your membership and, as such, a student belonging to the school is far more likely to have a better school performance.
Moreover, teacher expectations may affect school success. As cited in a paper by Segedin (2012), a research suggested that teacher expectations and behaviours was related to students’ school performance, since the trust and the confidence a student feels through the relationship with the teacher affects and defines this student’s school success. The paper mentions also the results of a negative relationship between teacher and student: students who experience lower teacher expectations blame themselves and present low self-confidence. To reflect on the above research findings, it seems that the teacher-student relationship is subjective by its definition and totally depends on the skills and the character of each teacher and whether this teacher can be objective and fair. Moreover, teacher expectations may place a «label» on a student, which is a heavy load for a student to carry, whether the expectations are high or low.
- Home and family related factors
Family is an integral component of a child’s identity. Research suggests that family is also an integral component of a student’s success. For example, studies have revealed that a divorce of parents may cause academic problems to children and adolescents, such as falling grades, lower interest to attend school, and even a less probability to attend to college after school or to get more educated in general (Lansford, 2009; Bernardi and Randl, 2014. Some possible reasons are: the psychological stress of the child/adolescent, the movement and change of school, or the reduced parental supervision and monitoring. A British study revealed that parental absence in general during adolesence (esp. aged 11-15) is associated with reduced educational attainment for both genders; However, in the case that the absence is caused by parental death (Fauth et al., 2009) then the impact is more significant on boys than for girls (Fronstin et al., 2001) and, as a research from Sweden indicates, in many cases the lower grades are associated with the socioeconomic disadvantage or the psychosocial problems in the family caused by the death (Berg et al., 2014). Moreover, in case the parent is absent because she/he is imprisoned, the impact is similar and as research suggests in this case adolescents are more likely to drop out from school (Shaw et al., 2015).
A parent’s role is crucial in educational attainment. More specifically, parenting style and parental involvement largely define a student’s academic success (Shute, Hansen, & Underwood, 2011). Students with parents who show affection and encouragement and with high educational level are more likely to achieve school success. Parents who are well educated not only have the ability to read their children, but they also have a stronger saying on the choice of the school and a stronger communication with school (Egalite, 2016). Research papers from Romania and Malaysia (Bakar et al., 2012) about parenting style and involvement in primary school students’ success, two completely diverse cultures and countries, reach the same conclusion. The demographic characteristics of a family: the socio-economic status, its size and structure are related with a student’s academic achievement (Necşoi et al., 2013). In this respect, research papers have highlighted that parental involvement is more relevant to student success than a family’s demographic characteristics; a parent’s role at home and at school is crucial, especially at elementary level. Based on the above findings, it seems that a student who feels that the parent is present is more alert and well prepared for school and believes more in herself/himself and the potential she/he has to succeed.
III. Social and environmental factors
Pοverty defines the possibilities a student has and as such the school success of a student is largely determined by the income status of the family. A thought-provoking analysis by Berliner (2009) analyses and assorts the diverse effects of poverty on school performance. In deed, poverty affects students in many and diverse aspects and a conclusion of research analysis is that poverty predefines a student’s school performance even before this student is born! Birth-weight and non-genetic prenatal factors significantly influence the route and the results of a student in school. Certainly, babies with low or very low birth weight are not presented equally among racial or income groups; for example, African Americans are 270% more likely to give birth to a child with very low birth weight. Overall, the emotional and physical status of a mother in pregnancy has a very important impact on the child to be born and the cognitive skills this child will have: alcohol and substance abuse, drugs, infections and extreme stress during pregnancy strongly relate with the emotional, physical and cognitive situation of the child that is being born. Thus, the study of Berliner (2009) aptly concludes that if counties invested in children and their parents long before kindergarten, we would experience different results in children’s’ school performance. Poverty also leads to unequal access to medical treatment and insurance benefits. Consequently, students who demand medical care are strongly disadvantaged in relation to students whose families can face their health problems. Moreover, pollution and poverty correlate. Poor people are more likely to live in polluted areas and the impact of pollutants such as mercury can lead to health and consequently cognitive problems and poor school performance.
Another major problem that poverty usually brings is family problems, e.g. domestic violence, which largely influences academic performance. Research shows that even having a peer – victim of domestic violence into a classroom reduces the overall test scores, especially regarding boys (Carrell & Hoekstra, 2008).
Poor children have poor nutrition and as such they present a lack of energy to perform well in school. The diet of many children, and nowadays we experience this in Greece due to the financial crisis, does not allow them to achieve in school. There were instances in Greece where children fainted due to the lack of food they received by their unemployed, poor families.
Last but not least, the neighborhood in which the family lives is a quite significant factor influencing school performance. The characteristics of a neighborhood (criminality, extreme poverty, ghetto or on the contrary lack of criminality, wealth etc) have an impact on children’s’ school performance. It is very interesting that a study suggests (Sastry & Pebley, 2008) that living in a low-income neighborhood can have a more negative effect than coming from a low-income family
Interventions that have taken place in order to ensure school success
- Family-based interventions
Interventions targeting parental involvement have been implemented throughout the world, including home-based practices and school-based activities. The results of these interventions suggest that such programmes could even mitigate the differences in socioeconomic status of each family, which I think is a challenging and interesting fact in the framework of the financial crisis we are experiencing nowadays. In their research, Leithwood and Patrician (2015) analyzed the results of such interventions in Ontario, Canada; the exact nature of the parental involvement varied from individual parent consultations by teacher, helping parents with ways of assisting their children at home, instruction in native languages, creation of a communication book for parents and teacher, conversations with school staff, creation of a community evening family engagement group, to literacy center. The above-mentioned research concluded that generally there was a positive impact on the academic achievement of children, highlighting though that parental involvement seems to be much more complicated in secondary education than in the elementary one, pointing out that in order to build effective schools, parental involvement may be one step forward, but the involvement of the whole community is required.
- School-based interventions
When a student studies in a healthy and harmonious environment, it is more likely that she/he will perform better academically. In this respect, I shall review research results about anti-bullying policies and interventions at school. Ttofi and Farrington (2009) in an interesting meta-analysis of 44 evaluations of intervention programmes revealed that school-based anti-bullying programs are quite effective. Smith et al. (2008) analysis concluded that the school climate improved, but there was low coverage of cyberbullying, homophobic, religious, disabilities-based bullying, teacher-student bullying. However, many scholars question the effects of anti-bullying interventions. Merrel and Isava 2008 meta-analysis, in which the biggest participant was the UK found that intervention programmes had an important effect foremost in the awareness and not in reducing bullying per se.
After-school programmes are another interesting type of school-based intervention, as it primarily targets students’ life style. A study (National Academy of Education, 2009) revealed that initiatives by schools targeting the free time of students could actually lead to significant results on their school performance. When watching television was replaced with learning opportunities after school, students at-risk presented an improvement in reading and mathematics achievement. It is noteworthy that early elementary and high school grades were more affected when tutoring was included in the programme, a fact that reveals the importance of guidance in a student’s life. The outcome of this research study is not surprising, since one has to train and use the brain, in order to achieve positive cognitive results. As a conclusion on this, I will add from my personal experience -as a student on my own and as a psychologist working with children- that children who engage in brain-training activities are more likely to present school achievement, since the experiences they collect and the information being processed by their brain will be revealed somehow in their later performance and their overall attitude towards learning and school.
III. Society-based interventions
Many scientists have stressed that school achievement is greatly influenced by a student’s nutrition and diet. A study examining research outcomes on school breakfast programmes by Sodexo Foundation, and Harvard professors Brown, Beardslee and Prothrow-Stith (2008) concludes on interesting facts about the impact of these programmes on school achievement. In deed, the school breakfast programmes have been tested in various counties across the world, such as: Great Britain, Sweden, Ireland, Wales, Vietnam, Guatemala, Peru, Jamaica and in several states of the United States of America and research has been published assessing and discussing the value and the impact of these programmes on school achievement. It’s worth mentioning that at least in the USA the school breakfast programme operates in public schools and it is federally funded. First of all, research affirms that this programme resulted in improved attendance of children to school; a student definitely has initially to attend the school in order to succeed in its programme. Children exposed better concentration and more energy and overall it was found that children who receive breakfast had better school performance than those that did not, presenting significant improvement in their academic performance. The school performance improvement was apparent in test results: in five elementary schools food supplementation before taking a test notably improved students’ results, in Minessota students presented better results in maths and reading scores, other research found better achievement on standardized tests.
Another initiative in order to fight food insecurity was to provide students with extra rich foods on test days, in order to ensure that students are loaded with the necessary calories to have the energy to perform well on tests. The results of this intervention showed an improvement of 4-7% on tests. But it seems that it is not enough to provide children with rich nutritional food only on test days. Children need a balanced nutrition throughout the year. In this respect, the intervention of food stamps was initiated in the USA; however, the increasing number of children in need for food stamps made it impossible to cover all children as the budget was not enough.
Having analyzed home and school related factors that may impact on school success, as well as interventions trying to ensure that student reach their full potential, it seems that school success could be presented as a patchwork including little pieces: the school, the peers, the family, the community, the own personality of this student. Each piece affects significantly or not a student’s school performance.
As such, policies should be continued and actually be even more systematic in order to make sure that each student actually performs the best she/he can, because not only the society will gain better students, but also better people. Family is the reflection of society and thus its role is more than fruitful in this goal.
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