More sobering research findings for languages: low confidence & low motivation – Research Reviews (5)

Influences on students’ dispositions in Key Stage 3: Exploring enjoyment of school, popularity, anxiety, citizenship values and academic self-concepts in Year 9 – DFE Research Brief 184c January 2012 (Sammons, Sylva, Melhuish, Siraj-Blatchford, Taggart, Smees, Draghici, & Toth)

This is a fascinating longitudinal research study with lots of interesting findings. The report focuses on findings related to year 9 dispositions in key areas such as enjoyment of school, academic self-concept, popularity, citizenship values and anxiety. It also compares previous research findings which involved the same participants when they were in years 2 and 5 so it very much looks at the way young people’s attitudes develop over time. A mixed-methods approach was used. It reveals worrying findings relating to confidence and motivation in languages.

The authors report largely positive findings. Most year 9 students were found to enjoy school and were confident about their overall ability. Alarmingly however, modern languages was found to be the least popular subject area. It is very sobering how consistently the relative unpopularity of languages has been reported in generic research studies over a long period of time (e.g. Francis, 2000; Colley & Comber, 2003). Students were also less confident about their ability in modern languages than in any other subject. This very much fits in with what I found in my PhD research when I looked at motivation in speaking in KS3.

Most students had high aspirations, wanted to go to university and believed that they were liked by their peers. Students from richer socio-economic backgrounds were more likely to enjoy school and to believe that they were popular than those from poorer backgrounds. Girls generally reported higher levels of anxiety than boys and also seemed to have lower academic self-concepts in some areas.

Over time though, learners were found to be less positive about school than when they were younger (in years 2 and 5) and also to be less keen on answering questions in class.

Many interesting similarities and differences were also found in relation to family background, home learning environment etc.

This research is well worth a read even if it is depressing for linguists.


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